“How the hell can you explain what you’re doing with this team?” asked Szczerbiak, a color analyst on MSG Network. “Can you explain the good job that you’re doing?”
At the NBA all-star break, the Wizards are making outsiders look closer. Washington compiled the fourth-best record in the conference over the past 10 games and heads into the midseason respite with a 20-33 record. On some nights the Wizards have caught the attention of the Szczerbiaks of the world — beating playoff-caliber opponents such as the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks. Over that same stretch, they also have lost to the worst team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors.
“We’re in good shape,” Wizards center Ian Mahinmi said. “Some slip-ups. I’m thinking the last games we lost to Memphis and Golden State. Those games at home should’ve been ours, but overall I think we’re good.”
Despite the up-and-down stretch, the Wizards remain three games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the East.
On Wednesday, they added another victory against the New York Knicks, and players left for the break with a few regrets but more confidence.
“We’re in a good spot,” guard Bradley Beal said. “I wish we could have had a few more before the break. I think we lost two that I felt we could’ve won, but for the most part we’re in a good position.”
A major reason for the Wizards’ good position has been Beal’s play. Since Jan. 22, Beal is second in the league at 35.2 points per game. Although Beal was not voted as an all-star reserve by Eastern Conference coaches, he will enter the break as the lone NBA player to have scored at least 25 points in 12 consecutive games.
“I’m good. I’m just looking forward to a little downtime with the fam,” Beal said. “Chill, rest my body a little and enjoy a little good weather. I’m going to enjoy my break.”
Beal wasn’t the only player enjoying good vibes before the break. Although the Wizards have had to shuffle rotations because of injuries, the team underwent more change before the NBA trade deadline by adding guards Shabazz Napier and Jerome Robinson. Their transitions have appeared seamless. In Napier’s first game with Washington, he was one of the first on the court to hug Beal after his new teammate made the game-winning layup against Dallas.
This quick camaraderie has steadied the roster even in a season of constant change.
“The atmosphere in the locker room is really nice,” said Anzejs Pasecniks, a 24-year-old rookie. “Really good guys. It’s not like the young guys are separated. Everybody plays together and has a great relationship. I’m really surprised how it is.”
The Wizards will return to practice Feb. 19 and play their first game a week from Friday at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The matchup will serve as another opportunity to integrate Napier and Robinson, and Washington could welcome back injured center Thomas Bryant.
“It’s a good feeling,” Mahinmi said. “I feel like we’ve got enough to win every game. The East is open.”
With its roster nearly whole, Washington has 29 more games to create what could be an improbable run to the playoffs. While outsiders may wonder what’s happening in Washington, the players believe in their chances.
“We can make a lot of noise coming out the break,” Beal said. “We set ourselves to be where we’re at, so we’ve got to come back next Wednesday ready to go.”
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