The Wizards won’t have many moments to treasure during a season in which they will likely finish with the second-worst record in the NBA and spent a lot of the time as a league-wide punchline. But they moved into some pretty select company with their 87-84 victory on Monday over the league-leading Chicago Bulls.
Only five other teams can claim to have wins over Chicago, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers this season – Miami, Indiana, Memphis, Houston and Portland. The Wizards and Trail Blazers are the only members of that sextet that aren’t battling for playoff positioning – and those three victories account for one-fifth of Washington’s season total. It avoided finishing with the worst winning percentage in franchise history on Monday with its 15th victory.
“It’s something you can look up to,” John Wall said after scoring 16 points with five assists. “We know we can play with these teams, it’s just the way we have to play. On those certain nights, we play good against those teams. When we play against the teams that have the same record as us and not going to the playoffs, we don’t come with the same intensity and that’s something we got to change, especially coming out of this year and into next year.”
Getting up for elite opponents is not uncommon, but the Wizards’ victory over Chicago Bulls will probably serve as the best win of the bunch, because of what it represented.
The victory can’t be dismissed simply because the Bulls were playing without all-stars Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, because Chicago has proven to be capable and deep enough to win, no matter which players are available. Plus, the Wizards have been shorthanded for the past 10 games without Nene and Trevor Booker, and they had just waived reserve Roger Mason Jr. earlier in the day.
The Wizards (15-46) came back from 21 down to the defeat the Lakers, which was impressive, but the win over Chicago will stand out was because it came on the road and was an example of the professional effort and attitude that the Wizards will need to display going forward. They showed remarkable composure in coming back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead – and even more determination to fend off the inevitable Bulls run.
Maurice Evans had been waiting for nearly a month to contribute but delivered 14 huge points off the bench in a pinch. Shelvin Mack had waited all season for the chance to play critical minutes and didn’t appear overwhelmed as he scored four points during the rally. Wall had to learn that he needs to keep playing even when his shot isn’t falling. Richard Hamilton had been giving Chris Singleton the business for most of the night, but he still stepped up to block his three-point attempt with less than 10 seconds left.
“It’s just the resiliency,” Evans said. “You’ve seen this team grow up a little bit. It was a total team effort. This is a team that has shown potential all year. With another good draft, and this core group, we have an opportunity to do something special in the future.”
For now, the Wizards are just focused on the final five games of the season. After two disconcerting losses in New York and at home against Cleveland, the Wizards bounced back after accepting the challenge from Coach Randy Wittman to finish strongly. They will have two games against Miami, another elite team, but they will also have to get up for Milwaukee, Charlotte and Cleveland.
The Wizards won’t get any extra credit for wins against quality teams, but the win over Chicago did provide a little confidence boost to take into the offseason. “Great victories for us,” Mack said of defeating the Bulls, Lakers and Thunder. “It just shows us what we’re capable of doing. The bad thing is we’ve got to stay consistent and do it day in and day out. Not just against the good teams. But you’ve got to keep working at it. This gives us a bright thing to look forward to.”