After three straight losses in the previous week, this is a big week for the Washington Wizards to bounce back. And they’ve played like they know it’s an important week in two of the four games so far. They’ve done it with a variety of things ranging from Bradley Beal threes to Nene’s slick passing to Jan Vesely alley-oops.
The week started in Charlotte where the Wizards faced off with the Kemba Walker-led Bobcats, a surprise story in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs started today they would be the seventh seed in the East. Their first year head coach Steve Clifford has done an excellent job with a team most believed would be a bottom-feeder in the league this year. Who knows if they will keep up their solid play or decide the tank route may be their best option, but the Wizards knew they were going to have their hands full in their matchup with the Bobcats on Tuesday.
Neither team came out sharp. The teams could not find a rhythm and for awhile it did not look like anyone actually wanted to win the game. The Wizards struggled to guard Bobcats swingman Gerald Henderson early, who scored 11 points in the first quarter. John Wall could not find his groove in the first half going 3-of-9 from the field. No Wizard scored in double figures in the first half, but the Wizards led 43-39 at halftime.
The Wizards had struggled immensely in the third quarter in the previous two games. In games against the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors, the Wizards were outscored 70-31 in the third period. The Wizards needed a strong third quarter against the Bobcats to come away with a big road win.
They gave the Bobcats a taste of their own medicine. They exploded for a 17-0 run early in the quarter to put this one in the bag. Wall started the run with a huge alley-oop slam from Trevor Booker in transition. After that, the Wizards consistently isolated Booker, who knocked down three jumpers and scored a lay-up during the run. The Wizards went up 66-55 heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was Bradley Beal’s. He scored nine points and hit the three that ended any hopes of a Bobcat’s comeback off an assist from Wall with 3:22 left to put the Wizards up by 15 points.
The Wizards went on to win 97-83 and the tale of the game was that the Wizards got contributions from a lot of people at different times. No one player dominated the game, but we saw Booker have big moments, Beal finding his stroke again, Marcin Gortat and Nene manning the paint, and John Wall controlling the tempo. Booker ended the game with 12 points and 8 rebounds. Beal cashed in 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Gortat and Nene combined for 28 points and 19 rebounds. And the point guard, John Wall, had eight assists to zero turnovers. The last time Wall did not have a turnover in a game was March 10, 2012.
Next stop was the Big Easy. The Wizards faced the New Orleans Pelicans on a back-to-back. This game was all Jan Vesely’s.
He scored 12 points and added seven rebounds off the bench for the Wizards in the contest. It was not just his numbers that stand out. He legitimately had an impact on the game. His unique ability to run the floor really helps the Wizards fast break offenses. Wall or backup point guard Garrett Temple often can find him for easy fastbreak dunks because he can beat the defense down the floor. They found him a couple times in this one. Also, when he runs the floor he brings the entire defense with him and allows shooters trailing the play to find open spots on the perimeter. With so many good shooters and a second unit that often struggles to score the basketball, Vesely’s ability to run the floor is very useful. Another useful tool resulting from Vesely’s athletic ability is his ability to keep balls alive on the offensive glass. The Wizards had two or three extra possessions in this game as a result of Vesely keeping the ball alive with his length. A few extra possessions can be a huge in a game.
It was not just all dunks for Vesely, either. He has looked more and more comfortable in the post in recent weeks. He made some solid post moves that led to easy buckets around the rim.
Vesely was monumental in allowing the Wizards to outscore the Pelicans 33-16 in the second quarter. He played the entire quarter and scored eight points and tallied six rebounds. His energy seemed to rub off on his teammates in the quarter. Coach Randy Wittman has shown more and more trust in Vesely as of late and playing him an entire quarter paid dividends in this one.
The Wizards secured the win outscoring the Pelicans 102-96. It was not just all about Vesley. Trevor Ariza had a big game as well, notching his fifth double-double of the season. He had 21 points and 10 rebounds. John Wall had another typical game, scoring 20 points and adding six assists.
The Wizards travel to Indiana tonight and will face one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in the Indiana Pacers. It will conclude the Wizards mini-road trip. After defeating the Bobcats, the Wizards surpassed their road win total of last season (seven). They are 9-9 on the road and will have their hands full with the Pacers as they look to reach double-double digit road wins. They must limit Roy Hibbert and Paul George, while Wall and Beal must have big games because the Wizards only advantage is in the backcourt.
After Naptown, the Wizards will host James Harden and the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are a talented group and are considered by many to be contenders in the Western Conference. The Wizards must limit Houston’s 3-point prowess in order to have a shot to close the week out on a high note.
This may be the Wizards toughest week of the entire season thus far. All four teams are potential playoff teams this year. The Wizards have escaped with two wins already and if they can win three of the four games of this week, it would be a bounce back from last week’s disaster.