When the Wizards hired Scott Brooks in late April, the move was seen as a possible last ditch effort to land Kevin Durant. It was a long shot by far, KD coming home to DC, but still a slim possibility. When the dream of having Durant in a Wizards uniform and sharing the same court as John Wall and Bradley Beal were dashed in July, there was a lot of uncertainty heading into the basketball season for the Wizards franchise.
The Wizards got off to a slow start in the beginning of the season. Washington started the season 0-3 and would be 2-8 following a loss on Nov. 16 to the 76ers.
They would be on and off the next few weeks, dropping close but hard fought road contests to the Thunder and Spurs. The climax of the slow start would be John Wall dropping 52 points in a LOSS to the Orlando Magic. Then, something happened. Things started clicking. The Wizards started to win. And they not only won basketball games, they won the city of DC over. Verizon Center was mostly empty early on in the season. Now Wizards games are one of the hottest tickets in town.
“The thing I loved about the (poor) start is not one guy made an excuse. I think cities get behind teams that don’t make excuses and leave everything on the floor, and play for each other,” Brooks told the media after their win over the Pacers on Feb. 10
We can look at stats, numbers and all that jazz but instead let’s take a look at the little things that led to this turn around. Things like an extra rep in the weight room, an extra shot in shootarond, extra hustling on the floor, more support among your teammates. What are the little things that have made a big difference in a Wizards team that went from near-basement dwellers to one of the best stories in the league this season?
“Diving on the floor for loose balls, setting screens, and when you know you’re probably not going to get a shot… sometimes that’s hard to do. It seems simple but you gotta set screens for your team,” Brooks pointed out after a win over the Grizzlies on Jan. 18.
“The little things: cheering your team on from the bench, supporting your guys during timeouts, challenging your guys during practice… it’s all the little things that add up.” — Scott Brooks
“Just playing for each other and defensively- setting the tone early and sticking with it,” added Otto Porter.
Bradley Beal is having one of the best seasons of his career. After signing a five-year, $127 million contract, he is showing that he was worth every penny. A lot of people criticized that move at first due to injury problems he’s had but it all seems like a distant memory. Beal has averaged 22.3 points per game, has had 31 games this season where he’s scored over 20 points and is the third Wizard to have three 40 point performances since Gilbert Arenas in the 2006-07 season after dropping 41 points in a loss to the Cavaliers last Monday.
“Our spirits are much higher for sure,” said Beal. “Beginning of the year, we weren’t where we wanted to be. We knew that we were a better team but we’re all confident in one another, we’re happy, we’re positive, we’re all getting along. It’s just a matter of just continuing to win. There’s no problems or team issues.”
Markieff Morris scored a career-high 26 points on Friday night during the Wizards win over the Pacers. He thinks confidence has been a key in the team’s turnaround.
“Confidence man. Everybody’s confidence is high and everybody is playing with a lot of swag,” said Morris. “We just gotta keep continuing to play together and play defense.”
Wall has been voted into his third straight All Star-Game and will represent the Wizards in New Orleans this weekend. He is averaging a career high 23 points per game with a career high shooting percentages (.454 from the field and .312 from three), and is second in the NBA in assists with 10.5 per game. He is also first in the NBA in steals per game, averaging 2.2.
“We’re locked in, we’re playing better defense as a team, and the offense is free flowing. Everybody’s getting touches, all five guys are in double figures and our bench is playing great for us,” said Wall.
Following that loss to the Magic where Wall dropped 52 points, the Wizards won their next 17 games on 7th and F Street, something they hadn’t done since 1974-75 where they won 22 straight back when they were called the Bullets. Soon fans started making noise throughout the game. Prior to that winning streak, they pretty much only got loud for the free Chick Fil A. Homecourt advantage is a little thing that makes a big difference.
Even though that streak came to an end one week ago, the Wizards showed the league and the world that they deserve respect. They earned that respect from the defending champions. They hope to do it again with the Thunder tonight and the Warriors in a couple of weeks.