'Felt good to be back': Beal buoys Wizards' victory

by Gordon Dixon - Washington star guard Bradley Beal, who had missed the previous five games with a left hamstring strain, finished with 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in a 116-105 victory over the Knicks in New York Wednesday.

'Confident' Beal returns from injury, keys Wizards' victory 11:20 PM ET Tim BontempsESPN 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 the over Philadelphia 76ers , Beal missed three games -- only to quickly re-aggravate the injury after just 13 minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 3. Wednesday, however, Beal had no issues, and 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. Editor's Picks 2 Related "Probably. I'll leave that up to the staff," Beal said, before adding with a smile, "The 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 opened the scoring with a midrange bucket - one that put the Wizards ahead for good. Washington immediately leapt 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 7 on multiple occasions. But one final push from the Wizards -- largely conducted with Beal and Kristaps Porzingis watching from the scorer's table waiting to check back in -- allowed Washington to officially 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 former Knick Kristaps Porzingis, 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 Jr. said of the play of his top three scorers 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 last 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, they 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 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 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 for the rest of the night a short time later. After the game, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said postgame that Robinson's thumb would get a further examination on Thursday.