The Washington Wizards have played some of their best basketball following the NBA all-star break, winning three in a row, including completing a triumph Monday night despite careless ball security, erratic shooting and one starter nursing a shoulder so sore he could barely lift up his right arm afterward in the locker room.
Nene spent much of the second half of a 90-84 road victory over the Toronto Raptors with an ice pack on his shoulder, but the center scored nine points in a row in the fourth quarter to help offset the Wizards’ 19 turnovers for the game and 35 percent shooting before intermission.
Then the following afternoon, the Brazilian big man participated sparingly in practice as Washington prepared for its fourth and final game against the Detroit Pistons, who are seeking a regular season sweep.
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman ran his charges through non-contact drills Tuesday at Verizon Center, preferring instead to concentrate more on shooting and dissecting game film. The way he and the players figure it, they can’t leave any detail unexamined given the Pistons’ recent run of prosperity in the series.
Detroit has won five in a row against Washington, and the Pistons’ three wins this season have come by a combined 52 points. The Wizards have dropped 14 of 16 to the Pistons, who ended Washington’s last three-game winning streak, 96-85, Feb. 13 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“I don’t know, man. I think it’s sorcery, some evil witchcraft involved, because it just doesn’t make any sense,” forward Martell Webster said of the Wizards’ track record against Detroit. “I’m going to stick to that. I believe really there’s some sorcery going on. That’s the only thing that can explain this.”
And it’s not as if the Pistons appear to be any realistic threat to make a run deep into the postseason. At this point, Detroit is nine games behind the Milwaukee Bucks in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and remains just four wins ahead of the Wizards (18-37).
What’s more, the Pistons have lost as many games consecutively as the Wizards have won entering Wednesday. Detroit (22-37) also has only seven road wins, two more than Washington.
“We’ve got to figure it out,” Wittman said. “This league is funny like that sometimes. It goes in a certain situation a team sometimes has your number. We’ve had that situation a lot, and we’ve changed a lot of that.”
Rookie Bradley Beal has been a significant contributor to the early makings of a culture shift. The No. 3 overall pick has scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games, including 25 in his first game following the all-star break. It’s the first time this season Beal has logged three 20-point outings in four games.
But Beal’s value has been much more than jump shooting alone. In a 105-103 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday at Verizon Center, Beal swooped in to collect an offensive rebound in the closing seconds off center Emeka Okafor’s missed free throw and shortly thereafter sank a foul shot to preserve the win.
Beal finished with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Two nights later against the Raptors, who had beaten Washington five straight times at Air Canada Centre, Beal had a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting with six rebounds and a pair of assists.
Since the all-star break, Beal is averaging nearly 21 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game with five steals overall. He’s shot 50 percent (9 for 18) from three-point range and 80 percent (20 of 25) from the free throw line over that span and has committed six turnovers.
“Just staying confident,” Beal said. “I mean Coach and the players do a great job of setting me up, putting me in a position to make plays happen. I just let the scoring come to me. I just take advantage of the opportunities the defense gives me, and my teammates do a great job of setting the screens for me and getting me open.”