Happy days are here again for the Wizards. Winners of three straight games, Washington owns the NBA's best defensive rating and a 9-7 record since John Wall's return including victories over the division-leading Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks.
Consistent ball movement has been another major characteristic during these now winning times. So has the location of the court.
Over its last nine home games, Washington is 8-1 and 11 of the team's 14 victories have come at the Verizon Center. Over the course of the season, the Wizards (14-35) own the NBA's worst road record at 3-21. That's why the next phase of the evolutionary process is finding success on hostile turf. Washington's final two games before the All-Star break - at Milwaukee on Monday, Detroit on Wednesday - offer such growth opportunities.
"There is not one key," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said following Sunday's practice. "It's understanding that it's harder on the road, you have to play better on the road, you got be more focused on the road. I think those three things have to be paramount in your thinking to be successful on the road. That's our next step that we need to make, to be more consistent on the road."
Washington appeared headed down a more consistent road path after a 2-3 record during a challenging Western road swing last month. Despite the losing record, the Wizards knocked off Denver and Portland and had winning late--game opportunities in the other three contests.
However, they finished 0-3 on a subsequent road swing through Philadelphia, Memphis and San Antonio, losing each game by at least eight points. In those three losses, the Wizards averaged 16.3 turnovers. In the three wins that followed, just 11.3.
Asked for his key to road success, rookie Bradley Beal said, "Taking care of the ball, playing the same way. You're always going to hit adversity on the road. It's just a matter of us fighting through it, sticking together on the road as a team rather than individually. Keep moving the ball on offense and play good defense like we have all year."
Washington has played good defense all season - and been even better lately. Over the previous 16 games, the Wizards are allowing 95.1 points per 100 possessions, tops among all NBA teams.
Milwaukee (25-24) currently occupies the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, 11 games ahead of Washington. The specific challenges against the Bucks are reminiscent of those Wittman's squad could not overcome in a loss to the Kings, the Wizards only recent home setback.
At times this season the Wizards have fallen victim offensively to playing for themselves rather than as a collective unit, especially when playing a certain type of shoot from all angles opponent.
Against Sacramento on Jan. 29, Washington rolled early, but lack of ball movement led to poor shooting in the second half, 20 turnovers overall and a 96-94 loss The Wizards ended caught up playing a game of matching points rather than staying disciplined on both ends of the court.
The Kings' slithery point guard Isaiah Thomas took advantage with consistent penetration, scoring 10 of his 22 points in the final quarter, including the game-winning basket. Milwaukee's potent and disruptive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis offers similar high-scoring challenges. The productive duo averages 36.8 points and 11.5 assists per game.
"They're going to play that way," Wittman said of the perimeter-based Bucks. "Very few post-ups. Lots of penetration and pitching. Obviously Jennings and Ellis off the dribble, lots of pick and rolls. That's been a challenge for us sometimes, we've struggled against that and Sacramento was one of those games."
Notes...Facing a Wall and Nene-less Wizards team on Nov. 9, Ellis scored 22 points in the Bucks 101-91 win as Washington fell to 0-4. Beal scored a then career-high 22 points in the loss.The rookie guard said on Sunday his sprained right wrist "feels good." Beal played 18 minutes off the bench against Brooklyn on Friday after missing the previous five games.