Washington Wizards head west riding season-high three-game win streak
By Michael Lee,
SACRAMENTO — Bradley Beal kicked off the Washington Wizards’ three-game winning streak with a one-handed floater to close out a stunning victory over Oklahoma City on Jan. 7, and John Wall has looked to be in good form since he returned from a season-long injury on Saturday night. But the Wizards believe that the team’s longest run of victories since the end of last season didn’t come simply as the result of an incredible shot or the return of an incredible talent.
“This has been building,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards walloped the Orlando Magic, 120-91, on Monday in a game replete with highlight dunks from Beal, another Emeka Okafor double-double, the team’s third four-point play in three games and a crossover dribble by Wall so lethal that Magic reserve Ish Smith might still be struggling to get back up on his feet. “Our guys hopefully have bought into this and see it. This is how we have to play.”
Wittman said he started to see signs of a breakthrough during a double-overtime loss to Brooklyn on Jan. 4, but guard A.J. Price, who hasn’t lost since returning from a 15-game absencebecause of a broken right hand, believes that the foundation was set long before that.
“I know what we did early in the year, all the work we put in at training camp and how well we looked during that time. I just feel like it's just starting to transition finally for us from practice to the game,” Price said. “These games have not been flukes. We have just been playing very well. Really don't think it would matter who the opponent was.”
The timing of the success is unusual. As Wall pointed out after contributing 12 points and six assists Monday in his second game since returning from a stress injury in his left patella, “Most of the time it comes at the end of the season, the last couple games.”
The Wizards (7-28) hadn’t won at least three consecutive games before the typical April fool’s gold run since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler led the team to a three-game streak without Gilbert Arenas in March 2008.
Now, Washington will look to see if it can maintain quality play regardless of the location. The Wizards boarded a flight on Tuesday morning for Sacramento, where they will start a five-game, eight-day road trip on Wednesday against Western Conference opponents.
The Wizards are a league-worst 1-15 on the road this season, with the one victory away from home coming in New Orleans. The Wizards defeated the Western Conference-worst Hornets, 77-70, on Dec. 11 in a game that was offensive to offense.
“We have a chance now to go on the road obviously with three in a row feeling good about ourselves, but now it’s a different game on the road,” Wittman said. “We’re going to have to play better on the road than you do at home.”
Since Wall joined the franchise as the top overall pick in 2010, the Wizards have had little success on road trips of at least four games on the other side of the Mississippi River. They were 1-8 in that situation in his rookie season and 1-3 last season.
“We’re going to be battle-tested,” Beal said. “It's going to be a long flight, travel with time difference, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We’ve got to come and compete, battle hard and do what we do.”
Even though the Wizards have won eight straight games with Wall in uniform dating from last season, he cannot get all of the credit for the improved play of his teammates. But his presence has inspired greater confidence by showing confidence and engendering trust. His speed also keeps the defense on its heels from a team intent on running and pushing the ball.
Wittman said Wall “gives us that extra gear. . . . He brings the added dimension that nobody has.”
The Wizards’ first five wins were by a combined 23 points, with none of those victories by more than eight. Both wins with Wall in uniform have been by double digits and a combined 39 points. Their 29-point victory on Monday over Orlando was by far the easiest of the season and represented the second-most lopsided win in which Wall has been a participant.
“We’ve just got to keep playing the same way,” Wall said. “Don’t try to change our game plan up, know we’re going on a tough road trip, and we'll get some good teams.”
Gene Wang contributed to this report from Washington.
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