NEW YORK — The Washington Wizards’ first connection from the arc Monday night at Madison Square Garden came straight out of the “how-to” guide for shooting three-pointers.
The tutorial came after three previous failed long-distance attempts that mostly followed the same pattern — the ball finding an unguarded Wizard, who quickly decided to pull the trigger on an open look. The first one that ripped the net, however, was created by the action of John Wall driving toward the rim and planting both feet in the paint before elevating and sending the ball to Tomas Satoransky in the corner.
That setup was on display throughout the 110-107 win over the New York Knicks. The Wizards, who have struggled to hit consistently from the arc, may have found the cure for their season-long funk.
For only the fifth time this season, the Wizards eclipsed 40 percent from the arc (13 of 32, 40.6 percent). Kelly Oubre Jr. matched his season high from the perimeter (5 of 6) as he scored 21 points off the bench.
“It’s just a day, man. I was in rhythm,” Oubre said. “I followed my fundamentals, and I didn’t rush anything. I moved at my own pace. I took what I wanted and not what the defense gave me.”
Although Otto Porter Jr. was the most efficient starter, making 3 of 4 deep looks and six shots overall for 15 points, it was Wall’s possession-saving triple, his only make in five attempts, that finally gave the Wizards separation in the waning moments. The Knicks had cut their deficit to 107-104 when Wall’s three with the game clock running down to 11 seconds gave the Wizards (10-14) breathing room against the young Knicks.
“I was frustrated that I missed a couple easy ones that I had,” said Wall, who finished with 18 points and 15 assists. “But then I make that one, so I’m fine with it.
Before Dwight Howard’s season was interrupted by back surgery last week, he helped form the five-man lineup that produced the team’s best three-point percentage. In only eight full games, the starting lineup with Howard and Markieff Morris at the four spot connected on 41.9 percent from the arc. Among the team’s top seven most-used lineups, no other group has shot better than 29.4 percent.
“[Howard’s] just a huge presence under the basket, and a lot of people, I guess, have to help and sink in when there’s a pick and roll and he’s sealing under the basket,” Satoransky said, sharing his theory as to why the team saw a marked shooting improvement with Howard on the floor. “It opens up maybe some space for the shooters.”
Satoransky then voiced the obvious. “We haven’t had a great game [shooting] three-pointers,” he said.
Much like everything else that has gone wrong, the Wizards’ three-point woes are reflected in their defense, Coach Scott Brooks said. Howard’s greatest asset was under the glass as he averaged a team-high 9.2 rebounds, and the rebounding allowed Washington to escape the defensive end and create quicker offense.
“It’s been our problem. So we’re probably not giving up as many second-chance opportunities with Dwight in the lineup,” Brooks said. “But we don’t have him now.”
The Wizards may not have a big man who commands attention in the post nor one who can be relied on limiting teams to one-shot possessions, but they can count Monday night as one of the better shooting performances in their new normal.
Washington keeps multiple ballhandling guards on the floor, especially now with Satoransky, a natural point guard, in the starting lineup. The playmakers can still spread the floor without the aid of an inside presence by penetrating and kicking the ball out — as they did against the Knicks.
In the first half, the Wizards drilled just 5 of 15 attempts, but most of their makes came through a drive and dish or in quick-hitting transition. Although Oubre started his shooting spree with a spot-up look fed by Austin Rivers, the Wizards made their push in the third quarter by playing their simple drive-and-kick game.
As part of the Wizards’ 20-4 run to open the third quarter, Beal and Porter accounted for a pair of triples. At the 7:44 mark, Satoransky penetrated and found Porter behind the arc, mirroring the Wall-to-Satoransky play from the first quarter. Then, with a different spin of the same action, Bryant stood in the paint and passed to Porter for another three-pointer. By the midway point of the quarter, Wall connected with Beal for the transition three as the Wizards cruised to an 11-point lead.
“Penetrating and kicking gives your offensive player enough time to get his feet set, and you can see everything,” Porter said. “Once you catch it and you can sit there for an extra split second, you can actually gather yourself. When we kick out for threes . . . like we did today, we were pretty successful in moving the ball around the outside to the open guy. We were able to knock some big shots down.”