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- The Washington Wizards ended the first half with a frustrating loss at Detroit, but no single setback could dampen the team’s enthusiasm after a lengthy winning stretch. Since John Wall’s return on Jan. 12, the Wizards are 10-8, very different from their 5-28 start to the campaign. “We’ve got to stay focused on what we’ve done leading into all this: ball movement, player movement, guys touching the ball, and defense is our staple,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We have an opportunity here, if we can stay healthy and continue to do those things to put together a good 31 games here.
- Wizards’ guard Bradley Beal, tied for second on the team with 13.2 points per game, will return to the starting lineup for the first time since January 28. The rookie came off the bench for the final three games before the break after missing the previous five with a sprained right wrist. Beal scored a career-high 28 points at Milwaukee on Feb. 11.
- Assuming a certain South Florida starry squad owns the Eastern Conference’s longest active winning streak is hardly a stretch. Realizing it requires a look north of the border for the next team on that list might be. Yet it’s true, Toronto entered the All-Star break on a roll with four straight wins. That’s a start, but the Raptors remain six games out of the final playoff berth with 29 games remaining. “I think we’re on the right path,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “Roll, I don’t know. I think our focus has been pretty good lately, especially defensively..For us to continue going down this road we have to make it a defensive focus and let the offense take care of itself.”
- One reason the Raptors can collectively focus more on defense than offense — especially at the end of games — is newly acquired Rudy Gay. Acquired from Memphis on Jan. 30, the 6-foot-8 small forward, Gay nailed game-winning baskets against the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers. “It’s like the baseball player [Mariano] Rivera. You’ve got to have a closer,” Casey said. “He’s been a great shot in the arm for us. He gives us confidence in those situations whether he makes or misses it. You feel like you have a legit chance of getting that shot down.
– Benjamin Standig