TORONTO (AP)—The Washington Wizards still aren’t winning, but at least they’re feeling better about the way they’re losing.
But with three rookie starters each scoring 20 points, the Wizards are certain there will be brighter days in their future.
“The biggest thing was that we’ve had a tendency this year, when we’ve got behind, to really hang our heads and almost think it’s not going to happen,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. “With our young guys playing, what they’ve been doing is, even though we’ve fallen behind, they’ve kept on fighting.”
Like the Wizards, the struggling Raptors are starting to look ahead to next season.
“We’ve got to keep thinking about the team,” Calderon said. “We’ve got to keep working and keep finishing as strong as possible.”
Maurice Evans(notes) scored 15 points and JaVale McGee(notes) had 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Wizards, who have lost six straight away from home since their only road victory of the season at NBA-worst Cleveland on Feb. 13.
Washington is 1-31 on the road, where it must play nine of its final 15 games.
Toronto led 98-87 with 6:25 left before Washington trimmed the gap to 98-96 with a 9-0 run that featured two dunks by Evans, one from McGee and a follow slam by Booker.
“Our zone was bad early but a lot better late and we made a run with our zone,” Saunders said. “We’re learning to make some adjustments over the course of a game.”
Bargnani stopped the run with a layup and, after Wall made two free throws, he and Reggie Evans(notes) each made a pair from the line, giving Toronto a 104-98 lead with 2:14 left. Washington did not challenge again.
Bargnani set career highs for free throws made (15) and attempted (18).
“Thirty-three points on 15 shots, that’s about as efficient as you can get,” Raptors coach Jay Triano said. “You could tell from the beginning of the game that when he put it on the floor he was aggressive going to the basket.”
Andray Blatche(notes) missed his fourth straight game with a sore right shoulder, while Josh Howard(notes) and Nick Young(notes) both missed their second straight with left knee injuries. Those absences meant Washington started three rookies—Booker, Wall and Crawford—for the second consecutive game.
“The time they’re getting is very valuable, quality time,” Saunders said. “They’re picking up quality time in heat-of-the-battle game situations. It’s not where a game’s out of hand and you throw on a rookie the last couple of minutes. It’s going to help them come next year.”
Booker can already see the difference this late-season opportunity is making.
“We’re starting to trust each other more, get a better chemistry, and we’re feeding off each other,” he said.
Bargnani scored 12 points and DeRozan had 10 in the first as the Raptors made 10 of 11 from the line to open a 33-27 lead. Booker had a strong opening quarter for the Wizards, with 12 points and five rebounds. The forward made six of his first seven shots, including three dunks.
Washington used a 16-2 run to take a 43-37 lead with 7:45 left in the second, but Calderon hit consecutive jumpers, including a 3, and DeRozan added a putback dunk to restore the Raptors’ lead. DeRozan had eight in the quarter to give Toronto a 62-53 lead at halftime.
Crawford scored 10 points in the third, but Bargnani had 11 and DeRozan added eight for the Raptors, who took an 88-77 lead into the fourth.
NOTES: Bargnani made his 500th career 3-pointer in the third quarter. … Othyus Jeffers(notes), who signed a 10-day contract Wednesday, made his Wizards debut. He did not score in 12 minutes. … As they did in Wednesday’s loss at Detroit, the Raptors wore green uniforms for St. Patrick’s Day. … The Raptors play their next five games on the road against Western Conference opponents. They don’t return home until March 30. … Actor Samuel L. Jackson attended the game.