The Wizards were feeling so low and flustered this time last week that Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington called a players-only meeting to air their grievances and get a better understanding of their roles. The meeting came in advance of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch that could go a long toward sinking or possibly salvaging the season. Now that the Wizards emerged from those games with a 3-1 record, the mood is much more upbeat.
“The whole spirit and attitude of players in the locker room is sky high. Everybody is in great spirits,” Bradley Beal said. “We feel like we’re going to win every game. We feel as though we’re in every game and we’re having a ball. Whenever we’re playing defense the right way and everybody is getting involved and touching the ball and making shots, it’s fun. When you’re winning, there is not a better feeling than that.”
During the meeting, Ariza and Harrington both applied pressure to John Wall to assume more of a role as team leader. Wall assigned roles to all of his teammates and then went out and used his varying skills to lead the team to three victories and come close to rallying from a 16-point deficit in Toronto. He had 16 assists against Minnesota, another 10 against Cleveland and then torched the New York Knicks for 31 points.
“I think the biggest thing for us, we’re getting better defensively every game,” Wall said. “That’s something you’ve got to do for us to continue to try to win games.”
The Wizards have held their past three opponents below 100 points after allowing nine of their first 10 opponents to reach triple digits. Cleveland, Toronto and New York were held to an average of 92 points and shot just 44.3 percent from the field. “Hopefully, we’re learning what we have to do and how consistent we have to play to win,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
Beal played well in the first two games against Minnesota and Cleveland, combining to score 51 points and going 8 for 10 from beyond the three-point line. He cooled off considerably against Toronto and New York as he shot 3 of 16 from long distance and needed 40 shots to get 35 points.
“Sometimes, I can feel my legs aren’t in it. Or a few minor adjustments here or there are all because of fatigue,” Beal said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t go in. All my shots feel good, except for the ones that I know are off for sure. Nine times out of 10, I feel like all of my shots are going in.”
After finishing with a strong second half against the Knicks, Beal was worried about getting back on track. “I’m confident and I can’t knock it. We got the win, that’s what’s most important.”
Ariza has missed the past five games with a strained right hamstring but Wittman hopes he will be able to return to practice on Monday. Harrington might also come back after sitting the past six games with a sore right knee. Their absences have greatly depleted the Wizards’ depth and led to anemic production from the bench.
In the past five games, the second unit has contributed a total of 48 points, but Martell Webster has regained his shooting stroke while filling in for Ariza. Webster is averaging 14.8 points as a starter and has two games with five three-pointers. Claiming victories over Minnesota, Cleveland and New York confirmed to Webster “that we have what it takes. We’ve proved that already. It’s just a matter of getting some games under our belt. We need some winning streaks around here, but these last four games, winning 75 percent of them, we’ll take that any week. We’ve got to continue have some carryover.”
The Wizards will have another four-games-in-five-nights stretch beginning on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. “Fatigue is all in your mind,” Wittman said. “You’re going to get tired in this league. And if you let it, oh, you’re not going to win this game. Especially after [Friday] night, losing on the road, flying in, getting in at 1 or 2 in the morning. If you think you’re going to be tired, listen, everybody has to play this schedule. Everybody has four games in five nights. We just got to continue to believe what we’re doing.”
Lacking confidence in his bench, Wittman relied heavily on his starters and only used eight players in the Wizards’ 98-89 win over the New York Knicks. Jan Vesely, who didn’t appear in the first five games, is starting give the team some energy off the bench and finding a niche by hustling and rebounding.
“First of all, we can’t get excited about winning,” Marcin Gortat said. “We start feeling too good about ourselves and we went to Toronto and they punish us. We got to bring energy to every game. We’ve got to be focused. We’ve got to be humble and we’ve got to work together. If we’re going to work together, if we’re going to move the ball, we’re going to be fine. If we’re going to have that spark off the bench, that Jan was giving to us, then we should be in good position to win some games in this league.”
Beal believes the Wizards will continue to build off a successful week, with games coming up against the Lakers, Milwaukee, Indiana and Atlanta. “I think that’s great momentum for us going forward,” Beal said. “We’re showing that we’re capable of being a playoff team. We know that we’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way in all the games we play in. Hopefully, we can do the same thing [this] week.”