The Washington Wizards Have Finally Arrived | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

The Washington Wizards Have Finally Arrived

By
Updated: February 1, 2017

It was not the victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Or the Boston Celtics’ funeral. Or the dominant road win in Atlanta.

The Washington Wizards’ signature win of the season (so far) — the game that completed their metamorphosis from an irrelevant franchise to a true contender in the Eastern conference — was a Tuesday night win against the New York Knicks.

Yes, the same New York Knicks that were coming off a quadruple overtime loss less than 48 hours ago; same Knicks playing without Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose; same team that has only won five of their last twenty games (and who are sitting in 11th place in the conference).

This was the game that good teams have to win. This was the game that the Wizards of yesteryear would have lost. Hell, the Wizards of just two and a half months ago lost a similar game to a depleted Philadelphia squad.

Washington entered the Knicks game with unprecedented momentum on their side. The national media was singing their praises at such a high pitch it was almost inaudible to long-suffering Wizards fans. NBA.com’s power rankings slotted Washington at five. ESPN’s Marc Stein had them at four. CBS jumped them all the way up to three — as in third best team in the league.

If ever there was a trap game, this was it. After New York raced out to an early 16-8 lead behind three Carmelo Anthony mid-range jumpers and two Brandon Jennings 3-pointers, it looked like Washington may indeed fall victim to its own hype.

But these are not your father’s Wizards — or even your slightly older brother’s Wizards.

John Wall flipped the switch and hit a driving layup, threw an alley-oop to Markieff Morris, then hit another layup over Jennings.

The game would go on for another 40 minutes but the outcome was never in doubt. Even when New York was killing Washington on the offensive boards (+13 for the game) and enjoying a huge disparity at the free throw line (+20 in attempts), there was no doubt Washington would win. It was only a matter of time before the levees broke and Scott Brooks’ offense came pouring through.

That’s what makes this the ultimate statement game. Washington sleep-walked through the first half and still had a five point lead at the break. It was boring. It was methodical. It was exactly what a top playoff seed is supposed to do.

Washington is finally setting the bar at something higher than “make the playoffs” and they keep raising it with every win. The Wizards currently sit in fourth place, 1.5 games behind Toronto, 2 games behind Boston, and 4.5 games behind Cleveland.

Washington is playing like they expect to win every single time they step on the court and Beal said after the game this is the most confident team he has played on:

“For sure. I would even say more than even that playoff team. I think the joy that we have, the fun that we have is amazing. It’s positive in there and we want nothing but the best for one another. There is great camaraderie and we just take it all on the floor. We just play for each other, we don’t care who scores the most points, we don’t care who has a good night, who has a bad night as long as it is a win at the end.”

Kelly Oubre Leading the Scout Team.

There are many facets to the Wizards turnaround, but a huge one is the emergence of Kelly Oubre. The Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner remarked during the game that it’s crazy to think a 21-year-old is leading the bench unit. This is even crazier when you remember that his rookie year was all but wasted in Randy Wittman’s doghouse.

Oubre shot particularly well versus New York (5-for-7 FG, 2-for-4 3PT), and he showed his defensive versatility guarding both Carmelo Anthony and Brandon Jennings. It’s his ability to guard point guards that has been one of the biggest difference-makers in Washington’s turnaround.

For years, the Wizards (ahem, Wall) have struggled containing small, quick point guards. Kelly has proven adept at doing just that. He has the lateral quickness to stay in front of them and the reach to contest jumpers. In the past month, Oubre has switched onto Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, and Kemba Walker.

Oubre’s versatility allows Washington to switch 1 through 4 when he replaces Markieff in a small ball lineup. As David Aldridge pointed out in his most recent Monday Morning Tip, that five man unit “has been insane defensively — 91.7 points per 100 — and has a net rating of 28.9, sixth-best in the league among units that have played in 10 or more games together.”

Oubre, like Beal, senses the team’s confidence:

“We just have ultimate confidence in ourselves and our teammates and each other so we go out there and go to work for each other every night. It feels good.”

Satoransky With An Exclamation Point – Or Two!

For fans who stuck around until the bitter end, Tomas Satoranksy provided two of the biggest highlights of the game in the final 95 seconds. First, he took Mindaugas Kuzminskas off the dribble with his left hand, then jumped from one side of the paint and hit a scoop shot on the other side of the rim.

About a minute later, Sasha Vujacic stole a Sheldon McClellan pass and raced down-court for a layup. Satoransky pursued and measured Vujacic up for a chase down block that got the bench to its feet.

It was a fun way to end a delightfully boring game.

Adam Rubin on EmailAdam Rubin on Twitter
Adam Rubin
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Adam grew up in the D.C. area and has been a Washington Bullets fan for over 25 years. He will not refer to the franchise as anything other than the Bullets unless required to do so by Truth About It editorial standards. Adam spent many nights at the Capital Centre in the ‘90s where he witnessed such things as Michael Jordan’s “LaBradford Smith game,” the inexcusable under-usage of Gheorghe Muresan’s unstoppable post moves, and the basketball stylings of Ledell Eackles.