WASHINGTON — As the Washington Wizards pursue their stated goal of finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference, seeing Bradley Beal back on the court was a welcome sight.
Beal scored 24 points in his return from a five-game absence, leading the Wizards to a 109-92 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.
Emeka Okafor had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and John Wall added 18 points and 10 assists for Washington. The Wizards, who came in having lost two in a row on the road, won their seventh straight at home and moved into a tie with Toronto for 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
“They kept leaving me open and my teammates just kept finding me,” said Beal, who was out with a sprained ankle. “I was able to knock down some shots. I stayed confident, and the ball ended up in my hands a lot.”
Beal shot 8 for 14 from the field, including a career-high-tying six 3-pointers — on nine attempts — in 30 minutes.
“We’ve seen it in his attitude,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “He’s been working, and he wants to get back. That’s a good sign when you’ve only got 10 games left. I’ve been in it long enough where I’ve seen guys say they don’t want to get back in it.”
The Wizards — 8 1/2 games behind eighth-place Milwaukee with nine games remaining — are realistically out of the playoff picture, but trail Philadelphia by three games for ninth.
“We’re playing for something that’s bigger than just nine games left,” Martell Webster said. “Fighting for that ninth spot because for us, that’s fuel for next year.”
Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors, losers of six of their last seven. Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry added 15 apiece. Toronto leading scorer Rudy Gay scored 11 points — about seven below his average — while being limited to 26 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I thought we came out with a relaxed disposition and didn’t come out ready to go. The guys didn’t look like they were ready to move their feet defensively,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We had some frustration fouls which kind of set the tone for the course of the game.”
Toronto, which has lost six of seven, cut a 20-point third-quarter deficit to six twice in the fourth quarter before Washington pulled away.
The Wizards shot 48.2 per cent from the field (41 of 85) to 39.5 per cent for Toronto (32 of 81). Paced by Beal, the Wizards’ reserves outscored their Toronto counterparts, 62-25.
Washington increased a 10-point halftime lead to 16 with an 8-2 run to open the second half. Toronto cut it to 70-62, but Beal hit 3-pointers on three of the Wizards’ next four possessions to make it 79-64. A little over a minute later, Beal hit another 3 and, after a Toronto miss, Okafor’s dunk put Washington ahead 86-66 with 2:18 left in the quarter.
The Wizards scored 12 points from the foul line in the opening 12 minutes. Wall’s two free throws gave the Wizards a 27-25 lead at the end of a first quarter that featured nine lead changes. With Washington ahead by one midway through the second quarter, Keven Seraphin scored six of his 11 first-half points in an 8-2 Washington spurt. A minute later, Wall fed Trevor Ariza for a fast-break layup that made it 50-41 and Washington led by 10 at the half.
Wall turned the ball over just one time.
“John’s line is spectacular for a point guard. I like to see lines like that. He got the ball moving around. He had good pace to the game,” Wittman said.
“I thought he did a great job on controlling and dictating what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint. I thought this was one of his better all-around games.“
Wall added: “I didn’t have to be super aggressive and score a lot. I knew a lot of teams are keying on me the way I’ve been playing lately so I’m just doing a great job of taking the shots I have and if my teammates are open, doing a great job of finding them.”
Gay was held to five points in the half and DeMar DeRozan to four, while Valanciunas scored 16 for Toronto.
“We’ve just got to be focused,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got to understand we’ve only got so many games left. We’ve got to put our mind to it and play hard every game. It’s as simple as that.”