Coach Randy Wittman walked into the locker room with that gimpy, bowlegged gait, shoulders slouched, after the Wizards’ 89-74 win over the Brooklyn Nets and Martell Webster could only shake his head.
“Can someone please get that man a muscle relaxer?” Webster asked, loud enough for everyone in the locker room to hear.
Webster then got up and mimicked Wittman’s walk and joked that Wittman probably sleeps like a penguin, standing straight up, which contributes to his poor posture. Nene and Kevin Seraphin chuckled, until Seraphin said, “Hey, that’s my coach you’re talking about.”
A few minutes later, Wittman walked back out of the training room, looked over at Webster and laughed as he shouted, “I heard what you said.”
More laughter ensued. The locker room was much looser on the Wizards’ most successful home stand of the season, with players cracking jokes, complimenting each other on their wardrobe choices and basically enjoying being in the same company. When Cartier Martin showed up long after the game was over to gather some of his belongings, Webster jokingly asked Martin, “Why are you still here?”
Martin just recently started running as he recovers from a left knee injury and replied, “I work here.”
“No, really,” Webster said, as his teammates laughed some more.
A few wins have raised spirits, but the Wizards had earned the right to feel good about themselves after sweeping the Los Angeles Clippers, New York and Brooklyn – all teams with at least 29 wins – and winning the three games by a combined 33 points. The Clippers didn’t have Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but the Knicks came to town on a five-game winning streak and the Nets entered the game with an impressive 18-1 record against teams with losing records.
They have been dominant at Verizon Center, where fans started to hit the exits on Friday with about two minutes remaining after John Wall had stolen the ball from Brook Lopez and given his team a 17-point lead with a streaking layup.
A little over a month after they lost in double-overtime to the Nets, the Wizards made it look easy. Without knowing that the Wizards’ season was basically over before the New Year, it was hard to tell which team had the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards (14-35) certainly don’t view themselves as a bottom-feeder anymore as they moved above Orlando for the third-worst record in the NBA.
“We’re a team to be reckoned with right now, especially with the way guys are playing. Everybody is stepping up, everybody is having fun and we’re playing the way we’re supposed to play all year,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “Our record should be backwards, whatever it is.”
Beal returned after missing the previous five games, but the Wizards were able to blow out the Nets without getting more than three points out of him. That’s because of a stingy defensive effort in which they held the Nets to 32.9 percent shooting and their second-lowest scoring outing of the season.
“I thought they were aggressive,” Nets Coach P.J. Carlesimo said of the Wizards. “They doubled us and I guess they contested inside because we had shots in the paint and we just didn’t finish. We just didn’t make shots. I’m sure Washington’s defense had something to do with that.”
The Wizards’ defense has been the most underrated aspect of their recent run of success at home. They have won eight of nine at Verizon Center and have gone 7-1 at home since Wall made his debut last month, winning six of those games by double figures. In their past eight home games, the Wizards are outscoring opponents by an average of 100-88 points and limiting them to 41.4 percent from the floor. The only misstep was a confusing, 96-94 loss to Sacramento.
“It’s great. Finally, we just trusting each other and playing hard. Really doing it on the defensive end and moving the ball to make big time shots,” Wall said. “I think everybody knows, I think every team knows what team we would have been like [with everyone healthy] because we’re showing things now. It’s something you just have to move forward.”