MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Washington Wizards wanted to concentrate on keeping Memphis from scoring in the paint. Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas made sure the strategy didn’t work.
Valanciunas scored a season-high 29 points and matched his season best with 20 rebounds to lead the Grizzlies to a 127-112 victory over Washington on Wednesday night.
With Valanciunas controlling the middle and Ja Morant adding 21 points and 10 assists on drives to the basket, Memphis managed 78 paint points. Rookie Desmond Bane complemented the inside scoring with a season-high 20 points, going 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
“It was four days without basketball,” Valanciunas said of getting back on the court. “It was great to play basketball again. Great to be with the group, win a game and have some fun playing.”
Bradley Beal scored 21 points for the Wizards but was 6 of 22 from the field, including only 1 of 8 from 3-point range. Russell Westbrook finished with 20 points, while Davis Bertans and Deni Avdija scored 13 apiece.
“They face-guard him. They put their hand on him,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the defense on Beal, primarily from Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks. “I thought (Beal) did a good job of getting to the free throw line eight times in the first half. He did the same thing in the second half and didn’t get any calls. They were physical with him.”
The game tipped off the second half of the season for both teams sitting outside of the playoff picture, looking to rally for a postseason spot.
The Grizzlies benefitted from some Washington shooting struggles in the early stages of the first half, building the lead to 19 points in the second quarter.
“They dared us to make shots,” Scott Brooks said. “Until we start making shots consistently from 3, they are going to put a lot of bodies on (Beal).”
The Wizards closed the half with a 21-7 rally to cut the deficit to 67-62 at the break.
That came with Beal, the NBA’s leading scorer, going 1 of 9 from the field in the half.
While the Wizards would make a second-half run, even taking the lead on a couple of occasions, Memphis pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“Even after they took that lead,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said, “we just talked about getting together, regroup, go out there and focus on what we (had) to do. Execute our game plan.”
Wizards: Beal passed Phil Chenier for fourth on the Wizards’ career steals list. Chenier had 667. … Beal has scored at least 33 points in four of the last six games. The only two he didn’t were against the Grizzlies, including 23 on March 2. … Bertans has made multiple 3-pointers in the last 19 games he has played.
Grizzlies: Have won four straight in the series, which Memphis now leads 28-21, its winningest record against any NBA team. … G Grayson Allen missed his fourth game under the league’s concussion protocol. Dillon Brooks has a steal in each of the last 13 games he’s played. …Valanciunas recorded his 21st double-double in 28 games played this season.
Memphis forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has not played this season recovering from left knee meniscus surgery. There was some hope he could return after the All-Star break, but he remained on the injury list. Jenkins said Jackson hasn’t done anything contact-wise in the last week or so. “It’s not a concern for us at all,” Jenkins said. “I think we’re still doing good in terms of all the work that he’s been putting in, we’ve been putting in, to get back to fully healthy enough and 100%.”
Brooks has done a good job of guarding Beal during the last two games with the Wizards, holding the league’s leading scorer to 23 and 21 points. Beal has gone a total of 14 of 40 from the field, including 2 of 12 from 3-point range. “I just rise to the occasion,” Brooks said. “Take the challenge and see if he can last the full 48 (minutes) with a lot of physicality.”
Wizards: Host the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
Grizzlies: Host the Denver Nuggets on Friday.