Wall, Beal propel Wizards in season sweep of Nets

Wall, Beal propel Wizards in season sweep of Nets

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards are back in the postseason after a one-year absence.

They also appear back in the groove that helped them overcome a dismal start and become a true contender in the Eastern Conference.

John Wall scored 22 points and Bradley Beal had 19 as the Washington Wizards defeated the Brooklyn Nets 129-108 Friday night and clinched a playoff berth.

Brandon Jennings had 18 points and nine assists off the bench for the Wizards (44-28), who shot 50.5 percent from the field, made 21 of 22 free throws and led by as many as 28 points. Washington, which swept the four-game season series from Brooklyn, has won two in a row after losing four of five.

The latest victory, combined with losses by the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls, put Washington back into the postseason for the third time in four seasons. Last season they finished 41-41, but came up just short in pursuit of another playoff appearance. Losing eight of 10 at the start of this campaign brought hints of another missed opportunity, but the Wizards rebounded.

“It’s great,” Wall said. “The way we dealt with last year wasn’t good for us. We wanted to go to the playoffs. We fell short of that. The way we started the season wasn’t the way we wanted. ... We all stayed together as a team. That’s the most important thing.”

The Wizards moved one game ahead of the idle Toronto Raptors for third place in the Eastern Conference.

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The loss snapped Brooklyn’s first two-game winning streak of the season. Justin Hamilton scored 20 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 19 and Jeremy Lin had 14 for the Nets (15-57).

Brooklyn led 21-20, but never again after Washington’s 31-8 run in the first half put the Wizards comfortably ahead.

“We could not get over the hump,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Credit to (the Wizards). They are playing well.

Bojan Bogdanovic, acquired by the Wizards from the Nets in February before the NBA’s trading deadline, scored 17 points. Ian Mahinmi had 11 of his 16 points in the first half as the Wizards led 63-42.

Owners of the league’s worst record, the Nets had not won back-to-back games all season before this week. After knocking off the Detroit Pistons 98-96, Brooklyn throttled the Phoenix Suns 126-98 on Thursday as six reserves scored in double figures. Friday’s slow start doomed hopes of a three-peat.

“I think we might have been a step slow,” Lin said.

The Nets scored 39 points and shot 16 of 22 from the field in the third quarter, but the margin never dipped below 15 points in the second half.

Defensive woes hampered Washington during its recent dip, but Brooklyn only shot 38.1 percent from the field in the first half before finishing at 52.4.

“I feel like we did a better job (after halftime), but then they kind of got a little away from us,” Hollis-Jefferson said.

Washington’s starters sat out the fourth quarter.

Wall’s status was unclear prior to the game as the All-Star skipped morning shootaround because of a migraine. He had nine assists in 24 minutes. Wall also said he still had a headache postgame.

“It’s not as bad as it was this morning,” Wall said. “Trying to do as much treatment as I can and prepare myself for (Saturday).”

Jennings revved up the offense in the second and fourth quarters. His two free throws gave the Wizards their largest lead at 59-31 and he scored 11 in the final period. Providing the roster with another push-the-pace option besides Wall is what Washington hoped for when he signed as a free agent by Washington on March 1.

“Not a lot of teams can have nine (assists) from your starter and backup,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.

Washington opens a daunting five-game road trip Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers before heading west.

The road trip, Washington’s second five-game stretch in March, includes matchups against several Western Conference contenders and ends April 2 at Golden State.

“We knew March was going to be pretty demanding, challenging,” Brooks said after Washington improved to 9-5 this month. “We were hoping we were playing well at that time. We’re not playing bad.”

NOTES: The Wizards only committed 10 turnovers. ... Brooklyn’s 39 points in the third quarter were the most allowed by Washington in any period this season. ... Washington is 0-2 against Cleveland this season, including a memorable 140-135 overtime home loss on Feb. 6. Cavaliers star LeBron James forced the extra session by banking a wild 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining in regulation. ... The Nets play at the Atlanta Hawks Sunday afternoon.