A few questions lingered for the Washington Wizards before their game Friday against Brooklyn at Verizon Center. One was whether they could maintain the energy they displayed in Wednesday’s win over Atlanta. Another whether they would overlook the lowly Nets, especially with a daunting five-game trip on tap.
Washington’s 129-108 victory over Brooklyn was a satisfactory answer to both queries and had the added benefit of helping to clinch the Wizards’ playoff berth thanks to losses by Chicago and Detroit. Washington now takes a little confidence boost into Saturday’s showdown at defending champion Cleveland, a rematch of the thrilling game the Wizards and Cavaliers authored last month.
“It was a great game, man,” guard Bradley Beal said of the rout of the Nets. “We did a great job coming out and taking care of what we needed to, getting guys rested. . . .
“Especially leaving off now for this big road trip we’re about to have, it was imperative that we take care of our home court, for one. Then off to the West.”
With the trip ahead, just 10 games remaining in the regular season and the playoffs creeping into the corners of the team’s mind, Friday’s game felt like a tuneup. The Wizards (44-28) glided past Brooklyn with ease, taking a 21-point lead into halftime and not extending any of their starters beyond Beal’s 25 minutes. He and John Wall combined for 41 points, and Washington’s bench contributed a season-high 70 points, again showing its cohesion as the Wizards improved to 4-0 against the Nets (15-57), the league’s worst team.
Wall appreciated the light workload. He sat out Friday morning’s shoot-around with a migraine, slept until late afternoon and played through a nagging headache to tally 24 minutes. The point guard led the team with 22 points anyway — 12 of which came in the first quarter — and nine assists. It was just the third game this season Wall has played fewer than 30 minutes.
His reward was a trip to the playoffs, which also felt like validation in a calm, content Wizards locker room after the game.
“The way we dealt with last year wasn’t good for us. We wanted to get to the playoffs, fell magnificently short of that,” Wall said. “The way we started the season wasn’t what we wanted. But we never threw nobody under the bus. We all stayed together as a team, I think that’s the most important thing. As a group, we all figured it out.
“We have a great run going, and we just want to finish the season strong going into the playoffs.”
Even with limited minutes from the starters, Washington wanted to make sure it avoided falling back into old patterns Friday before hitting the road. Bringing energy — what Beal dubbed the Wizards’ “swag” Tuesday — was paramount. Also important was not giving up their halftime lead.
“We didn’t want to get back into those habits we had before,” Beal said, “being up 10-plus points, 20 points, and then giving the lead back up and getting them back into the game. We wanted to leave no doubt, give them no signs of hope and just bury them.”
In that aspect, the Wizards’ worst blemish was the third quarter in which they allowed Brooklyn 39 points and relied on a combined 24 from Beal and Wall to keep them afloat.
As for energy, Washington brought it from the start with a definitive first half. A modest nine-point lead in the first quarter widened to a 28-point chasm late after the Wizards’ bench tore off on a 7-0 run in the second quarter.
They kept it up by flexing some muscle periodically — there were just under five minutes left in the third quarter when Markieff Morris made a 26-foot three-pointer, stole a pass from Jeremy Lin, then dished to Wall. The point guard then passed to Beal, who drove past two Nets players for a windmill layup to put the Wizards up 81-62.
The second unit also looked strong against a tired Brooklyn team that had defeated Phoenix by 28 on Thursday night, with Ian Mahinmi shining the brightest.
The big man connected on all four of his shots in the first half, made three of four free throw attempts, grabbed six rebounds and had 11 points in a 12-minute stint before halftime to lead a second unit that outscored the Nets’ bench 33-14 at intermission. He ended with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Bojan Bogdanovic added 17 points in a team-high 26 minutes, and Brandon Jennings built on a solid performance Tuesday and led three second-unit players in double figures with 18 points and nine assists. Jennings was one of the last players to leave the locker room Friday as he stood happily chatting with reporters about the road trip ahead and the berth in the playoffs.
“Well, I mean, just because we clinched, we’re still not satisfied,” Jennings said. “We still want to finish the season off great. We want to go into the playoffs winning.”