The Wizards were swarming Friday night at Verizon Center, harassing the Nets into three turnovers and 12 consecutive missed shots to start the second quarter of their 89-74 victory. They stretched a one-point lead to 18 before all-star center Brook Lopez finally scored with 3 minutes 36 seconds left in the first half.
“We’re everywhere, it seems like,” Singleton said after the Wizards limited Brooklyn to a season-low 11 points on 4-of-22 shooting in the second quarter and 32.9 percent shooting for the entire game.
The Nets became the eighth straight team to score fewer than 100 points against the Wizards (14-35), who have won 10 of their past 17 games because of a defensive foundation that was set long before Wall made his season debut last month. An anemic and often inept offense overshadowed what the Wizards had been accomplishing defensively for most of the season, but the recent resurgence has suddenly brought those unheralded efforts to light.
“Even when we were losing a lot of games, we were playing good defense. From Day One, it’s been our staple. We just weren’t scoring enough,” reserve point guard A.J. Price said. “Coaches do a great job of preparing us, so it does have a lot to do with system, schemes and concepts, but then we got guys who are willing to play defense. We got guys who enjoy playing defense. So anytime you get a combination like that, it usually leads to success.”
Entering Saturday, the Wizards ranked sixth in the NBA in points allowed per game at 95.3 and fifth in opponent field goal percentage at 43.7 percent — ahead of such usual stalwarts as Miami, San Antonio and Boston in both categories. The franchise hasn’t ranked among the top 10 in opponent scoring since Michael Jordan’s final season in 2002-03 or in the top 10 in opponent field goal percentage since 1990-91.
“We know that we’re up there in the defensive category and we want to stay there,” Ariza said. “Our best bet is to lock down. Defense is just effort. You just have to put effort in to play defense. Scoring the basketball takes a little bit more, so if we continue to give this effort, we give ourselves a chance every night.”
Coach Randy Wittman started getting the Wizards to make tangible improvement on defense after they traded for Nene last March, but he has been able to implement more effective schemes this season with the additions of Emeka Okafor, Ariza and Price. Having more defensive-minded players on the roster has aided Wittman in getting his players to continue buying in, despite the limited success the first two months of the season. Nene said the players trust one another and are in constant communication on the defensive end, jokingly adding that he has “no water in my mouth” from talking so much.