After knocking off the two-time defending NBA champs again, the surging Brooklyn Nets will try to finally break through against the Washington Wizards.
The visiting Nets try to avoid going winless against the Wizards for the first time in four years when these teams conclude their season series Saturday night.
Brooklyn (33-30) has kicked things into high gear over the last two weeks, going 7-1 while allowing just 91.6 points per game – 7.2 less than its season mark. The Nets are one percentage point ahead of Washington (34-31) for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but both teams are two games behind fourth-place Chicago.
"It feels good, man," veteran forward Paul Pierce told the team’s official website. "We were written off early. It feels good for us to be able to turn this thing around. We had these visions of playing like this before the season started. Unfortunately it took longer than we expected, but I’m glad we were able to turn it around at this point in the season at the right time."
Brooklyn stayed hot with Wednesday’s 96-95 win at Miami, its third consecutive victory overall and third in a row against the Heat.
"They are a very good team and exploit mismatches," Miami superstar LeBron James said of the Nets. "They have a lot of guys who can beat you."
Pierce did most of the damage, scoring a game-best 29 points for his second-highest total this season. He shot 9 of 12, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
"Paul’s got too much left in the tank to be a role player," teammate Deron Williams said.
Clamping down defensively has been key for the Nets, who are 31-10 when surrendering 102 points or fewer compared to 2-20 when they don’t. Brooklyn hasn’t been able to slow down the Wizards this season, falling 112-108 in overtime in its last visit to Washington on Nov. 8 and 113-107 at home Dec. 18.
Wizards guard Bradley Beal finished with 29 points in the first of those wins, and John Wall scored 21 to lead seven Wizards in double figures in the second. Washington hasn’t swept the Nets since taking all four meetings in 2009-10.
The Wizards avoided a third straight loss with a 105-101 overtime win at Orlando on Friday. All five starters scored in double figures, including a combined 62 from Beal, Wall and Trevor Ariza. Marcin Gortat added 19 points and 14 rebounds for his third straight double-double.
"We realize that it’s about time for us to start winning," Gortat said. "It’s about time to clinch that spot and get those wins, especially against teams like Orlando."
Washington shot just 40.0 percent against the Magic, its second-lowest mark in any win this season.
"Hopefully this can be a good character builder for us to have that understanding and belief that we don’t have to shoot the ball well to win games," coach Randy Wittman said.
It’s unclear if Beal will be able to suit up after exiting with a sprained right ankle in OT. He is averaging 20.3 points over the last six games.
Washington has posted back-to-back wins in the second of back-to-backs after dropping its previous five.