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Wizards discover some second half magic as surge continues

Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry (3) is fouled by Washington Wizards John Wall (2) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto,
Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry (3) is fouled by Washington Wizards John Wall (2) during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Toronto,

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - With just five wins from their first 33 games there was certainly nothing magical about the Washington Wizards' start to the National Basketball Association (NBA)season.

In fact, it was the type of horrific kickoff to a campaign that would have had Harry Potter thumbing through the sorcery text books searching for a winning spell as Washington disappeared to the bottom of the Eastern conference standings.

But with the season heading into the home stretch, the Wizards are on the rise, and notched their third straight win and seventh in nine games with a 90-84 defeat of the Toronto Raptors on Monday.

While it would still take a miracle for Washington (18-37) to claim a playoff spot, the hole the Wizards found themselves in is no longer quite so deep.

"We didn't need a wake-up call, we've already agreed to the fact that the second half of the season is very important," Wizards forward Martell Webster told reporters. "We're not focusing on the playoffs, we're focusing on one game at a time.

"We've been saying that all year and the end result is the end result. Right now we're living in the moment and once the game's over, onto the next."

The return of guard John Wall, the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft and the emergence of rookie Bradley Beal, who the Wizards took with the number three selection in last year's draft, have been the catalyst to Washington's second half surge.

The Wizards are now 13-9 since Wall's comeback from a knee injury that forced him to sit out the opening 33 games while Bradley, the NBA's rookie of the month for December and January, made a team-high 20 points against the Raptors to help Washington to just their fifth road win of the season.

"I just kept shooting, I let the game come to me I wasn't forcing anything," said Beal. "You just have to stick with it when you have games like this. It's never going to be your game every night."

For the last seven years the Raptors and Wizards have trod the same rocky path. The last time either team appeared in the playoffs was six seasons ago, with both exiting in the first round.

Since being rebranded the Wizards in 1997, Washington has reached the post-season just four times and fallen at the first hurdle all but once.

Toronto joined the league in 1995 and has qualified for the post-season on just five occasions, also advancing just once.

Toronto stumbled out of the gate this season with a 4-19 record, compared to the woeful Wizards mark of 5-28.

Both teams appear to have bright futures but the Raptors, winners of six of their last eight, are convinced they have a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

With 25 games to play, Toronto (23-34) sits in 10th place, 4.5 games adrift of the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot.

"That was our goal coming into this year," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "We got off to a rocky start and dug ourselves a huge hole.

"We have a tough row to hoe but our guys are excited about it.

"I know it got a little rocky there at 4-19 but again I knew if we continued to do the right things and go with the format we wanted to go with, defense first and get a balanced offense, good things would happen."

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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