The Washington Wizards are close to joining the ranks of the NBA’s best – if they haven’t done so already.
The slumping Brooklyn Nets have a long way to go before becoming part of that conversation.
Washington looks to stay hot in the opener of a home-and-home series against the visiting Nets, who try to snap a seven-game losing streak Friday night.
The Wizards (27-12) are allowing 97.5 points per game to rank among the league leaders, and they own the Eastern Conference’s second-best record with the midway point of the season approaching. John Wall is averaging team highs of 17.4 points and a career-best 10.2 assists, which is tops in the NBA.
Washington is seeking a third consecutive victory and sixth in seven games after putting together a pair of very impressive showings. The Wizards snapped a 17-game losing streak against San Antonio on Tuesday, then won 105-99 at Chicago on Wednesday for their second victory over the Central Division leader in six days.
"It was important for us," guard Bradley Beal said. "We say we want to be this elite team. We say we want to be one of the best teams in the East. You have to be able to beat a team that is also elite on the back-to-back, and that really speaks a lot for your team."
The Wizards’ rise can be partly attributed to Paul Pierce, who’s provided the team with plenty of veteran leadership after spending last season with Brooklyn. He scored 22 points Wednesday for his highest total in 17 games.
"It’s the reason I decided to come to this team, because I saw something," Pierce said. "We’re just going to go out there and grow, show it each and every night. Right now, there aren’t a lot of people talking about us, but that’s OK. We’ll fly under the radar and see where we are at the end of the year."
Pierce could come out with extra motivation in his first matchup of the season with his former team. Wall averaged 23.7 points as Washington took all three matchups last season.
The Nets (16-23) are on their longest skid since dropping eight in a row Feb. 3-16, 2012. Brooklyn, which has averaged 89.3 points during its slide, fell 103-92 to Memphis on Wednesday.
The Nets were outscored 66-40 in the paint and committed 19 turnovers to the Grizzlies’ nine.
"No one is feeling sorry for us," center Mason Plumlee told the team’s official website. "We’ve got to get it together and win. As a player, you know what it takes. You have to find a way."
Plumlee is averaging 15.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 70.2 percent shooting in the last 17 games.
The Nets should have Kevin Garnett available after he served a one-game suspension for head-butting Houston’s Dwight Howard on Monday. Point guard Deron Williams remains out with a rib injury.
Jarrett Jack, who’s started 14 games in Williams’ place, has shot 30.0 percent from the field while going 1 of 15 from 3-point range over the last three contests.
The Nets have dropped three straight and seven of nine at Washington.
The teams meet again Saturday.