This has to be the Wizards version of Linsanity. Out of nowhere, the worst team in the NBA – a group of players that lost in every conceivable way and often in demoralizing fashion over the first 32 games of the season – has won three games in a row and overnight appears to have the ability to match up with and compete with anyone it faces.
Nah, that can’t be right. Maybe something in the following three thoughts on Washington’s 120-91 rout of the Orlando Magic will make sense of it all:
Even when the seeds had been sown for a collapse, the Wizards team that has emerged in the last weekend found a way to fight back, and then some. The non-John Wall Wizards would have found a way not only to let a 19-point lead in the second quarter disappear but perhaps even implode in equally dramatic fashion. But the momentum from Orlando’s 13-0 run that cut Washington’s advantage to 59-53 at halftime was gone when Martell Webster stole the ball on the Magic’s first possession of the third quarter. Within four minutes, the lead was back to double digits.
“As I told the guys, ‘You let it slip away, now we’ve got to win the game again,’” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “They came out and they did.”
They probably would’ve done so without his prompting.
While the game eventually turned into a rout, what was different was to see the Wizards take punches and dish them out while maintaining the working margin. One quarter before they didn’t know how play with a lead, which is fair since they haven’t for most of the season. And then, in an instant, they figured it out. That encapsulates the larger transformation that has taken place throughout the team.
The Wizards aren’t going to win the rest of their games. But ten days ago it was hard to figure out how they were going to win any games. Now they have a chance every night.
“We just need to keep believing in each other and keeping playing the game the way we know how to play the game, which is the right way,” Webster said “You can put up all the Xs and Os you want. When you go out there and play for each other and hold each other accountable for what we do out there, usually we’re going to find ourselves on the winning end of these games.”
[In your best Forrest Gump voice] They were running. Among the massive pile of season-best statistics for the Wizards, they racked up 29 fast break points. The Magic had four.
Plenty comes from John Wall, who triangulated the location of his alley oop passes to Jan Vesely after missing both high and low two nights before against Atlanta. A.J. Price and Garrett Temple also found the Czech 7-footer for easy buckets.
Trevor Ariza’s daring and lengthy outlet to Bradley Beal for a layup in the second quarter went just over the outstretched hands of J.J. Redick just like Joe Flacco’s pass to Torrey Smith over Champ Bailey in the NFL playoffs. Even Emeka Okafor got an easy transition dunk after a Jameer Nelson turnover.
“Offensively, that was a beautiful thing tonight, to watch that,” Wittman said. “Activity defensively gets us out on the break. Rebounding the ball and then John, it gives us that extra gear. And now, guys have to run harder. You see bigs running harder because they know if they get to the rim, they’re going to receive a pass.”
Whether Wall is entirely responsible or not, the more the Wizards win, the more he’s going to be talked about. The trick is the nuance to how his return has inspired his teammates.
It’s not just that he’s faster, stronger, better. While Wall was ignored and increasingly written off and saw his value and ceiling revised and criticized while he was out injured, he just tried to do the right thing to come back healthy. In the short time that he’s been back in practice and games, he’s simply tried to play the right way, to be the best teammate he can be. That is reflected in the trust from the guys around him. In case everyone forgot, that’s what made him a no-brainer No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
“I think the good thing is a lot of people in double figures,” Wall said after beating the Magic. “There’s not one guys going to get 30 or 28. Everybody is scoring. We’re moving the ball and just trusting each other. For me to only have my second game back with them, we’re just moving the ball and keeping defenses going. We’re doing that and getting easier shots and doing a great job on the defensive end makes it a lot easier.”
Sure, his jump shot is still sketchy, and even the next five games on the road are likely to bring the Wizards back to earth. But instead of returning too big for a team full of underachievers, Wall’s steadfast determination to come back and make the team better has made him larger than life.
“I didn’t play with John last year, but I knew what he was capable of doing,” Webster said. “It’s just relieving to see him back. We know what we’ve been missing. We know what he brings. That’s why he’s the franchise of this team. To have him back, just his presence alone, can get us wins. If we continue to play the right way with him being the maestro, it’s going to be a fun year.”