Wizards get back on track, grow lead for final playoff spot by beating Raptors

Wizards grow lead for final playoff spot by beating Raptors originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors 131-129 on Thursday night. Here are five observations from what went down…

Back on track

Everything is going the Wizards’ way lately, so much so that they have even beaten the Raptors.

After losing nine consecutive times to Toronto, the Wizards finally took them out on Thursday on the road in Tampa at their temporary home. It was on the second night of a back-to-back and required a comeback from down 13 points and overtime. But they pulled it out in part thanks to a timely coach’s challenge by Scott Brooks which reversed a foul and gave Robin Lopez free throws in the final minute.

The Wizards got a two-for-one by beating the Raptors, who are the team right behind them in the postseason chase. They cut their magic number to clinch from four to two, which means they only need a combination of two wins by them or losses by the Raptors and they are in.

The Pacers won on Thursday, so the Wizards didn’t gain any ground as they gun for the ninth seed, but they have an opportunity to take it on Saturday when they play at Indiana in a game with major postseason stakes.

Russ is one away

With 13 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists, Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double, his third straight and sixth in his last seven games. It was the 180th of Westbrook’s career, which means he’s only one triple-double away from tying Oscar Robertson’s all-time record and just two away from passing him.

That is just regular season triple-doubles, however. Generally, that’s how all-time stats are compared. But if you include playoff triple-doubles, Westbrook actually passed Roberston on Thursday night with his 190th. It was a warmup for what should be a special night, whenever Westbrook breaks the record.

With five games left in the regular season, it is likely to happen very soon. The Wizards play at the Pacers next before heading to Atlanta for two games against the Hawks.

3-point defense

The Wizards’ biggest issue on Wednesday night against Milwaukee was defending the 3-point line as the Bucks made 18 threes and shot nearly 50%. Toronto had similar luck, beginning with six threes in the first quarter and nine by halftime.

The Raptors ended up with 14 threes, going 36.8% from long range. Five different players made at least 14 shots from the perimeter. The biggest one was by Fred VanVleet with 1.3 to go in regulation, as it forced overtime.

These two games have been a regression for the Wizards, who have struggled to limit threes for most of this season, but since the trade deadline, they are ninth in percentage allowed in seventh in makes allowed. That has been one of the biggest reasons for their turnaround, so it’s something they will want to sort out sooner than later.

Neto popped off

After a first half where the Wizards were struggling mightily to score the ball, Raul Neto lit a spark in the third quarter. He put up a career-high 25 points on the night, including a three in the third quarter with just under four minutes to go to tie the game for the first time since the first quarter.

Neto made a season-high five threes. Per usual, he had a few hustle plays that came out of nowhere. On the second night of a back-to-back, with the team traveling halfway across the country after the loss, that type of energy was needed.

Neto led a good bench effort overall. Their second unit outscored that of the Raptors 55 to 21

No Hachimura

Rui Hachimura missed his second straight game due to an illness. The team says it isn’t the coronavirus, but it has been enough to make him miss two games, including an important for their playoff hopes. Brooks has expressed optimism Hachimura will be able to return on Saturday against the Pacers.

Hachimura is a player the Wizards will need to get right before the postseason begins. The same goes for Davis Bertans, who had 14 points but came in averaging 7.8 points and shooting 33.3% from three in his last five games. Those guys are their third- and fourth-best scorers and the Wizards need them healthy and playing well to go on a postseason run.