Wake-up call: Wizards rediscover swagger

Wake-up call: Wizards rediscover swagger
December 2, 2013, 8:00 am
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Washington Wizards power forward Nene Hilario (42) celebrates with Wizards small forward Trevor Ariza (1) against the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 116-111.

(Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Trevor Ariza still won't acknowledge that the players-only meeting the Wizards had two weeks ago was his idea. But he could bring himself to say 'playoffs' now that they've won six of their last eight games entering Monday's matchup with the Orlando Magic (CSN, 7 p.m. ET). 

The Wizards lost seven of their first nine games to start the season. 

“It’s real big for us, especially in the past few years we haven’t done this well. We are showing growth, we are showing maturity. We are showing that we are ready to take the next step and become a playoff team," Ariza said.

The Wizards (8-9) haven't been in the playoffs since 2009. That also was the last time they reached at least .500. They've won three of their last four games without Bradley Beal, who is on the shelf with a stress injury to his right fibula for at least another week. 

"If you take Brad or take anybody out of the situation, I feel like if we play like we’re supposed to, we're playing defense and moving the ball as a team and not having those turnovers we can find a way of winning games," John Wall said. "We feel confident with anybody we're playing against."

Martell Webster, re-signed in the off-season in part because of his leadership, never doubted the Wizards could turn it around. He began the season coming off the bench, but he was thrust into the starting lineup with injuries to Ariza and then Beal and he is playing his best basketball. He's averaging 15.4 points in nine games.

"We knew we were better than what our record showed. There were some hardships, and some tough battles in practice because of that because we knew that we were capable of winning all the games that we lost, and that we should be one of the top teams in the East," Webster said. "That was our mentality. That’s the reason why we attacked it that way. Never in our minds did we doubt that we were not this team that we’ve built all these expectations to be.”

The Wizards blew double-digit leads in losses to the Philadelphia 76ers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers early in the schedule. They've blown others since, most recently Saturday vs. the Atlanta Hawks, but still have been able to pull out victories. 

“We know how to stick with it. We don’t get too rattled, especially when other teams make runs. I think before we would kind of lose focus when other teams would go on a run, but this year, I think we’ve changed our mentality to not get too rattled and stay even-keeled," Ariza said. "Everybody is growing up. Everybody is maturing. When you have veterans such as Al (Harrington), myself and Nene telling guys, 'Don’t worry about it, we are still in it, there is no need to get worried,' that helps a lot.”