The Washington Wizards are no longer the team that was so focused on individual numbers that Nene felt the need to call out his teammates nearly three months ago after the San Antonio Spurs ran a clinic in offensive efficiency against them.
In fact, in their past two wins against Western Conference powers Oklahoma City and Portland, the Wizards have actually mimicked the nonstop ball movement and sharing that the Spurs have almost run to perfection since the arrival of Tim Duncan.
“If you go with any organization to pattern after, the Spurs aren’t a bad one,” said Garrett Temple, a former Spur.
Washington has had 50 assists in the past two games but didn’t reach its season scoring average in either win. The Wizards, however, did get all five starters to take at least 10 shots against the Thunder, while four starters and backup big man Kevin Seraphin received double-digit shot attempts against Portland. They will attempt to keep that style of play going in Wednesday’s rematch with the Spurs.
“It’s something that we’re stressing, and our guys are believing,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s how we’ve got to continue to play. There’s no pre-determining what we’re going to do from an offensive standpoint. It’s okay, they’re going to take that away, the ball moves on to the next guy, the open guy. Everybody’s capable of doing their job in that aspect of it. When we play that way we’re difficult to guard. You can’t scheme up and say you’re going to take a certain player away. We hope they try to do that. That opens up things for us when teams try to do that.”
John Wall and Trevor Ariza are the only players to score more than 20 points in either game. And the Wizards have won in spite of off shooting nights by Bradley Beal and his backup Martell Webster. Beal has shot a combined 7 of 28 while scoring 20 total points in the wins, while Webster was 5 of 15 for 15 points. Nene shot just 5 of 15 against the Trail Blazers.
The Wizards haven’t had the same player leading the team in scoring in consecutive games while winning three of their past four.
“It’s always a good feeling when you’re playing well, when you play the way we are right now as a unit,” Wittman said. “It’s not like one guy’s carrying us. I think we’ve been so consistent. We’re in a good spot. You want to maintain that.”
Beal has found a way to contribute in other ways besides shooting, handing out 10 assists in the two games. In his past eight games, Beal has had at least four assists six times, while matching his season high of eight twice.
“It’s just not me out there trying to score all the points. I play within the rhythm of the game,” Beal said. “If they take things away from me, I’m going to take what they give me, get the shots I want or get my teammates involved as best I can. … We’re on the verge of becoming a great team. As long as everybody continues to stick to what they’re doing. When teams take me away, that options for other guys.”
Marcin Gortat has managed to stay productive defensively and on the glass despite getting fewer touches. Limited to just seven field goal attempts against the Trail Blazers, Gortat still led the team with 11 rebounds. He had 14 rebounds against the Thunder and has grabbed at least 10 rebounds in 10 of his past 16 games. He only had three double-digit rebound games from Nov. 30 to Jan. 5.
“That’s who March is,” Wittman said. “He’s going to have games like that where he’s got 16, 18 points. He can impact a game in different ways. It doesn’t have to be scoring. That’s what I want him to understand. His ability to defend the rim, his ability to defend different players — not just centers. He can go to a power forward position. He can move his feet well enough to do that. His ability to pass the ball, we’re starting to see. You don’t ever want one guy to focus on, ‘Well, I only have seven points.’ Well you’re still pretty effective in what you did out there.”
Gortat has had to adjust from being a focal point of the offense in Phoenix to taking a back seat to Wall, Beal, Nene and, at times, Ariza. He groused about his role within the offense, but Wittman urged him to not let his scoring affect his play on the other end.
“Somebody has got to do this dirty job for this team,” Gortat said. “Every basketball player would like to be a go-to guy. Each one of us would like to score 20-plus points in a game. But unfortunately, it’s impossible. There’s a way for me to score 10-plus points and contribute to the team. Getting those rebounds, getting blocks, getting some defensive stops. Those are the things I’m supposed to do. That’s why I’ve been brought here. I’m looking forward to helping the team win the games. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to remember how many points you score. People remember winners. That’s the most important thing.”