The Philadelphia 76ers humiliated the Washington Wizards by a combined 44 points in a home-and-home, back-to-back set earlier this month. But the Wizards – and John Wall, in particular – are a different team than the collection of individuals that received a clinic in ball-movement and unselfish play in those losses to the 76ers.
The Wizards (2-14) have only gone 1-3 in the past week, but are more encouraged about how they are approaching each game and competing. For that reason, Wall believes that the Wizards will look better when they play the 76ers on Monday for the third time this month.
“The way we’re playing now, we can make it a good game,” Wall said. “They’re athletic and they got a deep bench. We just really got to play hard and give ourselves a chance. Just play hard and give ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter.”
Wall has certainly played at a different level since he was benched in the second quarter of the Wizards’ 103-90 loss to the 76ers on Jan. 14. He sulked through those two losses to Philadelphia, looking despondent and disengaged. But in the past four games, Wall has been energized and is averaging 25.8 points, 8.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds. His turnovers (3.5) remain a problem, but his shooting has also improved slightly to 43.2 percent over that span.
“I got a lot of confidence,” Wall said. “I had confidence when I played them. You miss a couple of shots, you might get frustrated; you just got to keep playing basketball. Some nights it’s going to be enough, some nights it’s not. You just try to keep your defense and take open shots and keep your teammates involved.”
The Wizards have averaged 102.3 points in the past four games and have been moving the ball better, averaging 19.8 assists – including a season-high 28 in the loss to Denver. Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said before his team pulled out a 100-94 win on Sunday that he has noticed how much the Wizards have improved in that area while watching film of the team.
“Sometimes, it just jumps off the screen. You can watch teams and their body language is better. They’re playing the right way, they’re running, they’re playing with a spirit. They’re playing with each other. They’re moving the ball. They were king of the ball stoppers. The ball stopped every where it went,” Rivers said. “It’s beautiful to watch. This is the way Flip has always coached. You can see it now. They’re actually listening and they’re doing what I know he’s asked them to do since he’s been here. I don’t know what has prompted it, but they’re doing it. They’re doing all their roles. It seems like everybody has bought in and that’s going to make them very good, very tough because they’re athletic. Now, when you put athleticism and they play together, they’re a better basketball team.”
But the missing element has been victories. “I feel they’re learning. I think they’re learning, and they’re saying they’re right there to win,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “I think they’re frustrated. We talked about getting Philly because they’ve already beaten us a few times. We’re playing better.”