Wizards on longest win streak since Michael Jordan | #retirement | #elderly | #seniors
The last time the Washington Wizards won eight in a row, Michael Jordan had just left the front office and come out of retirement for the second time.
Bradley Beal and the Wizards used a big fourth-quarter push Sunday to rally past the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-110 for their eighth straight win. It’s the Wizards’ longest win streak since they won nine in a row in Dec. 2001 during Jordan’s first season with the team.
“It’s a blessing, but we don’t pat ourselves on the back or anything like that because we still got our work cut out,” said Beal, who scored a game-high 33 points. “Tonight was probably one of our not so good nights. Granted, we duked it out and won, but we had a lot of mental lapses and defensive lapses that we shouldn’t have had tonight.”
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Cleveland led by eight early in the fourth quarter before Washington rallied and put the game away with a 14-5 closing run. Russell Westbrook had a quiet night by his standards with 14 points and 11 assists, but the bench came through with 51 points. Robin Lopez had 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting, and Daniel Gafford had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting with six rebounds, four steals and four blocks.
“Just coming in and having as much energy as I possibly can, keeping guys up and whatnot,” Gafford said. “We’re just one big happy family at this point, trying to stay together, trying to stay locked in as a team to where we can withstand late-game situations like we just did tonight.”
Washington has surged to 10th place in the Eastern Conference and the final spot in the new play-in format. Beal wants the Wizards thinking about more. They’re two games behind the Indiana Pacers for ninth and three back of Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets for eighth. Washington has 12 games left.
“It means a lot to be in this position, but looking ahead at what we’re trying to accomplish, we still got a lot of things to improve on in a short amount of time,” said Beal, who is averaging 32.1 points during the win streak.
The Wizards have 10 of their last 11 to improve to 27-33 overall. It’s a notable turnaround for a team that lost five straight to open the season and stumbled to an early 6-17 mark. They were a season-high 15 games under .500 as recently as April 5.
“It’s just staying with it,” Beal said. “Seeing where we are now vs. the beginning of the year, a lot of teams basically counted us out and said we wouldn’t be too much of nothing. It means even much more to know we’re duking it out and getting it done this way.”
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Durant shines in return
Kevin Durant’s latest injury absence was brief as the Brooklyn Nets star returned to the lineup Sunday after missing three games with a bruised left thigh. Durant came off the bench and scored 33 points in 28 minutes to help the Nets hold off the Phoenix Suns 128-119. He shot 12-of-21 from the field, 2-of-3 from 3-point range and 7-of-8 on free throws. Durant and the Nets are trying to hold off the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and have 1½-game lead with 11 to go.
“It’s like riding a bike,” Durant said. “You get your footing right and just get your rhythm going. I think my teammates did a great job of looking for me all game. … It was a good start. Hopefully, I build on this game and keep going.”
Jazz first team to clinch
The Utah Jazz are the first team to officially clinch their spot in the playoffs, thanks to the Portland Trail Blazers’ loss Sunday afternoon. Utah has reached the postseason for the fifth year in a row. The next goal for the Jazz is clinching the top seed in the Western Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They enter Monday with the NBA’s best record at 44-16 and a two-game lead on the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.
Sixers unconcerned by slide
The Philadelphia 76ers return home on a season-high four-game losing streak, including two losses against the Milwaukee Bucks. Even so, the Sixers aren’t overly worried. Ben Simmons will miss a fifth straight game with an illness Monday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Joel Embiid is questionable with a sore right shoulder after also sitting out Saturday’s loss in Milwaukee. Health is always key, and coach Doc Rivers is hopeful his stars’ absences will be brief.
“I’m not concerned about our overall health,” Rivers said. “I’m just concerned about the amount of games we’re missing. … We’ve just got to get rhythm with all of our guys playing.”
Game of the night: Suns at Knicks
The New York Knicks bring the NBA’s longest active win streak into Monday’s matchup against one of the top teams in the league. The Knicks have won nine in a row for their longest streak since 2013 and climbed to fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Phoenix Suns finish a five-game road trip at Madison Square Garden. The trip got off to a great start with wins in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but the Suns are coming off tough losses in Boston and Brooklyn.
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