Say what you will about how the season has gone for the Wizards, perhaps most of it is true, but this late-season stretch the squad is currently barreling through via 4-game win streak could actually be an X-factor for them when the playoffs come around. Sure, three of those four wins came at the expense of the league punching bags in the Knicks and Sixers- two teams that have a combined loss total grand enough to deplete the NBA’s entire fan base, but with the recent success, the Wizards are not only reaping the happier emotions of victory, they are succeeding in situations we’d beg God to forbid, for example, a Wall-less lineup. Or a Pierce-less one. Or a Nene-less one. The tattered lineups are due to the precautionary measures taken by Randy Wittman to preserve the battered vets, yet despite their absence, the Wizards have still been winning, and winning decisively.
Let me first shout out Ramon Sessions who, in Philly on Wednesday night, got a crack at the starting lineup after the Wiz coaching staff decided to cool down John Wall for a night, ending his ‘Ironman’ campaign of 208 straight games played. The decision was a great one, and for two reasons: 1) it served Sessions his breakout game as a Wizard, and 2) it revealed yet another glowing attribute in John Wall, who, bowtie’d up to the peak of freshness, did all but ‘cool down’ as he joined Garrett Temple on the bench as cheerleader co-captain. But Wall would barely sit, barking at his teammates on the floor during plays, welcoming them into timeouts with high-fives, and basically all the rest of those ‘leadership’ things he’s idiotically harped on for not doing.
Sessions was quite full of marvel against the Sixers, by our standards at least. He dictated the pace, he drew contact and got to the line, and by the glory of a lazy-ass Philadelphia defense, he was able to continuously zip the ball through wide open passing lanes to his teammates for easy buckets. He had eight points by the end of the 1st quarter and his 19 for the game was a season high. For Sessions, this was the moment to prove his worth as the most important backup point guard in the world, and there’s no question he did. The Wizards have been playing a woeful game of Musical Chairs for many years as it pertains to employing Wall’s backup, but it’s looking more and more as of late that Sessions is a safe bet for the position going into the playoffs. A place, mind you, that Sessions is pretty familiar with.
And let me remind you once again that when Marcin Gortat is happy, the team is likely moving in the right direction. Reasons for why Gortat sometimes may not be happy could be of a fault of his directly, and there are also times it can be blamed on the game situations he’s neglectfully forced to reckon with. But this was far from the case in Philly. Gortat’s monster 1st quarter was, well, it was freaking monstrous. 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, two assists, and a blocked shot dished out plenty of smiles and basketball boners, and more importantly, it truly set the tone for the direction in which the Wizards were headed that night, which, as I mentioned before, is the right direction. Write that down.
For Gortat, winning defines everything. A 30-point/17-rebound game in a loss is absolutely meaningless to him. The trick is that when Gortat is locked in, typically so are the Wizards. The trick to that trick is to ensure Gortat is always in situations where he’s comfortable and to never go away from it. Like, scrapping the pick and pop and continuing to utilize his gifted mobility. Yanno, something like that. The Wizards have won four straight, and besides a slow night in Memphis, Gortat dominated in the rest of those wins:
4/1 vs. Philly: 23 points, 10-11 FG, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks
4/3 vs. NYK: 19 points, 9-3 FG, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks
4/8 at Philly: 18 points, 8-9 FG, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks
Ugh. Now it’s actually sinking in to me that these performances were against criminally inferior opponents. But, whatevz. Maybe Gortat getting a few games to bully his defenders around is essential for him and the team as the season winds down. So, dominate away, March.
The Wizards put up 70 first half points and shot 65 percent for the game. Again – huge. The easy movement of the ball with players cutting and driving to the rim rendered high percentage shots, and it was most refreshing to see Bradley Beal guilty of a few of those kinds of plays. As of late, Beal has used his time wisely against lower quality opponents, and part of that is developing a knack for aggression at the rim. Against the Sixers, Beal established his presence and displayed that aggression early. He also hit a few shots from #PandaRange and knocked down all three of his 3’s. A not so shabby evening for Beal resulted in a 21-point, 7-for-9 shooting stat line. Not so shabby.
Another reason why the Wizards played so comfortably on offense was the welfare of the bench. Kris Humphries, who’s reestablishing his midrange shot, could not have returned to the lineup from his groin injury at a better time. Will Bynum, recently extended through the rest of the season, serviceably spelled Ramon Sessions, getting his hand warmed up to 11 shot attempts, five of which he converted for 10 points. Kevin Seraphin was great. The bench combined for 21-34 shooting and helped storm the Wizards away from any threat of a very potential Sixers comeback.
We don’t even need to get into how well John Wall has performed over the past few games. Nuff said right here:
John Wall assist numbers each of the last 4 games: 12, 15, 18, 14.
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) April 5, 2015
So, yes, it’s easy to write off Washington’s latest success as the virtue of lenient scheduling. Truth is, you play who the schedule gives you, and you play them accordingly, and that’s merely what the Wizards have done. Along the way, they’ve managed to tune up their offense, replenish some old legs, and best of all, they’ve managed to embrace winning again.