- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

The week began with John Wall and the Washington Wizards on a five-game losing streak and facing a daunting margin just to reach the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a pair of victories by an average of 32 points over the two teams right ahead of them in the standings, the Wizards are in a far different place.

“Now we’re in it,” forward Jared Dudley said. “Before, if we lose these two, we would have been out of it. We win these two, now we’re in the thick of things.”

Finally playing as if their chance at returning to the postseason was on the line — which it very much is — the Wizards beat Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, 117-96, behind Wall’s third triple-double of the season Wednesday night.

Wall produced 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, outplaying Rose, who returned after missing two games with a strained left groin and finished with 16 points and four assists.

“We just couldn’t really get a stop tonight, so they got us,” said Doug McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points off the bench. “We’ve got to come out with urgency. We didn’t do that tonight. That’s on us.”

Wall pointed his finger at the defensive side of the ball, saying that the Wizards spent plenty of time watching video of their disastrous recent road trip and focusing on how to improve the way they deal with opponents’ pick-and-rolls.

And, he thinks, the dividends could keep coming.

“We put ourselves in this situation, and if we just keep playing defense this way, we give ourselves a great chance to beat anybody. Simple as that,” Wall said. “We simplified our defense the last two games, it showed up and it’s been a lot better.”

In their previous outing, on Monday, the Wizards beat the visiting Detroit Pistons by 43 points. Detroit lost again on Wednesday, 118-114, at the Atlanta Hawks, meaning Washington is still 10th in the Eastern Conference but now sits only 1.5 games behind both the eighth-place Bulls and ninth-place Pistons.

Plus, there is this: The Wizards now own the tiebreakers against both of those teams they’re chasing: 2-1 over Chicago with no games remaining and 3-0 over Detroit with one game to play.

“We knew that the teams that we’re chasing were right here in front of us,” Dudley said. “We knew it was now or never.”

Wall received plenty of help, including 20 points from Bradley Beal and 15 points from Garrett Temple.

Chicago got Rose back, and Jimmy Butler scored 17 points in his second game in a row after missing three with an injury.

Joakim Noah is done for the season, Pau Gasol is still out, and Taj Gibson played only eight minutes on Wednesday because he aggravated his right hamstring.

“The challenge is pretty tough right now,” Rose said, “but that’s why we’re pros.”


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