The Wizards were in understandably good spirits after John Wall went on a one-man, one-minute run to force overtime, Bradley Beal tracked down Jameer Nelson on a game-saving blocked shot in overtime and the team left Orlando with a 105-101 victory.
On top of that, the Wizards were given an encouraging sign when Beal was able to apply some pressure on his foot and walked out of Amway Center on his own power after a scary fall resulted in him being carried off the court by Otto Porter Jr. and Kevin Seraphin with a right ankle sprain.
But any excitement about snapping a two-game losing streak and temporarily avoiding further slippage in the Eastern Conference standings was muted because a more difficult challenge is on deck tonight against the streaking Brooklyn Nets. The winner will claim sole possession of the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s going to be a big game, obviously,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s going to be a war.”
Washington (34-31) has already won the season series against the Nets, taking advantage of their early chemistry problems and Jason Kidd’s rookie coaching inexperience to claim two close victories. But it owning a tiebreaker won’t matter if it finishes with an inferior record.
In those two previous meetings, the Wizards also benefited from the presence of Nene, who averaged 18 points in both wins and was involved in several key plays. In a 112-108 overtime win on Nov. 8, Nene blocked a dunk attempt by Kevin Garnett and fed Trevor Ariza for tie-breaking three-pointer in the extra frame. Nene returned from a four-game absence to score 17 points off the bench in limited minutes and also found Beal for a late three-pointer that secured a 113-107 win on Dec. 18 at Barclays Center.
Nene is out for about three more weeks with a sprained ligament in his left knee and can only assist through his advice this time around. The Wizards are 6-3 since Nene was injured on Feb. 23 in Cleveland and have been winning with a collective effort. In Friday’s win in Orlando, Wall, Beal, Ariza and Marcin Gortat recorded double doubles, marking the first time four different players had accomplished that feat for the franchise since Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler on Dec. 18, 2009 at Golden State.
“It just shows that each one of us has to step up. It’s great. But we got to forget about that win,” Gortat said in the locker room after the Wizards won in Orlando for the first time since he played for the Magic. “It’s just another game in the NBA. We got to continue to perform. We got to go back home and do whatever we have to do to get a win over Brooklyn.”
The Nets are also much different since the teams last met. Brooklyn has since lost all-star center Brook Lopez for the season and won six of seven with Kevin Garnett sidelined because of a back injury.
Since Jan. 1, the Nets (33-30) have the best record in the East at 23-9 and trail the Toronto Raptors by just 3 1/2 games with 19 remaining. They are winning through downsizing, with Paul Pierce looking rejuvenated by a switch to power forward. Pierce scored a game-high 29 points to lead Brooklyn to a win on Wednesday in Miami.
“Everybody kind of beats up on the East, but we’ve got a lot of good teams playing,” Wittman said. “New York’s one [six] games in a row. Brooklyn is probably playing as well as anybody. You saw Charlotte is playing as good as anybody. I think you’re starting to see in the second half of this year, really what the East was and can be. There’s a lot of teams playing good.”
The Wizards have gone 9-4 since the all-star break but have beaten just one team with a winning record, needing triple overtime to topple Toronto. The Raptors won another meeting and Washington also got outclassed by both Memphis and Miami. The Wizards’ lone loss to a team with a losing record came against Charlotte (32-34), which is just 2 1/2 games behind in seventh place.
Washington will have games against Portland, Phoenix, Indiana, Chicago, and Miami the rest of the way and probably need to collect a few quality wins to claim its desired postseason position.
“We’re far from solidifying our playoff spot. We got a long way to go,” Wall said. “You lose 10 games in a row, you could be out of the playoffs. We’re trying to keep level headed. We don’t know what spot we’ve got right, but we’re competing and fighting with a lot of great teams that behind us.”
Beal’s status remains uncertain against the Nets but he sounded like someone who was eager to compete after Friday’s win over the Magic.
“It’s going to be a tough one against Brooklyn,” Beal said. “We have to think about seeding now and hopefully we can beat them and move ahead of them.”