Wake-up call: Defense rises with competition

Wake-up call: Defense rises with competition
February 3, 2014, 6:00 am
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So much for the Wizards, who had a lopsided losing record against teams with winning records to start the season, not being able to beat or compete with quality teams. Since Jan. 13, they've held the Chicago Bulls to 88 and 93, the Miami Heat to 97, the Phoenix Suns to 95 on their home floor, the Golden State Warriors to 85 at their house, too, and the Oklahoma City Thunder to 81.

Now they've got the Portland Trail Blazers (34-13) at Verizon Center on Monday, another elite Western Conference team (CSN, 7 p.m. ET). A win would put the Wizards (23-23) over .500 for the first time this late in a season since 2008. But the Blazers are the NBA's highest-scoring team at 108.3 per game. 

“We just lock in," Wizards point guard John Wall said of why they've played better against better competition lately, including on their home floor where they're 12-12. "You can get embarrassed in front of your home crowd and it’s just as embarrassing on the road. We lock in and we play team defense and we trust each other and we are moving the ball offensively. It’s great to come home with the focus that we had and get a big win.”

The Heat were held to seven less than their average, the Thunder 24, Suns 10 and Warriors 19. After the Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs (34-13), who average 103.8, come here Wednesday.

This is more like the top 10 defense the Wizards were last season when they won just 29 games. They were the only non-playoff team in that group. 

"Our confidence in our defense," said Bradley Beal on explaining the recent shift in play. "We're a pretty good defensive team and we rebound the ball well. As long as we limit a team to one shot and get out and run, we love our chances. As long as we continue to focus on that end of the floor rather than the offense all the time we're a pretty good team"