The Wizards revitalized their season with an 11-8 surge entering the All-Star break. Now they hope the recharging four-day hiatus helps keep the wins flowing.
Randy Wittman and the players returned for a "spirited" practice session Monday night in preparation for Tuesday's home tilt and the first meeting this season against the Toronto Raptors. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.
"It was good. Energized, guys seemed like caged animals so they had a spirited practice today," Wittman said. "I think they were excited to get back, and I think taking four days to get away from it and relax and rest up was good, too."
Washington (15-36) last played on Wednesday in Detroit. From there the players headed to various locales including Houston where Bradley Beal participated in the All-Star weekend festivities.
"It was great. It was a blessing and an honor and I’m definitely going to remember it forever," the 19-year old said after scoring 12 points in Friday's Rising Stars Challenge.
Trevor Ariza went much further West to Southern California where the former UCLA product "got to be in the sun a little bit. Nice 80-degree weather, it was cool."
The transition from relaxing fun to taxing practice was a quick one, but not a daunting shift for the small forward.
"Not at all, it was fun," Ariza said. "You got to sit around or work out or whatever you do during the break and then come back to see people you see every day, it's exciting. We came in, got some good work in and we're ready to play tomorrow."
Beal stuck around Houston for the actual All-Star game, returning to Washington earlier on Monday fired up for the final 31-game stretch.
"It’s like the business now," Beal said. "We had a great stretch going into the break and now we just have to keep it up, keep it going. Everybody is back healthy and playing well, so we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing before we ended."
That stick-to-the-plan message is one Wittman has repeated during the improved stretch and again now after the break. In the 18 games since John Wall's return on Jan. 12, the Wizards led the NBA in defensive rating and ranked 10th with a 46.6 field goal percentage.
"We’ve got to stay focused on what we’ve done leading into all this: ball movement, player movement, guys touching the ball and defense is our staple," Wittman said. "We can’t let that slip. We can’t let those factors slide any. I think that’s the main thing. We have an opportunity here, if we can stay healthy and continue to do those things to put together a good 31 games here."
Putting together "a good 31 games" could have several definitions for a team that remains 21 games under .500 and 11 behind Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff berth. The new-look Raptors (21-32), winners of four straight with Rudy Gay leading the attack, are five games ahead of Washington.
Wittman balked when asked to specify what a "good 31 games" meant in his estimation, unwilling to specify a record or any win-loss goal.
"You can’t ever look at it that way," said Wittman, who like most coaches prefers looking only one game ahead. In this case, he looked back at 96-85 loss to the Pistons before diving deeper into his remainder of the year hopes.
"I want us to compete like we have going into this break, winning four out of five," the coach said. "It was disappointing in Detroit, going up three in the fourth and not being able to pull that one away. But that happens. Now we’ve got to bounce back from that. We’ve got 10 of our next 14 at home. I’m not going to give you a number. I don’t ever go down the schedule and say win loss, win, win, win. I think we can put a good 31 games together."
Notes...Ariza spent parts of two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, whose owner Jerry Buss passed away on Monday at the age of 80. "That's tough man, that's tough for the Lakers organization, the Buss family and city of LA," Ariza said. "It hurts, it hurts bad that a legend like that is gone." Part of the the 2008 championship team, Ariza said he knew Buss "pretty well" and lived down the street from the "unbelievable owner" whose enthusiasm for life was embodied in the "showtime" Lakers. "He definitely enjoyed his life," Ariza said. "He had a great life. It's a sad day today that it had to come to the end."