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Scott Brooks gearing up Washington Wizards for season's stretch run

* Tonight on TNT: Wizards vs. Cavaliers (8 ET)

Entering tonight’s showdown in Cleveland, the Washington Wizards sit 2 1/2 games behind the Cavaliers for No. 3 in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards are also, however, a mere 3 1/2 games ahead of No. 8-seeded Miami Heat in the playoff order. In short: there is much that can change as the final 20-plus games of the season loom.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks is well aware of the slate ahead for his team, which has won seven of its last nine games (and been without All-Star guard John Wall since late January). Chase Hughes of has more on the task ahead for Brooks and his crew and how the coach is motivating his troops:

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves.

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

“Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group,” Brooks noted. “LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They’re a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn’t played because he’s hurt.”

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