Better defense hasn’t necessarily resulted in victories for the Wizards, but that hasn’t kept them from staying committed on that end of the floor, no matter who takes the floor. The Wizards held their ninth consecutive opponent to fewer than 100 points – something they haven’t done since Nov. 30-Dec. 17, 2002, when Michael Jordan suited up for his final season with the franchise.
Back then, the Wizards used that run of stingy defense to go 5-4. How have the Wizards fared during this recent stretch of improved defense? They are just 2-7, following a 99-92 defeat to the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre in which they were missing two of their best defensive players in Nene and Trevor Booker, who were both forced to sit with foot ailments.
“We think we’re a different team than the team that started the season and we know that positive momentum, I told the guys, this year can have a lot to do with your success next year,” Roger Mason Jr. said. “We’re taking these games very seriously. It’s a challenge for us to see where we’re at now. Every team that we play, they all have some kind of comment to say this is a much better team. That’s no consolation when you lose but we definitely know we’re going in the right direction.
During this nine-game run – in which they are limiting opponents to just 89 points per game – the Wizards have only had Nene for six games, and Booker for seven. Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely were thrust into the starting lineup for the first time together, and they combined for 26 points and 11 rebounds. Both also played more than 34 minutes.
“Only had 10 players. Didn’t have much choice,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought they both did fine.”
Vesely had the challenge of guarding Raptors leading scorer Andrea Bargnani and he got abused early on. the Raptors went directly at Vesely to start the game, giving the ball inside to Bargnani, who drove around Vesely and scored as Vesely fell to the ground. Bargnani scored eight of his team-high 18 points in the first period. “He’s a great player and it is a nice experience to play against him,” Vesely said about Bargnani. “I try to play hard every game and to learn some things from him.”
Vesely and the Wizards would eventually calm down, falling back, getting close and falling again during a game that Chris Singleton described as “a game of sprees.” The Wizards had a series of defensive breakdowns in the second half, when the Raptors were able to extended a five-point lead to 15 in about five minutes, with Alan Anderson, a reserve on a 10-day contract, doing a lot of the damage.
The Wizards were able to overcome that lull to get close, but they kept having inopportune lapses. In the final two minutes, they let Jose Calderon waltz in for a layup, failed to box out Amir Johnson for a putback dunk, and later let DeMar DeRozan have another easy uncontested driving layup.
“We would get it to four or six points and they went straight line to the basket,” Singleton said. “We are just missing out on a few possessions where we didn’t get stops and that was just the difference in the game.”
Mason said the players should be encouraged by the progress they are making. “It’s tough but the hope is the guys remember this feeling, remember what it’s like when teams are trying to kill you and stomp on you and know that you’ve got to keep working to change it around,” Mason said. “We’re playing because we’re trying to get better.”