PHILADELPHIA — It took three games of half-hearted defense, two games without Nene, and one hefty fine for their coach before the Washington Wizards finally got fed up with being winless. In a place where John Wall had never won in his first three seasons, the Wizards put together a complete game filled with efficient ball movement, aggressive defense and blistering shooting from long distance and defeated the 76ers, 116-102, at Wells Fargo Center.
Only four games into the season, the Wizards (1-3) were already in a must-win situation against a team that stunned them in their home opener at Verizon Center less than a week ago. But the Wizards learned from their mistakes in the previous game, when they squandered a double-digit second-half lead against the relentless 76ers.
Washington once again jumped to a 15-point lead in the first half but didn't completely collapse after Philadelphia got within four points in the third quarter.
This time around, the Wizards refused to fold on a bizarre night in which Wall showed the long-distance shooting proficiency of Bradley Beal, Beal flashed Wall’s playmaking, and Coach Randy Wittman finally started Nene alongside newly acquired Marcin Gortat, leading to stellar results.
“Finally,” Martell Webster said. “We got a lot expectations for ourselves, that we hold ourselves accountable for in this locker room. It’s about time. We’re happy, but really, we should be, maybe, 3-1, right now? Yeah, we should be 3-1.”
Seven Wizards, including all five starters, scored in double figures, with Wall leading the team with 24 points and nine assists. Washington made a franchise-record 18 three-pointers, with Wall connecting on a career-high five. Wall entered the game with just three made three-pointers, but as the 76ers kept daring him, he kept shooting.
“You’ve got a speed demon like John Wall, what do you want him to do?” Philadelphia forward Evan Turner asked, while stating that letting Wall shoot was the plan.
In the closing seconds, with the 76ers again leaving him all alone, Wall pulled up and coolly buried the final points of the game with another three-pointer.
“I guess you could say he was the two guard, I was the point guard,” Beal joked after scoring 17 points and handing out a career-high eight assists. “He was screaming that on his way in, he might just keep bombing up threes. It was definitely backwards for some reason, but you can’t complain.”
Nene returned after missing the previous two games with a strained left calf. Concerned that his ailment had extended to his Achilles' tendon, Nene had an MRI exam Monday that calmed his worries. Nene had intimated that his injury came as a result of playing out of position but Wittman helped put another smile on his face by starting him at his natural power forward spot with Gortat at center.
“Who doesn’t like to win?” Nene said after scoring 10 points with five rebounds and helping to limit 76ers forward Thaddeus Young to just seven points after he scored 29 in the first meeting. “It’s an amazing feeling when you win and you play the right way. I feel good to help the team and that’s what matter.”
The Nene-Gortat lineup was effective at the outset, with Gortat scoring 10 of his 19 points in the first quarter, when the Wizards scored 39 points – the highest-scoring first period since Wall arrived as the No. 1 overall pick. With a decided size advantage inside and Beal and Trevor Ariza creating space for Wall to create, the Wizards’ offense moved fluidly. Wall drove and fed Nene inside for a dunk, and Nene later made a spin move around Young, drew in Spencer Hawes and dumped off the ball to Gortat for a layup.
“It’s definitely a different story, a different ball game playing with Nene,” Gortat said. “I believe this is just the beginning. We can do even more.”
The Wizards finished with 32 assists.
“Different guys can lead this team. You could have a big man lead or you could have me as a point guard lead,” Wall said. “We had a lot of fun with each other. We were excited for each other. Nobody cared who took open shots and guys made open passes. We don’t have nobody that can go out and get you 30, 40 points. We don’t have that elite scorer.”
Webster made four three-pointers and finished with 14 points off the bench. Beal and Ariza (15 points) both had three three-pointers. And Al Harrington, who had been in a mini-slump, made two three-pointers and had his best game with 10 points off the bench.
“We got contributions from a lot of different people,” Wittman said.
Gortat added a team-high 12 rebounds. His only huge mistake came in the third quarter when he tracked down a loose ball in front of the Wizards' bench and flipped the ball over his head — directly to Hawes, who made an uncontested layup to bring Philadelphia within 71-67. Wall responded with a three-pointer and Gortat followed with a tip shot. Turner (24 points) led another push, but Wall once again had the answer with another three to put the Wizards up, 85-76.
The Wizards still have tough games ahead, with Brooklyn coming to Washington on Friday, followed by a three-game trip through Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio. But for one night at least, they could let out a sigh of relief that they are no longer among the NBA's winless — and they can also scratch off the first road win of the season.