WASHINGTON (AP) The Washington Wizards finished eighth in the Eastern Conference standings and set up a play-in matchup against the No. 7 Boston Celtics by coming back to beat the Charlotte Hornets 115-110 Sunday with Bradley Beal scoring 20 of his 25 points in the second half.
The Hornets, who led by as many as 16 points in the first half, closed the regular season on a five-game losing streak to drop to the 10th spot in the East and will play at the Indiana Pacers in a win-or-go-home game in the play-in round.
Beal returned after missing three consecutive games with a strained left hamstring, and while he didn’t always look to be at his best, he was a big part of this win, including two free throws to clinch it with 9.6 seconds remaining after Devonte’ Graham missed a 3-point try for Charlotte.
And Beal got plenty of help, as usual, from Russell Westbrook, who heard ”M-V-P!” chants while contributing 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists for his 184th career triple-double – three more than Oscar Robertson’s previous NBA record – and 38th this season alone, the most in the league.
Terry Rozier led Charlotte with 22 points.
Charlotte, Washington and Indiana entered the final day of the regular season with identical 33-38 records, essentially tied for eighth place in the East. All three teams already were assured of getting into the play-in portion of the postseason; Sunday’s results determined the exact placing and initial opponents.
So Hornets vs. Wizards amounted to a one-game playoff for the eighth spot, because both held tiebreakers over the Pacers, who beat the Toronto Raptors 125-113 Sunday.
When Beal started Sunday, he was wearing a strip of athletic tape down the back of his upper left leg that he peeled off early in the first quarter.
After beginning the day second in the NBA in scoring average at 31.4 ppg – behind only two-time MVP Stephen Curry at 31.8 – Beal opened 0 for 6 against Charlotte. He finally made a shot, a 19-foot jumper with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half, then followed that up with a 3-pointer.
It was clear, though, that he was not close to his best. He wasn’t able to move quickly or freely. He picked up three quick fouls. After dribbling the ball out of bounds in the second quarter, he covered his face with both hands. He eventually got going after halftime.
The Hornets led by as many as 16 in the first quarter, which ended with the visitors up 36-22, thanks in large part to 7-for-11 shooting on 3s. Their edge at halftime was 56-52.
Beal was 2 for 11 for just five points after two quarters.
A 12-0 run by Charlotte helped it take a 90-79 lead into the fourth period.
But Westbrook provided eight points as Washington responded with a 17-4 spurt to go ahead 96-94 with more than 7 1/2 minutes left, its first lead since the first quarter.
Hornets: Went 15-21 on the road this season. … F Gordon Hayward has not played since April 2 because of a sprained right foot, missing Charlotte’s last 24 regular-season games. Cody Martin was out for the seventh straight game with a sprained left ankle.
Wizards: Finished on a four-game home winning streak to close with a 19-17 record in the nation’s capital this season. … Backup PG Raul Neto sat out with a tight left hamstring. … Went into the last game of the regular season averaging 116.7 points, third-most in the NBA.
No surprise here: Wizards coach Scott Brooks is a fan of the play-in setup, a formula the NBA is trying for the first time during this shortened, 72-game season.
”I love it. I really, really love it,” Brooks said. ”Think about all the excitement it’s created in the last 10 days or so.”
Hornets: At Indiana on Tuesday in the East’s 9 vs. 10 play-in game.
Wizards: At Boston on Tuesday in the East’s 7 vs. 8 play-in game.
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