The Washington Wizards usually pick hilarious music to introduce visiting teams and with the Toronto Raptors in town, the song of choice was the theme from the old children’s show about a happy purple dinosaur, “Barney & Friends.” As the song blared through the arena, rookie Bradley Beal wrapped his arm around teammate Trevor Booker’s neck, swayed side-to-side and jokingly mouthed the lyrics and Booker chuckled.
The scene revealed Beal’s youth, since the 19-year-old is young enough to have grown up watching Barney, and his improved spirits as he returned to action after missing 11 of the past 14 games with a sprained left ankle. And, after watching Beal match his career high with six three-pointers and scoring a game-high 24 points to lead the Wizards to a 109-92 victory, Booker said the pregame sing-along revealed something else.
“That’s when I knew he was ready. He said, ‘That’s my song.’ He knew all the words, too.”
The Wizards welcomed back Beal with a great big hug as he came off the bench and reminded them of the zone-busting perimeter presence that they have been missing for most of this month. Beal scored at least 20 points for the 12th time this season and first time since March 1 — two days before he came crashing down with an ankle injury that he said was “like I never had before.”
“It felt good being able to knock down some shots, but when I was hurt, I never lost my mechanics,” said Beal, who shot 8 of 14 from the floor and 6 of 9 from long distance, matching his three-point total from Jan. 16 in Sacramento. “They kept leaving me open and my teammates kept finding me. I just stayed confident and the ball just ended up in my hands a lot.”
With the victory, the Wizards (27-46) snapped a two-game losing streak and won seven consecutive games at home for the first time in six seasons. The Wizards haven’t finished better than 13th in the conference since making their last playoff appearance in 2008 but they are now tied with the Raptors for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They trail ninth-place Philadelphia by three games with nine games remaining.
“That’s exactly what we’re shooting for. We feel like we can get to that spot,” said John Wall, who has led the Wizards to a 22-18 record since returning from a stress injury in his left knee. “We approach [the final nine games] like a playoff team, like if we was fighting for the seventh or eighth seed. We’re fighting to get the ninth seed and finish on a winning record.”
The last time the Wizards were at home, Wall carried the team to a stunning victory over the Memphis Grizzlies by scoring a career-high 47 points. But with the Wizards featuring their full complement of players with the exception of Nene, Wall was content playing setup man for most of the night. Wall finished with 18 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and just one turnover as the Wizards had 24 assists and nine turnovers on the night.
“John’s line is spectacular for a point guard. I like to see lines like that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “He did a great job controlling and dictating what we needed to do from an offensive standpoint; who had a hot hand, what calls needed to be made. I thought this was one of his better all-around games. We can talk about the 47 and the 30-plus, but this one, I think when he does what he did . . . that’s pretty good.”
Nene missed his fourth consecutive game with a sore right knee and Emeka Okafor picked up two quick fouls, but the Wizards got a much-needed boost from reserve big men Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely, the seldom-used 2011 No. 6 overall pick. Seraphin scored 11 of his 13 points and Vesely scored all nine of his points in the first half when the Wizards scored 60 points for the sixth time this season. Vesely had his highest scoring output in more than two months, providing some high energy with eight rebounds and highlight play as he caught a pass from backup point guard A.J. Price for an alley-oop dunk.
“They really stepped up,” Okafor said of Vesely and Seraphin after posting his 20th double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds. “Kevin was out there scoring points, playing D and boarding. Jan gave us some buckets and a great defensive effort.”
Beal made a step-back three-pointer to give the Wizards a 36-33 lead in the second quarter but appeared to be a bit rusty in the first half. But after getting his legs under him, Beal made his presence felt in the third period. Wittman put Beal back in the game after the Raptors cut a 16-point lead in half, and Beal made three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to give the Wizards a 79-64 lead. Beal made another wide open three-pointer from the left corner and then sucked in the defense before dropping off a pass to Okafor a dunk that gave the Wizards an 86-66 lead.
Then, the Wizards went into a slumber and allowed the Raptors to go on a 20-6 run over the next six minutes. Gay scored six straight points and brought his team within 92-86 when he drove baseline and made a difficult layup off the glass. Okafor helped settle down his teammates as he scored five of the next seven points to extend the lead to double digits.
Late in the fourth quarter, Wittman drew up a play for Martell Webster on the right side of the basket during a timeout, but Webster deferred and told Wittman that Beal needed to be in that position to take the shot. Webster said Wittman looked back at him and told him, “You’re right about that.”
Wittman adjusted the play and the Wizards worked the ball to Beal, who faked a shot then penetrated for a layup that went high off the backboard put the game out of reach.
“It was amazing,” Webster said. “That was extraordinary shooting. That’s what he can do.”