The All-Star break comes to a close tonight as the NBA kicks off the second half of its season with nine games on the schedule.
The 76ers begin their second-half push for a playoff berth on Wednesday against the Timberwolves. They dropped their last game, 94-92, to Milwaukee (see game wrap).
Here is a look at the notable games tonight in the NBA:
Bucks at Nets, 7:30 p.m.
Many predicted the Nets would enter the All-Star break on a four-game losing streak. They had already dropped two in a row before they had to take on Indiana and Denver without Deron Williams.
Instead, Brooklyn (31-22) beat both the Pacers and Nuggets, and now hosts the Bucks (26-25) with hopes of winning its third straight. Williams will be back in the Nets' lineup, bringing his 16.7 points and 7.6 assists per game along with him. The Nets have dropped 13 in a row to Milwaukee, including the first two meetings this season.
The Bucks avoided losing their fifth in a row to close out the first half of the season with a 94-92 win over the Sixers. A combined 48 points from the backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings led the way and gave Milwaukee a four-game lead on the Sixers for the final playoff spot in the East.
In the last meeting between these two teams, the Bucks beat the Nets handily, 108-93, behind 25 points from Jennings. The Nets were without Williams and Kris Humphries, and were held to 4-for-21 (19 percent) shooting from three.
Raptors at Wizards, 7 p.m.
A game that would have seemed irrelevant just a few weeks ago has suddenly gained importance. The red-hot, new-look Raptors aim for their fifth straight victory and sixth win in eight games since acquiring Rudy Gay.
Although Toronto’s 21-32 record does not seem impressive, they sit just two games behind the Sixers and six games behind the Bucks for the eighth seed in the East. Gay’s presence on the floor has freed up space for playmakers like Alan Anderson and DeMar DeRozan to score. In the Raptors’ most recent contest, a 92-88 victory over the Knicks, Anderson and DeRozan had 26 and 20 points, respectively.
The Wizards (15-36) had a chance to end the first half of their season with five consecutive wins, but suffered a disappointing 96-85 loss to the Pistons on Feb. 13. Emeka Okafor chipped in 20 points, but Washington could not make up for its minus-16 rebounding deficit.
Tonight marks the first meeting of the season between Toronto and Washington. The two teams split the season series last year.
Celtics at Nuggets, 9 p.m.
Two teams going in opposite directions meet in Denver tonight when the Nuggets host the Celtics.
Boston (28-24) has somehow overcome season-ending injuries to three key players (Rajon Rondo, Leandro Barbosa, Jared Sullinger) to win eight of its last nine games. One of those eight wins came against the Nuggets (33-21), a 118-114 triple-overtime victory at home. Paul Pierce recorded a triple-double with 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists. Denver’s downfall was at the free-throw line, where it shot just 59 percent.
The Nuggets have lost three in a row, all on the road. Tonight they return to the Pepsi Center where they have won 22 of 25 games this season. Denver must make a conscious effort on the defensive end of the floor if it wants to end its three-game losing skid. George Karl's team has given up 118, 109, and 119 points during the losing streak.