Raptors 99, Wizards 92

Although Washington’s best defensive stretch in nearly 10 years

hasn’t led to a leap up the standings, the long-suffering Wizards

believe it’s an indicator of better days ahead.

Andrea Bargnani scored 18 points, Jose Calderon and DeMar

DeRozan each had 15 and the Toronto Raptors beat Washington 99-92

Sunday night, their fifth straight home victory over the

Wizards.

”I thought our guys fought hard being short-handed the way we

were, we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Wizards coach

Randy Wittman, whose team was without starters Nene and Trevor

Booker, both sidelined with left foot injuries.

Washington held its opponent below 100 points for the ninth

consecutive game, something the Wizards hadn’t done since Nov.

30-Dec. 17, 2002. Still, improved defense hasn’t been enough for

Washington, which is 2-7 in that stretch.

”You want the victories to come but time will tell with that,”

said Wizards guard John Wall, who had 13 points and 11 assists.

”You’ve just got to be patient. Just know that you’re working on

your game and getting better and everything will work out

fine.”

Veteran guard Roger Mason Jr., who scored seven of his 12 points

in the fourth quarter, said he’s been telling his young teammates

to keep working hard, even if the payoff isn’t immediate.

”We know that positive momentum this year can have a lot to do

with your success next year,” Mason said. ”We’re taking these

games very seriously. It’s a challenge for us to see where we’re at

now. Every team that we play, they all have some kind of comment to

say this is a much better team. That’s no consolation when you lose

but we definitely know we’re going in the right direction.”

Kevin Seraphin scored a career-high 16 points for the Wizards,

who were trying to win back-to-back games for just the second time

this season. Washington’s only two-game winning streak came with

victories at Detroit on Feb. 12 and at Portland on Feb. 14.

Jordan Crawford scored 18 points, Chris Singleton fouled out

with 15, and Jan Vesely had 10 for the Wizards.

”It’s definitely going in a good direction,” Crawford said.

”Coach Wittman is doing a great job of just keeping us focussed.

Even though it’s a losing season he’s done a good job of keeping us

focussed. I think we’ve got a lot of pieces and that we can win a

lot of ball games in the future.”

The present, however, isn’t so rosy for Washington, which has

lost 11 of 14 and 18 of 23.

”It’s tough but the hope is the guys remember this feeling,

remember what it’s like when teams are trying to kill you and stomp

on you and know that you’ve got to keep working to change it

around,” Mason Jr. said.

Amir Johnson scored 10 points and James Johnson, Gary Forbes and

Alan Anderson each had nine for the Raptors, who never trailed.

Up by 10 to start the fourth quarter, Toronto increased its lead

to a game-high 15 points – 80-65 – on two free throws by Bargnani

with 8:11 left.

Washington pulled to 82-76 with an 11-2 run over the next 3:12,

but a free throw by DeRozan and a jumper from Bargnani gave Toronto

an 85-76 lead with 3:50 to go.

Seraphin’s dunk brought the Wizards to 89-86 with 1:18 left but

Amir Johnson’s putback of DeRozan’s missed jumper and two more free

throws by Bargnani gave Toronto a seven-point lead with 51 seconds

left.

”The follow-up tip dunk was huge,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey

said. ”It was a great momentum play for us.”

Wall converted a three-point play to cut it to four but DeRozan

answered with a driving layup, giving the Raptors a 95-89 edge with

24 seconds remaining.

Bargnani scored eight points early as Toronto took a 9-1 lead

but couldn’t maintain the edge. Seraphin had six points for

Washington and Mason Jr.’s jumper with 2 seconds left in the

quarter cut it to 22-21 after one.

The Raptors pulled away again in the second, taking a 43-34 lead

on Amir Johnson’s dunk with 2:46 left. Wall and Seraphin each

scored four points as Washington closed the half with an 8-3 run,

cutting it to 46-42 at the intermission.

DeRozan scored 10 points in the third and Alan Anderson’s jumper

at the buzzer gave the Raptors a 71-61 lead heading to the

fourth.

NOTES: Wittman said both Nene and Booker are improving but there

is no timetable for their return. ”They both felt better today

than yesterday,” Wittman said. … Toronto and Washington split

their four-game season series for the second straight year. …

Calderon finished with eight assists, ending a run of five straight

games with at least 10. … Toronto outrebounded Washington 43-31.

… All five Wizards starters reached double figures in scoring for

the first time this season. … The Raptors wore camouflage

uniforms to honor the Canadian military, the third of four times

this season they’ll wear them.