The Orlando Magic are out to prove to the rest of the East that the conference has more than three contenders to advance to the NBA finals.
They should be especially eager to show a team they may face in the first round of the playoffs.
The Magic look to claim their sixth straight win and close in on a Southeast Division title on Wednesday when they host the second-place Washington Wizards.
Orlando’s run of 11 wins in its last 13 games was highlighted by a 104-90 victory over Cleveland on Monday, as the Magic (45-24) beat the Cavaliers despite shooting under 40 percent and getting outrebounded 44-40.
“It showed that we could do it even though people are counting us out,” Magic guard Jameer Nelson said. “They want to talk about Boston, Detroit and then skip over us and go to Cleveland. It shows that we are a good team and we can beat good teams even if we’re not shooting the ball well.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who has questioned his team’s effort at times this season, said his players “never played harder or fought harder than we did” against the Cavs. The Magic matched their longest winning streak of the season and solidified their hold on the East’s No. 3 seed.
Orlando can reduce its magic number to clinch the Southeast over Washington (33-33), currently in sixth place in the East, to two with a win on Wednesday.
Against Cleveland, the Magic shot just 39.5 percent from the field, but were keyed by 14-of-32 shooting from 3-point range.
Dwight Howard had 23 points and 13 rebounds and forward Rashard Lewis added 21 points, shooting 3-of-5 on 3-pointers for the second straight game. Lewis is 15-of-22 from the field and 7-of-7 from the line in the last two games.
The Magic, who have averaged 111.0 points while going 8-1 in March, had one of their most impressive performances of the recent run in Washington, beating the Wizards 122-92 on March 5.
“They took it to us,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said that night. “They were the aggressors, and we just didn’t compete physically.”
Orlando also won 94-82 at Washington on Nov. 3, back when the Wizards still had guard Gilbert Arenas in their lineup. Both Arenas and Caron Butler were out against the Magic earlier this month, and while Arenas continues to work toward a return from a knee injury that has kept him out since November, Butler has shot just 33.3 percent from the field in three games since missing 16 with a hip injury.
Butler is now playing through a wrist ailment similar to the one that is plaguing point guard Antonio Daniels.
“We’ve got some serious beat-up guys on our team,” Jordan said.
Antawn Jamison had 25 points and nine rebounds in a 105-96 home loss to Atlanta on Monday, but Jamison said the Wizards just “went through the motions.”
Washington had won its previous three games, and finished its five-game homestand at 3-2.
The Wizards have won three of their last four road games, with the only loss coming to the streaking Houston Rockets, but Jordan still decided to implement a team curfew for the first time this week, hoping to avoid “a Florida pleasure trip.”
The brief trip concludes at Miami Friday.