The Toronto Raptors have made a nice push since Rudy Gay arrived late last month.
They'll need that to continue in the second half if they're going to have any shot of making the postseason for the first time in five seasons.
Back from the All-Star break, the Raptors will try to win three straight on the road for the first time in five seasons on Tuesday night when they face the improving Washington Wizards for the first time in 2012-13.
Since he was acquired from Memphis on Jan. 30 in a three-team deal, Gay is averaging 20.7 points and has hit two game-winning shots to help the Raptors (21-32) win five of seven. Toronto will likely need Gay to keep producing at that level if it's going to improve from the 10th spot in the East - the team is six back of eighth-place Milwaukee. However, a 92-88 road win over the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks on Wednesday before the break has to give the Raptors confidence that they can compete without the star forward at his best.
Gay missed 17 of 21 shots and scored just 11 points, but reserve Alan Anderson hit a career-best six 3-pointers with 26 points, while DeMar DeRozan chipped in with 20.
"It feels good, the fact that my teammate Double-A stepped up. And DeMar does what DeMar does," Gay said. "But on a night where I couldn't throw a fish in the water, it feels good to still get a win."
The Raptors begin the second half tied with the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers for the second-longest current winning streak in the NBA. Miami has seven consecutive victories.
Washington (15-36), winner of 10 of 18 since John Wall returned from an offseason knee injury, was hoping to enter the All-Star break on a season-best five-game winning streak, but the team ended the first half on Wednesday with a 96-85 loss at Detroit.
"We just didn't do the things we've been doing in the last few games," swingman Trevor Ariza said after the Wizards were outscored by 14 in the final 12 minutes. "We didn't take care of our business, and we let this one slip away."
The Wizards, though, begin a stretch of six of seven at home - they play at Toronto on Monday - on a 3-0 stretch in the nation's capital. Washington has dropped just one game in its last nine at home.
The Wizards have won four in a row at home over Toronto, including both last season when each team protected its home court. The visiting team in this series has lost nine straight.
The Raptors could end that trend - and win three in a row outside Toronto for the first time since Dec. 11-18, 2007 - if they can contain Wall and rookie guard Bradley Beal, who has totaled 41 points and hit 5 of 10 3s in three games since missing five with a sprained right wrist.
Beal's strong play, as well as Wall's return, has virtually taken Jordan Crawford out of coach Randy Wittman's rotation. It's uncertain if Crawford, who averaged 19.1 points, 6.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 13 December games, will make his first appearance in four contests, or if he'll be with the team much longer with Thursday's trade deadline looming.