'Confident' Beal returns from injury, keys Wizards' victory

NEW YORK -- The Washington Wizards got star guard Bradley Beal back on the court and got themselves back in the win column on Wednesday night.

Beal, who had missed the prior five games with a left hamstring strain, returned and finished with 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes against the New York Knicks, leading Washington to a wire-to-wire 116-105 victory at Madison Square Garden.

"It was great," Beal said. "It was good to be able to just be back out there with the guys and get the feel of the game. I played my minutes well, played them hard, and just tried to get us a win.

"It just felt good to be back, honestly."

After initially suffering the injury on Dec. 27 in a win over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, Beal missed three games -- only to quickly aggravate the injury after just 13 minutes at the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3.

On Wednesday, however, Beal had no issues, and he said he was glad to make it through the game unscathed. Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said Beal would be sticking around the 30-minute mark moving forward. And Beal himself said that after the setback against Milwaukee, the decisions on this are in the hands of the training staff going forward -- though he said he was "confident" he got to the other side of the issue.

"Probably. I'll leave that up to the staff," Beal said, before adding with a smile. "They kind of told me I don't have a say so this go-around, so it's more or less up to them.

"I'm confident [it's behind me], but I'm still cognizant and cautious of it. Hamstrings are tricky muscles. Lot of guys re-tweak them; lot of guys re-tweak the other side. So, just making sure I stay on top of my routine and staying ahead of it, more or less."

Beal, 29, entered Wednesday's game averaging 22.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists across 24 games this season, and he opened the scoring with a midrange bucket -- one that put the Wizards ahead for good. Washington immediately jumped out to a 19-5 lead and never looked back, controlling the game for the vast majority of the night.

For a brief stretch at the start of the fourth quarter, the Knicks threatened to make it interesting, cutting Washington's lead to seven on multiple occasions. But one final push from the Wizards -- largely conducted with Beal and Kristaps Porzingis watching from the scorer's table while waiting to check back in -- allowed Washington to put the game out of reach.

And while the game marked Beal's return, he got plenty of help from Kyle Kuzma -- who led Washington with 27 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists -- and Porzingis, the former Knick who had 22 points, 11 rebounds and five assists before fouling out late in the fourth quarter to give the hometown fans one thing to celebrate.

"I hope so," Unseld said of the play of his top three scorers on Wednesday. "I hope so. It's a good sign those guys could put it together. Chemistry doesn't seem like it's changed in Brad's absence."

With the win, Washington has now gone 7-5 across its past 12 games, albeit in unusual fashion, as the Wizards won five in a row then lost five out of six before beating the Knicks. And thanks to the play-in tournament, the Wizards still sit just 1.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls for 10th place -- and the last play-in spot -- with three weeks to go before next month's NBA trade deadline.

Wednesday's outing was the 14th time in 46 games the Wizards were able to employ their preferred starting lineup and the 21st time they've had Beal, Porzingis and Kuzma all available in the same game. Beal and the Wizards are hoping that this time around they'll be able to have an extended stretch of health as they try to make up ground.

"We definitely have got a lot of room to make up, a lot of games to make up, but it's good to be able to have bodies," Beal said. "We can't make any excuses, but that's kind of been our Achilles' heel this year, is staying healthy. But now I'm back, we've got all of our guys back, and we're a better team than we've been, obviously. Now, we can see what we're like when we're whole."

New York, meanwhile, dropped yet another home game, falling to 11-13 at MSG this season. The Knicks are one of six teams to have a losing record at home this season (and the only one with a winning record overall). The other five? The NBA's five worst teams this season: the Orlando Magic, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Houston Rockets.

To make matters worse for New York, starting center Mitchell Robinson left the game in the first half with a right thumb sprain and was ruled out a short time later. Afterward, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said that Robinson's thumb would get a further examination on Thursday.