Such is the state of the charging Wizards with nine games left in the season. After an early campaign defined by injury and illness, they are rich with healthy, hard-nosed role players capable of stepping up and handling the Cleveland Cavaliers for a 122-93 road win.
The starters put in their time, then got a rest before the second half of a back-to-back against the Mavericks on Saturday in Dallas.
The win put Washington (29-34) a half-game behind the idle Indiana Pacers (29-33) for the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference, a desirable spot because the ninth-place team hosts the first of two potential games in the play-in tournament. The Pacers face moribund Oklahoma City on Saturday.
As for Friday, Washington’s win was all business in the second half, during which it outscored the Cavaliers 64-41. Bradley Beal led seven scorers in double figures with 19 points — an off-night for the all-star guard that was still more than enough.
Neto was just behind him with 17 points, making 6 of 7 from the field and sticking his nose in all corners of the court for five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Westbrook had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for career triple-double No. 177, putting him four away from tying Oscar Robertson’s record. Gafford added 13 points and seven rebounds.
“Seems like during this last month and a half, we’ve been playing good and then an out-of-nowhere guy would surface any given game,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “I have confidence in all the guys. That’s why I tell the guys: Be ready.”
The Wizards took their first double-digit lead late in the third quarter when Gafford got open in the center of the lane to beat the zone defense for a layup. Gill (10 points) then muscled his way to the same spot against Kevin Love for a floater.
From there, Washington put its speedy guards to use, upped the pace and cruised: Westbrook notched his 17th triple double in the past 20 games by streaking down the court ahead of the defense for a layup. Then Ish Smith (11 points) took advantage of a turnover and found Gill in the corner for a three.
Gill drew a foul a play later to push the lead to 19, Gafford added a dunk and Westbrook capped the surge with a pair of free throws. The Wizards won the quarter 33-16.
“Man, it’s amazing,” Westbrook said of the Wizards’ shared success. “So much fun for me, honestly, to see our guys do well. It’s an unbelievable thing to see guys do well and, collectively, a team do well — you know, everybody eats. . . . It’s been unbelievable, especially at the right time of year. I’m just happy guys put in the work, be able to kind of see it come to life.”
Cleveland (21-42) started the night with strong shooting performances from Collin Sexton (22 points) and Darius Garland (12 points) that provided enough of a boost to keep the Cavaliers close to Washington until the second quarter. The Wizards went on a 10-1 run sparked by Beal, who put in a pair of layups and a jumper in the stretch.
The beginning of his night was less successful; he started shooting 3 for 10 from the field and ended the half 6 for 17, mustering 13 points.
The night never came together for Beal, who hit a free throw during the third quarter, grabbed the ball, looked at it and bellowed, “So you do go in!”
With his workload capped at 26 minutes thanks to the third-quarter surge, Beal never got the chance to truly get hot — and Washington didn’t need him to on this night.