WASHINGTON - These are the games the 76ers can't pull out: the ones against bad teams, the ones they really should win.

Tonight at the Verizon Center, the Sixers lost another of those games, 105-98, to the Washington Wizards.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Sixers were ahead, 79-72.

Washington coach Flip Saunders had mass-substituted his entire lineup, as frustrated as he was by his team's second-half play.

With 7 minutes, 58 seconds left in the third quarter, out came Washington's starters, in came its reserves: The change didn't help. Still, the Wizards drifted through that third quarter.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Saunders reinserted his go-to guys, most notably shooting guard Gilbert Arenas. Arenas scored 31 points, including 12 in the fourth. Washington outscored the Sixers in the period, 33-19.

With 4:24 remaining, the Wizards went ahead, 96-90, on a slam by forward Caron Butler. With 2:03 left, Earl Boykins - all 5-foot-5 of him - went directly to the rim and laid in the ball for a 98-92 lead.

The Sixers dropped to 7-21; Washington improved to 9-17.

Reserve power forward Elton Brand led the Sixers with 18 points and grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds.

Things were so easy for Arenas in the first 13 minutes of the game that he was scoring buckets off inbounds passes - without dribbling.

With 11 minutes, 10 seconds left in the second quarter, the Wizards took the ball out along their sideline. Arenas set himself on the right block. A second later, he was catching a pass leading him toward the rim and knocking the ball off the backboard for his seventh field goal of the first half.

In those first 13 minutes, Arenas scored 17 points.

Washington, mostly because of its shooting guard, broke out to a 9-2 lead. At the end of the first quarter, the Wizards were ahead by 27-21, and Arenas - guarded at times by Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, and once or twice by Andre Iguodala - finished with three three-pointers and 15 points.

After the quick-hit inbounds play, Arenas did not score for the rest of the first half. When he stopped scoring, so did his Wizards. After leading in the second quarter by as many as 11 points at 44-33, they were ahead by just 47-44 at halftime.

The second quarter belonged to Brand and Jason Kapono. In the period, Brand scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Kapono hit a three-pointer and scored seven points.

At halftime, Arenas was the only player in double-figure scoring.

The first-half separation came from the foul line: Washington was 6 for 6, while the Sixers were 3 for 4. The Wizards also finished the half 5 for 8 from the three-point line.

The Sixers outrebounded the Wizards by 22-15 in the half. They scored nine points in transition, while the Wizards scored none.

And still, as has been the case this season for the Sixers, Washington somehow built a lead.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.