The Washington Wizards (7-28) pulled the plug on the Orlando Magic (13-24) at the Verizon Center Monday night as Washington banked its most impressive victory of the season thus far – a 120-91 rout – to mark their third straight win.
At last, basketball has returned to the district.
Yes, John Wall was back in action for a second night in a row off the bench. More importantly, however, there was no single hero Monday night. The Wizards shared the wealth – and moved the ball – and as a result, six players for Washington tallied double-digit points. Emeka Okafor led the pack with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while A.J. Price and Kevin Seraphin tied with 18 points apiece.
The mere presence of John Wall seemed to help the Wizards get back on their feet again. Wall added 12 points and six assists to the mix during his second night back, but more importantly, he seemed to return confidence to a roster that seemed lifeless only weeks ago.
“[Wall] brings an added dimension that nobody had, that’s honesty,” said head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “His energy, his speed, his enthusiasm, his delivering of the ball…He sees the floor very well, not all guys see that.”
The Wizards’ defense was not quite picture-perfect, but the Magic shot just 42.5% from the field. Even more, Washington drew key fouls and learned to play small ball to rack up points. In fact, they held off on attempting a three-pointer until less than 4:30 remained in the first half.
By the time Wall checked in – with 5:35 remaining in the first quarter – the Wizards were already off to a 16-11 lead, helped by eight consecutive free throws made by A.J. Price, Bradley Beal and Martell Webster collectively.
After Kevin Seraphin laid down the perfect block on Arron Afflalo, the Wall of old made his first appearance of the night with a fast break layup to widen Washington’s lead to 24-18.
The Magic’s Glen Davis responded with a layup of his own, but the Wizards carried a less-than-comfortable six-point lead into the second quarter.
Washington wasted little time heating up in the second quarter. By the time Price sank a 25-footer with 8:47 remaining, Washington had expanded their lead to 11 points.
Just under three minutes later, that lead grew to 16 points, thanks in part to an 8-0 run by unlikely hero Jan Vesely. Vesely capped off his stint with his second of several noteworthy dunks on the night.
With less than five minutes remaining in the half, Trevor Ariza sank a three, and Beal followed up with a jumper and layup to put Washington up 19 points.
Then, the Wizards returned to old habits.
In just two minutes and 14 seconds, they handed back 13 of 19 points to the Magic unanswered due to a missed alley-oop layup by Wall and two petty turnovers. Josh McRoberts added salt to the wounds by making the last basket a buzzer beater dunk to trim the Wizards’ lead to 59-53.
Unlike the Wizards of earlier this season, this team returned to the court ready to earn back the points they shed.
“I liked what I saw today in our guys’ eyes at halftime,” Wittman said. “It showed right away in the third quarter, we immediately built it up to 10, 12, 13 right away. It’s a good sign.”
The Wizards and Magic went back-and-forth throughout most of the third quarter, with Washington maintaining a 10-point lead throughout, give or take.
Leading 81-71, Vesely pitched the ball to Webster, who drew the three-and-one from the wing to put the Wizards out front by 15.
Before the end of the quarter, fans were treated to a pair of monster slams by Beal and Seraphin, and Washington regained a 19-point lead.
Then, in the fourth quarter, the Wizards did not only dominate, they put on a show.
To set the tone, Washington wowed the crowd with a John-to-Jan alley-oop to make it 98-77 with just under 10 minutes left to play.
With just under five minutes left, Trevor Ariza kicked off the dunk show before Seraphin dropped two hammers of his own to blow it open for Washington, 113-87. A.J. Price followed up with a three-pointer before the Wizards officially celebrated their first three-game win-streak of the season with a final score of 120-91.
Taking into account how the WIzards have performed throughout the majority of the season thus far, fans are left wondering if the win streak represents a change in momentum on the season or a fluke amidst a string of terrible losses, soon to again become the norm.
“We lost so many close games that I think once we started losing so many in a row, I think it kind of became a mental thing,” Price said. “When we got to the fourth quarter, for whatever reason, we just couldn’t execute because it was stuck in the back of our heads. I think now that the tide has turned a bit, we shouldn’t have to worry about that for the rest of the year.”
In order to prolong their win streak, the Wizards will have to carry their momentum away from home as they embark on a five-game road trip while the district prepares for the presidential Inauguration events taking place this weekend.