Nene saved a loose ball under the Minnesota Timberwolves’ basket and never had to bother running after tossing a pass ahead to John Wall at midcourt. After catching the pass, Wall found an extra gear, avoided a reach-in by Dante Cunningham, did a pirouette around Ricky Rubio, dipped past Derrick Williams and flipped an underhanded, no-look shot off the glass that even he could not explain.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing there,” Wall said.
It was that easy for Wall and the Washington Wizards on Friday night, with his return to the starting lineup leading to a series of circus shots and highlight plays providing the necessary boost for a wire-to-wire114-101 victory at Verizon Center.
The hole that the Wizards dug Wall when the former No. 1 overall pick was finally deemed healthy enough to play was so massive, so intimidating that he easily could’ve blended into the misery and let the season meet a meek end. But in just eight games back, Wall has already lifted the Wizards over two barriers that have hounded the team since an 0-12 start.
The latest win — the fifth since Wall returned — meant that, at least for one night, the Wizards (10-31) are no longer the holders of the league’s worst record and are also looking down on the Charlotte Bobcats (10-32), who host the Timberwolves on Saturday night, in the Southeast Division.
“We don’t worry about that. Past is the past. We’re not going to change that,” Nene said after scoring 14 points. “We learned a lot of things in the past and now we’ve got to think about the present and future. Still a lot of games and we need wins. Play together, know each other more and create more chemistry. That’s what we need to do.”
The Wizards already appear to be well on that path after improving to 6-3 in their past nine games and winning four consecutive games at Verizon Center for the first time since April 2011. They have won their past three at home — all with Wall — over Atlanta, Orlando and Minnesota by a combined 52 points, with each game decided by double digits.
Jordan Crawford scored a team-high 19 points as the Wizards shot a season-best 57.8 percent from the field, matched their season high with 60 points in the first half and had 29 assists. The Wizards had their third game in which six different players scored in double figures, and all have come since Wall made his season debut on Jan. 12.
“We got everybody that’s supposed to be playing. Everybody is playing with confidence, getting in the groove and everybody clicking,” Crawford said. “I think we been feeling like we can win every game. We been in a lot of games. It’s just now, we’ve got so many options, so many players, the defense can’t key in on one of us and stop us.”
Coach Randy Wittman still intends to keep Wall near his 25-minute playing time restriction and he had no trouble sitting Wall after he had 14 points and five assists and the Wizards led 91-73 after three quarters. All five starters sat the entire fourth quarter, providing some much-needed rest with the Wizards hosting the Chicago Bulls on Saturday at Verizon Center.
“First time all season that we’ve had this much confidence,” A.J. Price said. “We haven’t wrote ourselves off. Anything can happen in this league.”
Back home two days after going 2-3 on their road trip through Sacramento, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland and Salt Lake City, the Wizards didn’t appear to show any signs of fatigue and took advantage of a shorthanded Timberwolves team that has lost eight of nine and was missing all-star forward Kevin Love, starting center Nikola Pekovic, Alexey Shved and Brandon Roy.
Wall visited with doctors upon his return home and hasn’t experienced any setbacks since his return. He supplied numerous highlight-worth plays, appearing to move with considerable ease and comfort. Wall drove inside, spun midair and made an over-the-head bank shot as he drew a foul from Timberwolves center Greg Steimsma. He later zipped past Rubio and caused Andrei Kirilenko to stumble for an uncontested layup. Then, in the third quarter, Wall used a crossover dribble to get Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio off-balance then buried a jumper over him.
“You’re not going to hear any good thing about your team or your organization if you’re not winning games,” Wall said. “That’s all we’re trying to do is win. We don’t want to end up being a last-place team.”
Rookie Bradley Beal had been struggling with a sore right wrist after an awkward landing in Denver during the Wizards’ five-game West Coast road trip, but he bounced back with 16 points and recorded a career-high four blocked shots, including an impressive chase down on Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour.
Martell Webster was bought out by the Timberwolves after two injury-plagued seasons in Minnesota last summer and forced to seek employment in Washington. He got a little revenge as he connected on three three-pointers and scored 13 points. Nene added 14 points and Kevin Seraphin had 10 points before fouling out.
“It’s time for John to be back in the starting lineup. He’s the point guard of our team,” Wittman said of Wall. “If you would’ve told me, we’d play half our games without out all of our players, I might’ve said, ‘Give me 10-31.’ But right now, we’ve got to focus in on what we’re doing now.”