The Washington Wizards dropped their first two games after the All Star break -- by 11 points in Detroit and, worse, by eight points at home to the Raptors -- both sub-.500 teams. The Wiz gathered themselves this weekend, though, and came storming back against two of the better teams in the Western Conference. On Friday night the Wizards hosted the Denver Nuggets and completed their season sweep of that team, winning 119-113 after surviving a furious 4th quarter comeback. Last night, Washington hosted the high-scoring Houston Rockets, second in the NBA in points this season to the OKC Thunder.
Coming into this weekend the Wizards had not given up 100 points to an opponent in 11 games, a stat reflecting the team's relatively new focus on winning with good defense. That went away on Friday and Saturday, though, as the Wiz gave up 113 points to the Nuggets and 103 points to the Rockets. Partially this reflects the fact that the Nuggets and Rockets are good offensive teams, but the Wizards allowed Denver to shoot 48% from the field and take 37 free throws. The Rockets shot 45%, but fired up 46 3-pointers, the most in the NBA this season and second-most by any team in NBA history. Houston made 13 3-pointers in the first half alone, just one shy of the record they tied earlier this month.
Against the Nuggets the Wiz never trailed and put seven players in double figures in scoring, including all five starters. Emeka Okafor and Bradley Beal both scored 17 points against Denver, which topped the team on Friday night. Both player also hit the boards hard, with Okafor's 13 rebounds tops for the game and Beal's career-high 12 caroms next-highest. Apart from too many turnovers , the Wizkids did pretty much everything else on offense very nicely, shooting 48% from the field, 46% on 3-pointers, getting to the line 33 times, dishing 27 assists and demolishing the Nuggets on the glass by a 49-33 margin.
Trevor Ariza made a critical contribution off the bench against Denver, scoring 16 points on 11 shots, grabbing 4 rebounds, dishing 3 assists and playing his usual fine defensive game.
The next night against Houston, things went somewhat differently. The Wizards trailed often during the game, by as much as 17 points, and were 11 back at halftime as the Rockets dropped a bewildering array of 3-pointers from all angles. The Wizards countered by going big and spreading the ball around, putting 5 players into double figures in points. Beal's 21 points led the team and he also contributed 5 rebounds and 4 dimes. Emeka Okafor came back with a similar game to the one he had the night before, scoring 17 and pulling down 11 boards. For the weekend, Okafor scored 34 points on 16 of 30 shooting, grabbed 24 rebounds and finished with a +29 court ratio. Okafor's strong play in the paint in recent weeks has been a much-overlooked part of their surge, as most of the attention has been focused on John Wall.
Wall and Martell Webster, with both scoring 12 points and 11 and 4 assists, respectively. For the weekend, Wall finished with 26 points and 21 assists, a sign of his growing comfort running the offense and the fact that his teammates are now hitting the shots he's setting them up to make. Once again, of the bench, Ariza was critical, scoring 18 points on 8 of 12 shooting, grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing 4 assists and stealing the ball 4 times. A Wizards team that gets that kind of offensive and defensive production from such a fine defensive stopper is going to be a tough out against almost any opponent.
The Wizards had 31 assists on 41 made baskets against the Rockets and spread the ball around nicely as the two teams dueled back and forth for the lead in the game's final minutes. While the Wizards hit only 7 3-pointers, one fewer than Houston made in just the first quarter, Washington's decision to go big resulted in shooting over 51% from the field, while Houston's over-reliance on the outside shot eventually brought them back to Earth. In the final moments of the game, with the game tied at 103, the Wizards ran an actual play rather than just clearing out for Wall or Beal. As Wall dribbled the time down outside the 3-point arc, his teammates got into position. Beal raced over to take the pass from Wall, but rather than shoot, the rookie guard found center Emeka Okafor on the blocks being guarded by the 6'6" Carlos Delfino. Okafor made his move and got fouled as he went to the hoop. His free throw proved to be the winning point for the Wizards. Here's the play:
The Wizards have improved to 17-37 and are 11-4 against teams with winning records since January 7.
NEXT GAME: Monday at 7 PM in Toronto against the Raptors. Revenge is a dish best served Canadian cold.