Friday's Late Game
Wizards pull together, rip Nets
Instead of focusing strictly on the weaknesses of the New Jersey Nets and the points of emphasis for the Washington Wizards, Coach Flip Saunders shook up the usual, mundane pregame film breakdown with video splices of an errant young buffalo that broke away from the herd and was surrounded by lions before the herd returned to rescue it. The message Saunders wanted to convey was that the Wizards had to protect each other, be there for each other and pick up a teammate while he's down.
After the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak with a resounding 97-77 win over the Nets, players were somewhat confused about the exact animal in the video, but they all admitted that it served as motivation when they stepped on the court on Friday night.
"I guess it inspired us to stay together," center JaVale McGee said. "It worked."
McGee displayed that attitude at the outset, as he protected the rim on the first possession of the game, rejecting a jumper by Devin Harris off the backboard, then quickly swatting Harris's layup attempt a few seconds later. And, after McGee had the Nets spooked about going inside, Rashard Lewis buried them from the outside, knocking down three consecutive three-pointers as the Wizards jumped out to a 20-point first-quarter lead and never trailed in improving to 9-8 at Verizon Center.
Lewis and Nick Young had 16 points to lead the Wizards (9-25), who had five players score in double figures. Lewis added a game-high 13 rebounds and McGee had six blocked shots to go with 15 points. No. 1 overall pick John Wall had only five points, but he dished out a game-high nine assists.
"That's what my coaches always told me my whole life. You don't have to do it by scoring. You do it by defense, rebounding or getting your teammates involved. That's what I tried to do," Wall said. "I'm still playing okay, but not as explosive as I want to. I'm still banged up a little bit, but I'm getting through."
The Wizards didn't need a spectacular game from Wall, or any individual on the offensive end, because of their spirited effort defensively. They forced the Nets into missing 12 of their first 13 shots and led by 18 points in the game's first eight minutes. The Wizards shot just 44.2 percent but held the Nets to 34.6 percent.
"Defense is really what won that game for us," said Lewis, who nearly matched the Nets in the first period, scoring 11 points as the Wizards built a 30-13 lead. "Defense will always keep you in the game. If we keep defending like we did tonight we have the chance to win every ball game."
Lewis made three consecutive, wide-open three-pointers to start a 14-0 run that turned a four-point game into a 21-3 lead. Lewis later found McGee cutting to the basket and McGee was fouled as he dunked with two hands. Before making his free throw, McGee walked over to fans in Section 110, tapped his forehead and gave them a salute. He then extended the lead to 26-6 when he made a short jumper.
The Wizards led by 22 in a first half played out like the reverse of the teams' first meeting, in Newark on Dec. 16, when the Nets built a 23-point first-half lead in what would go down as Gilbert Arenas's final game with the Wizards. The Nets eventually cut the lead to 64-52 with 4 minutes 13 seconds left in the third period, as the Wizards made just one of their first 13 shots to start the third period.
Saunders called a timeout and reminded his team that it had lost track of what was working. "We weren't playing as a team. We weren't playing unified. We were trying to do it by ourselves," he said. "I said, 'Trust the system. Trust playing as a team, trust your teammates. Create shots for your teammates and it will happen.' "
And it did. The Wizards were able to expand the lead to 86-61 about nine minutes later, when Lewis stole the ball from Nets reserve Ben Uzoh and McGee ended the possession with a putback dunk.
"It was a crazy video, kind of got us going from the gate. Everybody came out hungry, playing hard," Young said.