WASHINGTON – With the NBA regular season in the final stretch, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are pushing the Phoenix Suns in the right direction, with a five-game winning streak keeping them in the Western Conference playoff chase.
John Wall's Washington Wizards, meanwhile, are headed the opposite way, losing four of their last five games to let teams behind them in the East inch closer.
After letting a 25-point lead dwindle to three Wednesday night, Bledsoe and Dragic got back to business and combined to finish with 48 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds in Phoenix's 99-93 victory over Washington.
"I'm glad," Dragic said, "that we didn't panic."
The surprising Suns moved into a tie with the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Both clubs are 43-29 with 10 games remaining.
"We don't care what other people think," Dragic said. "Before the season, they were saying we're going to win 15 games."
The Suns have won seven of their last eight, coinciding with Bledsoe's return to the starting lineup after missing 33 games because of knee surgery. He had 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Dragic wound up with 25 points, six assists and seven rebounds.
"We were missing him those two months," Dragic said about his backcourt mate. "Now he's back and he looks good. It's much easier for me to play with him. He can handle the ball, I can handle the ball."
Wizards center Marcin Gortat, who used to play for the Suns, offered high praise for their pair of guards.
"These guys are hungry. They bring it every night. They compete every night. They know what they're playing for," Gortat said. "They have character, a lot of will to win the game."
Gortat was not nearly as complimentary about his current teammates, who are sixth in the Eastern Conference but now are only 1½ games ahead of No. 7 Charlotte, which beat Brooklyn 116-111 in overtime Wednesday.
Gortat called Washington's showing "embarrassing" and added: "Sometimes we show that mentally we are weak and just not competing. That's it."
Wall, who led Washington with 29 points and six assists, and coach Randy Wittman preferred to put the blame on poor defense that allowed Phoenix to shoot 50 percent on 3-pointers for the game (14 of 28).
Phoenix made 7 of 9 field-goal tries during a 17-4 run to open the second half. The Suns led by as much as 75-50 in the third quarter, but Washington kept chipping away at that, getting as close as 83-79 on Wall's three-point play with a little more than 8 minutes remaining. But an 8-0 run by Phoenix that closed with Dragic's 3-pointer followed by his reverse layup gave the Suns some breathing room.
Washington again cut into the lead, though, and when Wall made consecutive driving layups, it was 93-90 with 1½ minutes left. Sure enough, Dragic and Bledsoe again responded. Bledsoe hit a 3 off Dragic's assist, and then Dragic fed Gerald Green, who was fouled and made two free throws.
And that was pretty much that.
Bledsoe called it "a sloppy win," but knows that his team is going to fare well when six players each make at least one 3-pointer, as happened Wednesday.
"We live by the 3, die by the 3, most likely. That's how it is," Bledsoe said. "When we're making 3, it's tough to beat us."
Notes: Wizards G Bradley Beal missed the end of the first half and beginning of the second because he went to the locker room for treatment of a right hip pointer after a Suns player landed on him. Beal said he hopes to play Friday against visiting Indiana. ... The Suns had lost their previous three games against the Wizards, including at Phoenix in January. ... Wall reached 100 3-pointers for the season for the first time in his NBA career, and he joins Beal, Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster to give Washington a franchise-high four players with at least that many.
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