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Hot Wizards visit struggling Lakers

LOS ANGELES -- With a crucial four-game stretch against Western Conference foes ahead of them, the Washington Wizards try to keep their bid alive for the top spot in the Eastern Conference when they face the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday at Staples Center.

The Wizards (45-28), who already clinched a playoff berth, have won three straight, including a 127-115 victory over the host Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Point guard John Wall led the way with 37 points and 11 assists as the Wizards continue to chase the conference-leading Boston Celtics and the Cavaliers for first place in the East.

Washington is 2 1/2 games behind the Celtics and two games back of the Cavaliers, who lost 103-74 to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. The Wizards lead the fourth-place Toronto Raptors by a half-game.

The Saturday win at Cleveland provided a boost of confidence for the Wizards.

"It was huge. We've shown now that we can win here," Beal told the Washington Post.

The win over the Cavs allowed Beal and the Wizards to avenge a 140-135 loss to the Cavaliers at Washington on Feb. 6.

"They respected us from last game, and definitely (now with) this game. We really wanted this game. Especially with the way the last one ended. We wanted to make sure we left no doubt on the floor," Beal said.

Washington has been one of the hottest clubs in the NBA, posting a 29-10 mark since Jan. 5.

The Wizards have captured four in a row over the Lakers at Staples. In their last meeting this season at the Verizon Center, the Wizards got 33 points and 11 assists from Wall in a 116-108 victory over Los Angeles on Feb. 2. Beal added 23 points and Marcin Gortat contributed 21 points and 14 rebounds for the Wizards.

The Wizards will face a Lakers squad that remains one of the NBA's worst. Los Angeles fell 97-81 to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday at Staples. The Trail Blazers bolted from an eight-point halftime lead with a dominating third quarter to hand the Lakers (21-52) their seventh defeat in eight contests and their 15th in the last 17 games.

The Lakers trail the Phoenix Suns by a half-game for the worst record in the Western Conference.

Defense has been the Lakers' downfall all season. The Lakers give up an average of 112.1 points per game, which is 28th in the NBA. Opponents are shooting 48.2 percent, which is the league's worst.

"When you're committed to defense, you always give yourself a chance to win games, and unfortunately that didn't carry over into the third quarter," Lakers coach Luke Walton said. "We got a couple of personnel errors. It's part of the learning process. It's getting to know everyone you're going against and being locked in, and (Portland) made us pay."

Lakers rookie forward Brandon Ingram missed the Portland game with tendinitis in his right knee. Ingram is listed as doubtful for the Wizards contest.

Los Angeles guard Jordan Clarkson, who sustained a fifth metacarpal contusion in his right hand against Portland, is listed as probable.

The Wizards' four-game swing includes a contest Wednesday against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples followed by visits to the Utah Jazz on Friday and the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.

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