January 9, 2019 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
A lot can change in just 24 hours time. The Washington Wizards had just lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in pretty embarrassing fashion by 17 points on Tuesday night, but they perfectly flipped the script when returning home on Wednesday by earning a 17-point win. In a game where Washington led by as many as 26 points, they earned another impressive win over a top team in the NBA, their second in three games. The 2017-18 Wizards seem to have resurfaced this season with their ability to come up with a surprising win when everyone counts them out. “You can say we have,” Scott Brooks commented when asked if the team is finally playing their best basketball. For Trevor Ariza, it was all about being more aggressive.
Without the services of John Wall, Washington’s success or lack thereof will start and end with how Bradley Beal plays. In the midst of his second straight All-Star season, the guard put together an efficient offensive clinic to the tune of 34 points on 13-of-21 shooting including 6-of-11 from deep. He did have a handful of bad turnovers where he had the right intention of getting his teammates involved, but when he is scoring the way he did, including 14 in the final quarter to put things away, you cannot complain. Entering the second half of the season, Beal was shooting just 33.9 percent from beyond the arc, far below expectations and a would-be career-low, but a former coach and now front office member Ed Tapscott once told him, “either you’re hot or you’re due.”
Otto Porter Jr. continues to come off of the bench but seems to be close to returning to the starting lineup as he has all but shed any minutes restriction. In 33 minutes of action, the forward scored 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting including a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line, which he struggles to get to most games. Porter admits that he still is not all the way back to where he wants his legs under him, but is getting there.
It was a popular question from a reporter or two to ask the players if Porter seemed more comfortable coming off the bench because he is finally able to take enough shots to satisfy his coach, which he had struggled to before. I would disagree, it is simply that the player that typically has the ball in his hands the most is not out there anymore and that creates more opportunities for everyone else. That is not to say that Wall is the issue, but that is one less mouth to feed. I doubt that Porter enjoys coming off the bench since he shared it prevents him from having a rhythm to start the game, but staggering his minutes so that he plays more with the second unit once returning to the starting lineup would be wise. “Coming off the bench doesn’t give you any rhythm,” the wing said.
Even though the Wizards got 57 points from their two best healthy players, they won the game with their defensive effort. Sure, Joel Embiid got his with 35 points thanks to 14 free throw attempts to complement his usual work in the paint, but the home team did a decent job in limiting his teammates. Jimmy Butler had 23, but on 18 shot attempts, while Ben Simmons had 15 on 15 shot attempts. It also helps when they do not let Landry Shamet go off for a career-high 29 points and eight three-pointers as Washington held the rookie to just five points on 2-of-7 shooting on Wednesday. The Wizards forced 24 turnovers and the 76ers were shooting below 40 percent for much of the game unit some late garbage time buckets. 9 times out of 10 whether Washington wins a particular game or not will come down to how well they did or did not play defensively and everyone around the team knows it.
“It’s just extra effort,” Beal explained about the improved defense. “I think it’s kind of that mentality of ‘don’t let it be you.’ Don’t be that guy that’s relaxing on defense, don’t be that guy that’s getting beat on the backside or anything like that. That’s kind of the motto and the mental approach we’ve been having. It’s a good one to have. It keeps everybody in check and holds us accountable. We preach defense first, which is even better.”
The play that probably best highlighted the stellar defensive effort from Washington on Wednesday night was Beal stepping in front of Joel Embiid in the paint to take a charge on the listed 260 pounder. The collision between Drew Hanlen and Pure Sweat buddies had Beal saying a prayer or two before, during, and after drawing the offensive foul. No one on the team is naïve and they all (well maybe not Tomas Satoransky) took notice that their best player put his body on the line to make a defensive play.
The brutal schedule continues on Friday when Washington hosts Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The revenge game for Jason Smith will be center stage for sure. We will have to wait and see what version of the Wizards show up for that matchup.