Wizards taking a defense-first approach

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

With Wall in the lineup, they are league's most efficient team

It has been a long time since the Wizards were first in anything except losses.

But it's a whole new world in Washington since John Wall returned to the court. With the third-year point guard healthy, no defense in the league is playing better.

In 16 games with Wall, the Wizards (14-35) have become the most efficient defensive team in the NBA. Now, that can't be explained in the standings or by a box score. Known as a tempo-free advanced statistic, it is a measurement that allows teams to be compared independent of individual game results.

Up next
Wizards at Bucks
When » Monday, 8 p.m.
Where » Bradley Center, Milwaukee
TV » CSN

With Wall, Washington has allowed 95.1 points per 100 opposing possessions. That is better than the other 29 NBA teams. The Western Conference-leading San Antonio Spurs are second over the same number of games at 97.2.

"We're just playing hard," Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said after Friday's 89-74 win over Brooklyn. "We know that it's going to take a team effort to win every night, so that's what we've got to do defensively and offensively. We know that we're up there in the defensive category, and we want to stay there. The best bet is to lock down."

While the sample size is small, the principles have been in place from the outset this season. Overall, the Wizards' defensive rating is still sixth (99.6), and they're fifth in the more traditional defensive field goal percentage (.437). Wall credited coach Randy Wittman for a mentality that was instilled when he took over for the fired Flip Saunders last winter.

"That's one thing he really key on in practice," Wall said. "He don't really worry about the offense, because guys are here for a reason. We got guys who can score and get easy shots."

Nene's arrival at the trade deadline last season was the first of multiple difference-making arrivals, followed by Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Martell Webster.

"You gotta have that," Wittman said. "You can have the best defensive schemes, but if you're not committed, it ain't going to be worth [much]. You've got to have guys that are going to take the challenge and do those things, and these guys have done that."

The Brazilian big man -- who used his veteran savvy to frustrate Brooklyn All-Star center Brook Lopez into 3-for-11 shooting Friday, his worst offensive showing of the season -- has created an imposing tandem with Okafor inside that makes for trust and aggressiveness on the perimeter.

"At some point in the game I have no water in my mouth because my mouth gets dry," Nene said, a nod to the constant communication between players.

The stalwart defense has been a constant whether at home or on the road for the Wizards, who have their second three-game Verizon Center winning streak as they travel to Milwaukee (25-24) and Detroit (20-32) for their final two games before the All-Star break.

"It just comes down to 'OK, are we going to become complacent?'?" Webster said. "We haven't been around each other for a number of years. This is a new identity, a new team, and the way we have to be is hungry every game. We can't look to the future."

It's equally difficult to look back at all the games they gave away earlier in the year.

"Our record should be backwards, whatever it is," rookie Bradley Beal said, but defense is one way the Wizards are beginning to generate buzz.

"I hope so because we're a team to be reckoned with right now," Beal said, "especially with the way guys are playing right now. Everybody is stepping up, everybody's having fun and we're playing the way we're supposed to play all year. I hope teams watch out for us."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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