The Washington Wizards bounced back from two poor losses to Detroit and Toronto with a 119-113 victory over the playoff-bound Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Is there something about this team playing up to quality opponents? Before the Reaction, Coach Randy Wittman attempts to explain:
Scoring distribution. Seven different Wizards scored in double figures, and no one scored more than 17 points. Sometimes there was too much offense, at least for Washington’s taste. At half the score was tied at 64, and the Wizards were getting out-paced in fastbreak points, 12-0. Randy Wittman said that during the break, they only talked about defense. To start the third, Washington forced Denver into two missed 3s and two turnovers on the first four possessions, something Wittman gave much credit to after the game. Denver didn’t score until the 6:39 mark of the period and, in total, the Wizards out-scored them 30-14 in the third before holding on just long enough in the fourth to get the win.
The Wizards found defensive struggles in the fourth. After taking an 18-point lead with 10:45 left, the Nuggets sparked off an 18-to-4 run in less than five minutes before Emeka Okafor eviscerated the Manimal, Kenneth Faried, with a surprise dunk to keep Washington up by six points. But Denver kept creeping closer, getting within three, 106-103, after some missed Washington free throws, bad shots and an ill-advised John Wall turnover. Wall, soon after, got a key block of Ty Lawson and pushed the ball down the court, ultimately finding Nene on a roll for points to keep the Nuggets at bay.
But the deal wasn’t truly sealed until the Wizards made a shot with 13.9 seconds left to give them a four-point cushion, 115-111. And you guessed it: a John Wall jumper sealed the deal. The second of two attempted ball screens with Nene left Wall with plenty of space and Andre Igoudala confident enough (in a miss) to keep providing that space. It was definitely the biggest jumper Wall has made all season. The biggest of his career? Totally debatable (remember that 3-pointer against the Celtics as a rookie?) … but there’s not exactly a huge environment of options.
Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor … crow sure tastes good.
Okafor was a horse—he commanded double teams; he pulled down 13 boards (five offensive; Washington bested Denver on the offense glass 18-to-8, BTW); he threw down the aforementioned dunk on Faried; he tied Beal with 17 points to lead the team in scoring. Sometimes Okafor tended to pull the trigger on mid-range jumpers too quickly, but with his current confidence level, can’t blame him too much. He limits mistakes just about more than anyone else on the team. Wittman calls Emeka his most consistent player; the fact that Okafor’s presence is now helping his teammates on offense is merely a bonus.
And Ariza? He scored a solid 16 points off the bench, picked up four rebounds, and, as an almost prerequisite balancer, evened his three assists with three turnovers. There was a ‘moment’—with just over two minutes left and the Wizards nursing a three-point lead, Ariza drove and saw a passing lane to a teammate in the corner, but the defense quickly closed that up. And Ariza’s motion was caught in the act. He couldn’t pass the ball, rather he had to maneuver a last-second shot: a 16-footer that slipped out of his hands died about eight feet short of the basket. Next time down the court, after getting a huge block, Beal missed a 3, but Nene got another offensive rebound and the ball found it’s way to back to Ariza. He nailed the long distance bucket and barely moved the net, putting the Wizards up six with about 100 seconds left.
Wittman on Ariza’s miss and make after the game:
“That’s playing with confidence. The ball kind of came out of his hands. I saw it and was just hoping he would try to bat it to someone instead of shoot it. And it comes up eight-feet short and the whole place groans, and he comes right back—and not everybody would have shot that shot—Trevor did.”
BONUS: George Karl on Bradley Beal:
[via Adam McGinnis]
“He is going to be a good player. The comparison to Ray Allen is legit. He seems like he is getting more comfortable with the ball and making more decisions. I like their back court a lot. Their back court plays like I like to play. They play fast and athletic. Penetrate well. Beal is going to be one of the top shooters in the game in time.”