John Smallwood: Flyers, Sixers earn key wins in Washington

WASHINGTON - They were teams from the same cities playing in the same building.

Still, there couldn't have been a more drastic contrast than the Flyers coming to the Verizon Center on Tuesday to the play the Washington Capitals and the Sixers here last night to face the Washington Wizards.

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Sixers coach Tony DiLeo looks on during victory in Washington.

Tuesday was all about excitement. Two teams with Stanley Cup finals potential slugging it out for playoff positioning and a possible edge, should they meet in the playoffs, entertained a near-hockey-capacity crowd of 18,277.

The Flyers' 4-2, come-from-

behind victory was everything you'd want from two teams gearing up for a stretch run into the postseason.

Last night, not so much.

With the worst record in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards have been out of playoff contention since the end of November when they stumbled to a 2-12 start.

And while the Sixers are still in the mix for the Eastern Conference playoffs, their four-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break had wiped out any enthusiasm that they can do more than make a cameo appearance in the postseason - if they get there.

A less-than-enthusiastic crowd, which was generously announced at 16,505 (still nearly 5,000 below basketball capacity), endured a 106-98 Sixers win.

It would be hard to tell from the last 2 nights, but having grown up in the area, I know D.C. is way more a basketball than hockey town.

But when the entertainment dollar is stretched, and the choice is Alex Ovechkin and a hockey team that is second in the Eastern Conference in points, or a basketball team without star Gilbert Arenas . . . well, that's not much of a choice.

More important to the Philly sports scene, however, is that the locals went 2-0 on their trips to the nation's capital.

And while the Flyers' victory was more about making a statement, the Sixers needed one to revive their plunging playoff fortunes.

Four straight losses had plummeted the Sixers from fifth place in the Eastern Conference to falling into a fight with five other teams for the final three playoff spots.

And with their latest loss coming via a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the New Jersey Nets on Monday, it was reasonable to question how the Sixers would respond the next time out.

The Wizards have been like penicillin for the Sixers this season. Whatever the illness, they could count on a game with the Wizards to provide relief.

Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz.

"We just needed a win to have a win," said Sixers coach Tony DiLeo. "We just kept telling the players that the last two games we had played good basketball - the Miami game, the New Jersey game.

"There were a lot of good things, but some things we need to improve on. But our mind-set was never that we lost four in a row playing bad basketball."

After spending more than half a season just to reach the .500 mark, the Sixers had used a 5-2 homestand to move a season-high three games over .500 at the All-Star break.

It took them less than a week to undermine that hard work.

Still, the one benefit was that the Sixers were well-versed in the consequences of again falling two or three games below .500.

"This was very important," said Sixers forward Andre Iguodala, whose 22 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds left him just shy of a triple-double. "This is part of our youth.

"We've got to get everybody to understand how important it is to put ourselves in a position to fight for a higher seed, not just be satisfied to get into the playoffs with a .500 record.

"We've got to strive as a team to get better. There is always a higher level."

This is the intriguing part of the season, when every game could mean a shift up and down the playoff seeding board. With a 28-28 record, the Sixers are nearly as close to falling out of the playoffs as they are to the fifth seed, which is desirable because it means avoiding Boston, Cleveland and Orlando in Round 1.

Unfortunately for them, they are done with the Wizards for the rest of the season, but at least they used this last meeting to head back in a positive direction.

"This was one of those wins where after the game we can take a deep breath," said Sixers guard Willie Green. "After losing four in a row after the break, you are kind of pressing to get a win.

"Nothing against the Wizards, but this was a must-win game for us and we are glad to get it. We want to get as many games as we can over .500. Tonight was a start." *

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