INDIANAPOLIS -- Rewind to training camp, when coach Randy Wittman insisted that he wanted his team to be able to "police" each other. What the Wizards are doing now, going into Game 2 Wednesday ahead 1-0 vs. the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs, is a byproduct of that. It just took about nine months for it all to come to fruition.
"You see on the court if I don’t hustle back on one play on the defensive end, Trevor Ariza will come right to me and say, ‘Come on.’ It's like, nobody is arguing back at you or fussing. We accept it keep it going on," said John Wall, the Wizards' first All-Star since 2008 this season. "That’s the main thing. If you can talk to the main guy the same as you talk to everybody else I think that helps your team. We’re all capable of getting on each other without getting each other mad and respect it and moving on to the next play."
Feelings were touchy to start the season, especially after a 2-7 start and a players-only meeting called by Ariza. The chemistry between Wall and Marcin Gortat, who was traded for five days before the regular season, wasn't there. Nene didn't believe the leadership from the young players, though he didn't name Wall and Bradley Beal specifically, was up to par. Gortat questioned the Wizards' heart, collective intelligence and leadership and even his role in the offense. Somehow, this frankness among teammates and Wittman has worked itself out.
The Wizards ended the regular season on a four-game winning streak, jumped from a No. 7 seed to No. 5, are 4-0 on the road in the postseason after eliminating the heavily favored Chicago Bulls in the opening round and taking home-court from the Pacers on Monday, and are playing their best basketball of the season.
When Wall was a rookie in 2010, the Wizards won just 23 games. Having a system of "policing" teammates couldn't work with the likes of Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford.
"No. No way," said Wall, who didn't name names when asked about that roster being able to "police" each other. "You say something to somebody, they all wanted to argue. In their mind, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It was totally different. This is a totally different team now."
It's a culture established by Wittman, who made it clear that he won't be able to be the "fixer" every time something goes wrong. Players have to make adjustments in-game and he's not always going to be able to call a timeout. They've got to hold each other accountable. They've got to trust that constructive criticism is being done with the team's best interest at heart and not for a personal agenda. Once they get past that hurdle, winning gets more contagious.
The Wizards' 44 regular-season wins were their most in nine years and they've won nine of their last 10 games.