While solidifying their grip on a playoff spot is a top priority, the Washington Wizards also would like to be able to call themselves a .500 team.
Washington looks to win its third straight and get back to the break-even mark as it hosts the Southeast Division-leading Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
Despite playing most of the season without three-time All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and the past month without second-leading scorer Caron Butler (left hip), the Wizards (29-30) are sixth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Southeast.
They have managed a 26-25 record without Arenas, who participated in his first full-court practice in 3 1/2 months on Tuesday.
“It felt good. I was surprised about my wind - I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was going to be,” Arenas said. “I was just excited to get out there and play basketball. … My knee is fine so far. We’ll see how it acts tomorrow after a day of rest.”
There remains no timetable for Arenas’ return to the lineup, although he said he’s targeting a West Coast road trip that begins March 25 in Portland.
Losing Butler very easily could’ve ended any chance the Wizards had at the playoffs, but after dropping nine of their first 11 games without him, they have since won five of eight.
“They are still playing great basketball without me and Caron,” Arenas said. “And that shows a lot.”
Antawn Jamison continued his strong play, tallying 28 points and nine rebounds in Washington’s 101-84 victory Sunday over New Orleans.
DeShawn Stevenson added 16 points for the Wizards, who have beaten the Hornets - one of the league’s best teams - twice in a seven-day span.
“At first, you’re kind of like hoping he’s there the next game and the next game after that,” said reserve guard Roger Mason. “But it comes to a point where you say: ‘This is who we are; this is what we’ve got right now.’ Guys have to step up, and the last few games we’ve done that.”
Including Wednesday’s contest, Washington plays six of its next seven games at home, the final four against teams below it in the standings.
Orlando (39-23) moved a step closer to a division title with a 102-87 victory over Toronto on Tuesday, its fifth win in six games.
Howard had only three points on 1-for-3 shooting until the fourth quarter, sitting long stretches with foul trouble. He seemed energized after the rest, and scored six straight in a 1:10 stretch that expanded Orlando’s lead to 89-79 with six minutes remaining.
“I didn’t want to end up with a one-point night tonight. I was very upset - not at my team, just myself,” Howard said. “I got a little frustrated in the first half, and in the second half I played as hard as I could.”
Tuesday’s game started a stretch where the Magic play eight of 10 at home, where they have won five straight, matching a season high. Orlando last won six in a row at home from Nov. 6-25, 2006.
Turkoglu scored 25 points in the Magic’s 94-82 road victory over the Wizards on Nov. 3 in the only meeting between the teams this season. The Magic have won two in a row at Washington after losing three straight there.