The worst team in the NBA is playing can't miss basketball.

It's not something that can be said very often, and for good reason. The Wizards (9-30) aren't at the bottom of the NBA standings by accident, and last place is where they still find themselves two games prior to the season's midway point.

But this is the rare occasion when a team is not explained merely by its record. Having already won five of their last seven, the Wizards will attempt to finish a five-game road trip with a winning record for the first time this season at Utah (22-19) on Wednesday. All of a sudden, it's only the beginning of what seems possible.

Let's get this out of the way: It has nothing to do with the meaningless six-game winning streak that ended last season. The roster is different, and beating four teams with .500 records or better -- including Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City -- is worth more in January than April.

Defense has become the hallmark -- the Wizards are 10th in NBA defensive efficiency (101.1) -- a side effect of replacing the sideshow act of recent seasons with a team motivated by winning (even when they weren't without John Wall).

The Wizards are still ranked 30th in offensive efficiency (94.7). But in the last seven games, that rating improves to 13th (104.1). Over the same stretch, they're fifth in field goal shooting (47.1 percent) and first from 3-point range (45.4 percent).

Wall's per-game averages (14.0 points, 6.7 assists) since his return are just shy of his career numbers in 12 fewer minutes per night off the bench. His dynamic effect on Washington's shooters has been dramatic, led by Bradley Beal, who is converting 58.0 percent of his 3-point attempts in January.

But it was Jordan Crawford who delivered the kind of game-winning 3-pointer against the Trail Blazers that transforms the disillusioned and apathetic back into fans.

Make no mistake, the Wizards haven't turned into contenders. But the far less attractive ways they've been talked about in the past are no longer fair or accurate. What they are, for the first time in years, is worth watching just to see how long the current resurgence lasts.

- Craig Stouffer