WASHINGTON -- As he was walking off the court at halftime, Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins asked a favor of one of his captains.
"He was saying talk to the guys, try to keep their spirits up and stuff like that," Thaddeus Young said. "And I told him, 'You have nothing to worry about. Everybody here in this locker room is trying to win this game.' "
With their coach's future in question, the 76ers awoke from pack-it-in mode Friday night, recovering from a 13-point, second-quarter deficit and pulling away in the second half for a 97-86 win, putting to rest the Washington Wizards' goal of becoming the best non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers had lost three straight, including two by an average of 22 points since being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Collins spent much of his pregame talk with reporters trying to not answer questions about whether he'll be back as coach next season. Motivation was becoming an issue.
"It would be very easy -- we didn't practice yesterday -- to come in here, throw your sneakers out there, you get down 13 and get beat by 20," Collins said.
Instead, Jrue Holiday scored 22 points to lead five 76ers in double figures, stopping a Wizards team that had generated motivation -- and momentum -- by declaring their goal to catch Philadelphia to help make up for a 4-28 start.
"I think whether it's a conscious thing or a subconscious thing, when you officially get eliminated, it kind of hits you, it takes some of the wind out of your sails," said Spencer Hawes, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. "But then you regroup and refocus and try to take out of it whatever you can from the last however-many games."
Young added 18 points and 13 points for the 76ers, while John Wall scored 24 points to lead the Wizards, who have lost four straight and trail the 76ers by 3½ games with two left to end their chase -- if it can really be called that -- for No. 9.
"It's very disappointing," said Garrett Temple, who scored eight points. "We set that as a goal about a month ago, month-and-a-half ago and we were striving for that. But at the same time we have two more games left and we definitely want to get to 30 wins."
The 76ers had been a disinterested competitor for the Wizards, and they still could be caught by the 10th-place Toronto Raptors. Asked before the game if the tussle for ninth was on his radar, Collins shrugged and said: "You know, ninth, 10th -- I mean, that's out of the playoffs."
Nevertheless, Holiday bounced back after a pair of bad games and made 8 of 17 shots and added seven assists. Evan Turner also had seven assists, helping compensate for his 0-for-11 night from the field.
The Wizards had been strong at home since Wall returned from a knee injury. They finished 22-19 at the Verizon Center, including 18-6 with Wall.
But ninth place will go to someone else.
"Any time you don't reach a goal you're a little disappointed," Washington coach Randy Wittman said. "But we gave it a shot."
Philadelphia G Nick Young, a first-round draft pick by the Wizards in 2007, was booed when he entered the game for the first time as a visiting player at the Verizon Center. The reception amused Young so much that he covered his mouth with his hand to control his laughter. ... The Wizards played without Martell Webster (abdominal strain) and Trevor Ariza (sore left knee). ... Collins on his status with the 76ers: "I've told you all along, I'm not the topic of conversation. We're going to focus on the games, and we're going to play those. We'll sit down at the end of the season (as) I've always done. I've got a wonderful relationship with (owner) Josh Harris, and we will discuss what we need to do next year." ... Philadelphia's Dorell Wright had the comic lowlight with a 3-point attempt late in the first quarter. The ball slipped out of his hands and went backward with no one touching it, landing in the front row of seats some 30 feet from the basket. "It just flew out of my hands," Wright said. "I don't know what the heck that was."