After the Wizards pulled out a gutsy 112-108 victory on Friday over a Denver Nuggets team that rarely loses at Pepsi Center, Martell Webster needed to see a replay of John Wall’s game-saving block on Ty Lawson with 2.7 seconds remaining.
Wall provided some weakside assistance for Webster, who was tasked with staying in front of the Nuggets’ speedy point guard on the final defensive stance. But all Webster could remember was having his back turned to Lawson and somebody climbing over his shoulders to slap shot to the ground.
“I got to see the tape!” Webster shouted. “John jumped over me! C’mon now.”
Webster led a handful of teammates to a small television in the visitor’s locker room and shook his head after watching Wall – who finished with 14 points and 12 assists in his fourth game since returning from a left patella injury – show that he can close games with more than just his passing or scoring ability.
“I saw Ty Lawson had Martell beat and he had no other way to go up for the shot and it would be tough to get a pass off,” Wall said. “Martell kind of slipped. [Lawson] basically had an easy layup. I just tried to get a block without fouling.”
Wall got the block, then got fouled by Nuggets center Kosta Koufos after recovering the loose ball. He clutched the ball in his left arm and swung his right arm wildly to celebrate before making two free throws to secure the Wizards’ second road win of the season.
“I feel like we should have three,” Wall said, referencing the Wizards’ loss in Sacramento two nights before, when he missed two free throws that could’ve won the game. In the fourth quarter against Denver, Wall scored eight points and handed out two assists, accounting for 13 of the Wizards’ 32 points.
The Wizards (8-29) needed to play 32 games to record their first four wins. They needed only five to win the next four. But for further evidence of the changing attitude of this team since Bradley Beal hit that game-winner over Oklahoma City, and Wall returned from his left knee injury, the Wizards are hardly satisfied with what they’ve accomplished in the past two weeks.
“In our minds, we’re 5-0 right now, winning-streak wise,” Beal said after scoring a team-high 23 points against the Nuggets. “We’re capable of competing and beating anybody. As long as we keep doing what we’re doing, out there competing, playing hard with passion and integrity, we’ll be all right.”
Beal scored at least 20 points for the fifth time in nine games this month, which was more impressive considering that the Nuggets stuck defensive specialist Andre Iguodala on him for most of the night. He only had three points in the fourth quarter but had to earn two of the hard (foul) way, driving baseline with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining and having Koufos knock him to the ground.
“I was just hoping nothing was broke or that I didn’t re-injure anything that I did before,” Beal said, when asked what he was thinking as he anguished on his back. “My wrist was a little shaky, but I was able to bounce up and knock down two free throws.”
Coach Randy Wittman was a little more concerned as Beal struggled to get back on his feet. “Yeah, I was. I got more injuries than I can shake a stick at. And we’re just getting them back, so I don’t want to lose anybody.”
Jordan Crawford returned after missing the previous four games with a sore left ankle and scored eight points and Trevor Ariza had his best game since returning from a strained left calf, contributing 14 points – all in the second half – and helping the Wizards overcome a 10-point second-half deficit. Kevin Seraphin also came up huge with 14 fourth-quarter points to help his “big brother” Nene get a much need win over his former team.
“We finally start to play like a team,” Seraphin said of the Wizards, who have averaged 30 assists in their past three games. “That’s a good thing for us.”
Nene didn’t have a memorable performance in his return to Denver, scoring just seven points with four rebounds and three turnovers. He got off to a sluggish start, complaining to officials about non-calls and appearing rushed.
“These are tough games to come back to,” Wittman said. “That first one back, after what? Nine years here? The amount of time he spent here, with this community, these fans. That’s a tough emotional game to play, but I thought he played his heart out. Best game? He’ll probably say, ‘No.’ But as long as you go out there and leave your heart out on the floor, that’s all a coach can ask for.”
And as long as the Wizards left Pepsi Center with a win, Nene couldn’t ask for much more, either. “It was good,” he said. “We make shots at the end of the game and we played really hard at the end of the game.”
After the loss, Nuggets coach George Karl acknowledged that the Wizards are playing better but said, “This probably is not acceptable.”
Wittman knows that perceptions of his team won’t change with a modest run, but he believes that the Wizards are much better than their record right now.
“Listen, I know we’re 8-29 but I think we’re 18 games of seven points or less, five overtimes, two double overtime games,” he said. “This is a team that with all our injuries, we had a lot of guys that weren’t in position to win games in the end and I think we’ve learned from the adversity that we went through. And now getting our guys back healthy, only adds to that. These last five games, we’ve played at a high level.”
Beal agreed that the WIzards’ record is deceptive. “I think it should be flipped around, honestly. It’s all falling into place for us.”