The mark of a new era for the Wizards?

December 4, 2013

Marcin Gortat, left, Nene and the Wizards have won five of their past six games. At 9-9, Washington currently has the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Washington Wizards have set the bar so low with years of NBA ineptitude that a .500 mark is cause for celebration. But things seem to be turning around.

After an abysmal 2-7 start, Washington went 7-2 in its last nine games to enter Friday’s contest against Milwaukee at 9-9 — the first time the team has been at the break-even mark since Nov. 3, 2009.

“It sounds great to finally have a [.500] record for the first time since being here,” point guard John Wall said. “We are playing basketball the right way, trusting our teammates and trusting our defensive concepts.”

The Wizards say they never wavered in the notion that they could be a good team, no matter how things looked after nine games.

“Even though things were a little rocky in the beginning, we didn’t go away from what we knew was right,” forward Martell Webster said. “We continue to hold each other accountable for actions and, eventually, it turned around for us.”

And in the dismal Eastern Conference, where only Indiana and Miami have winning records, the Wizards are in third.

“It’s good for us, no question,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “I’m glad there [weren’t] a lot of guys that came out of the gate fast. I’m not going to complain about that.”

What’s more impressive is that the Wizards have surged without the services of injured guard Bradley Beal and No. 3 pick Otto Porter Jr.

Wall recently proclaimed himself to be the best point guard currently in the NBA, and so far, he’s backed that up. Over the nine-game stretch, Wall is averaging 21.9 points and 9.3 assists per game.

“He’s taking care of the ball, making better decisions, and not the gambles that we’ve seen,” Wittman said. “And it’s correlated in his strong play.”

The Wizards also have responded since veteran Nene called the team out after a desultory defeat in San Antonio. Instead of throwing games away down the stretch, the Wizards have played with the kind of composure Wittman has been stressing.

The big-man combo of Nene and Marcin Gortat gives the Wizards a frontcourt presence that allows them to hold their own in the post, something that has plagued the team for years. Gortat, for one, has a great deal of confidence in what the team can do going forward.

“I believe, I really do believe, that we can win 50 games,” Gortat said. “There’s not too many people that believe in this; it might sound crazy, but I really do believe. You’d rather hear me say I want to win 50-plus games than lose 50-plus games, you know what I’m saying?”

Despite the strides the team has made, the situation remains fragile. Health will be critical — the Wizards need Wall and Nene to stay on the floor — and the inevitable losing streak will surely test a team unfamiliar with playing important games.

“Listen, we’re going to hit a tough stretch again somewhere — it happens,” Wittman said. “We have to continue to grow and try to make your good runs as long as possible and keep your bad runs short as possible. The teams that can do that the best are the teams that make the playoffs.”

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Marissa Payne · December 4, 2013