It wasn’t just that they defeated the Brooklyn Nets, but how they won that has the Washington Wizards encouraged about a three-game road trip they should otherwise dread. Friday’s “gutty” 112-108 overtime victory – which featured several comebacks, timely shooting and stanch defense – convinced the Wizards that they have what it takes to compete with Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio after opening the season with three deflating losses.
“We believe we can win against everybody,” Marcin Gortat said after the win over Brooklyn.
After winning back-to-back games in November for the first time in four years, the Wizards (2-3) get three teams with playoff aspirations – and the Thunder and Spurs in contention for a title – in venues where they have historically struggled.
Washington has never won in six games played in Oklahoma City, including the two seasons that New Orleans played there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It has lost nine of its past 11 games in Dallas and 13 straight in San Antonio, dating to Dec. 11, 1999 – when Al Harrington was in his second season, Bradley Beal was just 6 and the Spurs played in the Alamodome.
“It’s going to be a big swing,” forward Martell Webster said. “For us, these games are huge but we feel that we can win them all. That’s the most important thing. We have each other’s back and we’re going to go out on this road trip with confidence. As long as we buy into schemes. I don’t see why we don’t give ourselves a chance.”
The Wizards haven’t won consecutive games in November since Nov. 24-27, 2009, and haven’t won three in a row before December since winning six straight from Nov. 11-21, 2007 – the last season that the franchise advanced to the playoffs. But the Wizards believe they have discovered a formula that worked, beginning with a late rally in Miami, where they played unselfishly, made the extra pass and knocked down open three-pointers.
When Nene returned from a strained left calf against Philadelphia, giving the Wizards a decided size advantage inside with Marcin Gortat, the team was able to exploit its advantage on the offensive end and take more chances defensively. In their past two games, the Wizards have totaled 60 assists.
Nets forward Paul Pierce was shut out for three quarters and limited to four points Friday, but Trevor Ariza said it helps to have two 6-foot-11 guys in Nene and Gortat serving as the back line of the defense.
“It just makes it easier for us guards, because we can put more pressure on our guys on defense to send them to our big men and knowing that our big men will be there to help us out,” Ariza said. “It was good team defense on our part. One man can’t stop anybody, especially someone like that. [Pierce] has over 20,000 points, so he can score.”
The challenge will be much tougher for Ariza on Sunday with District native and three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, who is agian leading the league in scoring at 29.6 points per game. Durant has also been aided by the return of the extremely excitable and aggressive Russell Westbrook, who missed the first two games of the season recovering from surgery on a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Westbrook has averaged 21 points and 3.7 assists in the past three wins.
John Wall has picked up his defensive intensity in the past three games. Coach Randy Wittman praised Wall for his effort against the Nets, when he limited point guard Deron Williams to 5-of-14 shooting and recorded four steals while battling back spasms.
“Sometimes John will have a lapse on the defense. But he’s too big, strong fast, not to utilize that all the time,” Wittman said. “It’s something that we’ve been on him about and he’s responding.”
Beal also appears to be breaking free of his early slump. He made four three-pointers against Miami, had a career-high eight assists against Philadelphia and then matched his career-high with 29 points against Brooklyn. “I’m really just trying to focus in and knock down shots whenever I’m capable and play within the flow of the game,” Beal said.
In overtime vs. the Nets, Beal stunned Pierce when he took a pass from Nene on a fast break, took off just outside the paint and threw down a thunderous, one-handed dunk. Beal shot better than 50 percent from the field for the first time this season in the win, connecting on 11 of 20 shots. He also had a few stretches in which his shooting helped the Wizards from getting stagnant offensively.
“He’s growing up,” Wittman said of Beal. “It’s a process. That’s how you grow up in this league. You learn what it’s about. He might miss four or five shots, but he got 20 shots, so that means there’s going to be 16 more that are going to be available. He’s got to start thinking if I miss four in a row; I’m probably going to make five in a row somewhere.”
The Wizards are still an abysmal 20-98 on the road since Wall arrived in the NBA. With a daunting road trip ahead, Wall was relieved that the Wizards were able to escape with a home win over Brooklyn. “You definitely look at it, that you are 2-3 now, you’re one game away from being .500, instead of being 1-4. It’s a big difference,” Wall said. “But if we want to be a good team, we have to find a way to win on the road.”
Ariza said the win against the Nets should allow the Wizards to play “pressure free.” Beal believes that the games will serve as a good gauge to show the Wizards how far they are from accomplishing their goals this season.
“We’re confident,” Beal said. “We have three tough matchups coming up so we definitely have to dial in and continue to do what got us here.”