Wizards Over Nets — A Return to .500 in Blowout Fashion | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Over Nets — A Return to .500 in Blowout Fashion

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Updated: December 31, 2016

It took 32 games, and it didn’t happen until the second-to-last day of 2016, but the Wizards finally hit the .500 milestone for the first time in the 2016-17 season, via a 118-95 victory over the Brooklyn Nets — Washington’s largest margin of victory this season. It was their eighth straight home victory, their 10th victory in month of December, their third in a row, and their seventh in the last ten games. The Wizards are now tied for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and if the season ended today — it won’t but people find comfort in using that as a litmus test regardless — the Wizards would be in the playoffs.

Coach Scott Brooks tried to downplay the milestones by saying, “If this was a 32 game season, we’d be really happy”, but he later walked those comments back by admitting that his team’s .500 record was a testament to their ability to “keep chipping away.”

Prior to the victory, there were certainly reasons to be concerned about Washington’s ability to win this home game. Bradley Beal’s sprained ankle was not quite as serious as it initially looked, but he was still a game-time scratch after testing it during warmups. Yes, the Wizards were just playing the lowly 8-23 Nets who were 1-15 on the road with 11 straight losses, but Washington only won by five when the teams played three weeks ago (and the Wizards had to climb back from a 16-point halftime deficit). As usual with this team, Friday night was far from a gimme.

The Wizards began in the most inauspicious of ways when Sheldon McClellan, who started in place of the injured Beal, bit on a head fake by Sean Kilpatrick and committed a foul that was hard enough to be noticed by the referees, but not hard enough to prevent Kilpatrick from scoring, then hitting the free throw. After a missed layup by Marcin Gortat, Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead drove down the heart of the Wizards defense to put the Nets up 5-0. Then they woke up.

The teams were tied at 5, 7 and 11, and then John Wall took over — and he kept taking over all night. First he pulled up and hit a 19-footer, leaving his hand up for a effect after the shot went through. Then he successfully pulled off a heat check by hitting a 3-pointer. Then he stole a pass from former Wizard Trevor Booker, which led to a cutting layup by Otto Porter, and the Wizards were up seven points. The last 1:52 of the first quarter, Jason Smith caught fire with six points to put the Wizards up 29-23, and Twitter was giving him podium status:

Then Trey Burke decided it was his turn to make the much maligned Wizards bench look like gold. He scored the last two points of the first quarter on two free throws and he kept that momentum going in the second quarter. Burke hit his first seven shots, including all four of his 3-point attempts, scoring 18 points (with no assists) in the second, his 20 first half points being a season-high for him. Wall peppered in 10 points of his own, but the quarter belonged to Burke.

Coach Brooks admitted that he had to stop treating Burke like a traditional point guard and acknowledge that his talents would be best utilized in a combo guard capacity. Here’s Brooks speaking on Burke’s 18 point second quarter, and his 27 points overall:

The first three minutes of the third quarter unequivocally belonged to the Wizards. The first quarter saw McClellan surrender a three-point play to the Nets, but in the third, he righted that wrong by drawing a three-point play of his own to put the Wizards up 19. Then Gortat scored seven points on three dunks and a free throw to put the Wizards up 21 points. The next time down the floor Wall, who single-handedly controlled the tempo the entire third period, got a bit too cute and called his own number in the post against Isaiah Whitehead, and then lost the ball.

That turnover seemed to energize Trevor Booker, who scored five straight points. Then the Wizards had a major defensive lapse — a lapse that has assistant coach Sidney Lowe leaping off the bench and imploring someone to rotate. They didn’t and Bojan Bogdanovic hit a 3-pointer in the corner. Brooks called timeout to correct his squad.

The remainder of the quarter featured a mix of Wall’s passing and scoring brilliance, along with his carelessness with the ball. The Wizards committed seven turnovers during the third, and Wall was responsible for four of them, which allowed the Nets to stay within 14 points — striking distance for any NBA team. Still, it was difficult to hold Wall accountable for his sloppy play, because he was doing things like this:

And this:

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/815019164691636225

The Nets whittled Washington’s lead down to 12 points with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, which prompted Brooks to put Wall back on the court. But five minutes later, thanks to Marcus Thornton, McClellan and Burke, the Wizards went back up by 21 points and Wall was able to rest the final 4:41 of the game.

The bench, led by Burke (27 points) and Jason Smith (10 points) contributed 50 of the Wizards’ 118 points, which was much needed with Beal out. Yes, Washington was aided by the deplorable Nets defense, but they won a symbolic game, which put them at .500 before a two-game Texas road trip. It appears as if the Wizards are trusting each other and more importantly trusting the system Coach Brooks is attempting to instill. They actually look close to a respectable team, in the East.

Jason Smith on the state of the Wizards and their bench:

The Wizards will have two days to rest, reflect and ponder before they take on the Rockets in Houston on January 2nd, and then the lowly Mavericks in Dallas the next night. The Rockets have won three straight and eight out of the last 10, and the Mavericks are last in the Western Conference with a 10-24 record, but have played much better of late. Two wins will push them further up the playoff food chain, while two losses will marginalize the Wizards as pretenders to the Cavs’ throne.

But for now, fans of this team deserve to bask in the glory of this victory on the Eve of New Year’s Eve.

Final Note.

Marcin Gortat scored an inordinate amount of his points on dunks, which is surprising considering how many bunnies he’s missed during his tenure in Washington. Wall on Gortat’s athletic prowess or lack thereof:

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.