The Washington Wizards have looked like a different team since John Wall returned and with their second win in two nights over playoff bound Western Conference teams, Saturday night’s saw the Wizards beating the Houston Rockets 105-103, the NBA is getting a glimpse of what may be next year.
Even though Wall’s return has been the focal point for much of the season, Bradley Beal might be the brightest star on the team right now. Saturday night he showed why too with 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Even though he is just a rookie, Beal is showing a high-rate of improvement this year with his best games coming when Wall gives him the ball.
“I think he is playing big. He’s finding his comfort zone, the way he wants to play,” Wall said of Beal to reporters after the game. “He’s really maturing throughout every game he plays during his rookie season.”
Thursday’s trade of Jordan Crawford means the big-two for the Wizards will be Wall and Beal at the guard positions and two veterans rotating in the final spot to complete the big three. Nene and Emeka Okafor have been huge pieces for this team, showing their size and defensive abilities, as well as leadership. It is the ability of those two in the paint that makes them such key cogs in the Wizards machine.
It was Okafor completing the big three Saturday night. Posting yet another double-double, Okafor dropped 17 points and snagged 11 rebounds, but added three blocks to his credit. As a veteran, relatively quiet and well-spoken leader, he provides a good role model for a young and impressionable squad. He showed Saturday how to play the game, not with antics and showmanship, but instead with hard work and results.
What truly shows this iteration of the Wizards is greater than the one on display earlier this year is the squad’s resiliency.
At one point down 17-points to the Rockets, the Wizards battled back and took a late lead in the fourth quarter. With James Harden taking possession of the ball with under a minute left, other editions of the Wizards would have wilted and let Houston walk away with the victory. Instead, Harden may have tied it up, but the Wizards drove the lane and Okafor drew the foul. He hit his first shot and Beal grabbed the offensive rebound and grabbed his own pair of foul shots icing the game.
“I went big with 21 seconds at the end of the game, and I said whoever has the smallest defender on them that’s who I want the ball to go to,” Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman said following the game. “I’m a firm believer in going at mismatches, and the flow of the game. I felt Okafor played outstanding, and he was doing a great job when he got the ball down there.”
Washington is now 11-4 against teams with a winning record since the beginning of January, but will see one of those pesky below-.500 teams on Monday when they travel to Toronto to face the Raptors.