TORONTO — Jonas Valanciunas joked that the last time he went to the free throw line so much he was probably 13 years old.
Valanciunas went 16-of-18 at the line, scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Toronto Raptors past the Washington Wizards 88-78 on Wednesday night.
“From the start I was a new guy in the NBA, didn’t know a lot about it and there’s a big learning process during every game,” said Valanciunas, who admitted he’s starting to get more calls from refs around the league. “I was not talking to (the officials), not complaining about calls, maybe that helped me.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey has started seeing growth in the rookie, who had a career-best five blocks Monday in a loss to Detroit.
“The physicality of the game doesn’t bother him anymore,” Casey said. “Where before he’d kind of disappear a little bit, now JV is huge at the end of the games. You can go to him, he can make free throws, he can pass the basketball. Most of all, he can defend without fouling and I think that’s huge for him, too.
“That growth on his part has been huge.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 25 points for Toronto, which snapped a two-game losing streak after being eliminated from the playoff chase with the 108-98 home loss to the Pistons.
John Wall had 20 points to lead the short-handed Wizards (28-47), who announced before the game that rookie standout Bradley Beal will miss the remainder of the season with a right leg injury.
The Raptors entered the fourth carrying a 68-62 lead thanks in part to solid free throw shooting from Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, who finished with nine points, eight boards and 13 assists.
DeRozan drained a deep two late in the fourth, stretching the Raptors’ lead to 84-74, and Toronto held on for the win.
The Raptors, who shot 75 percent (27 of 36) on free throws against the Wizards, are second in the NBA in from the line since the All-Star break at 81 percent.
Trailing 50-39 at half time, Toronto used an early 12-4 run to pull to within two.
“We did not come out with any focus,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s where this group has to, on the road, put a team away. To be up 11 at half time and then go through the motions in those first three minutes, let them back in it. We need that killer instinct, and we have not shown it.”
DeRozan put down a one-handed dunk on Nene, picking up the hoop and the foul.
Then Valanciunas, who led all scorers at the half with 13, took care of Nene defensively with a one-handed swat on the 6-foot-11 forward.
DeRozan pulled Toronto within one with a layup off the glass plus the foul, and Quincy Acy completed the comeback with a one-handed dunk.
“It definitely felt good,” DeRozan said. “That was frustrating. We let teams jump out on us like that and then we got to fight our way back. We know we got to play like we did in the second half for 48 minutes.
“That’s embarrassing when a team gets up on you on your home court.”
Toronto opened the game on a 6-0 run and led for much of the first period, but Trevor Ariza capped off a 6-0 Washington run with a 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 24-23 after the first.
Rudy Gay, who scored a season-high 34 in the Raptors’ loss to Detroit, finished with six points and eight rebounds. Casey said afterward that Gay was reduced to just 24 minutes because he twisted his ankle.
Landry Fields, who went to Los Angeles for follow-up tests on his right elbow Monday, was the beneficiary of added minutes as a result of Gay’s injury. Fields scored three points in 17 minutes.
Notes: Beal, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft out of Florida, averaged 13.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.4 rebounds this season.
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