Writers Note: This is a series that will run throughout the season where both of DSP’s Washington Wizards writers will look back at a specific game, or series of games, and breakdown what it means for the Wizards.
The Washington Wizards ended their five game West Coast road swing with a thud, falling to the Utah Jazz 92-88 to close out the trip with a 2-3 record.
It looked bleak for the Wizards many times through the night, including heading into the fourth quarter, down 15 points. Of course, that was better than the 22 they were behind by at one point in the first half.
Paul Milsap was the force for Utah with 16 points and 15 rebounds for a double double. Martell Webster provided most of Washington’s scoring with 15 points and was 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. An unsung hero in the loss for the Wizards is Emeka Okafor, who only had six points, but dominated the defensive boards with 12 rebounds under the Wizards’ basket and 17 total.
Washington now returns to the Verizon Center on Friday to start a short three game home stretch against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
All season long, Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman and the gang have spoken about the team’s ability to keep fighting – and now, we’re finally seeing proof of the Wizards’ resilience reflected in the ‘wins’ column. John Wall, no doubt, breathed life back into the Wizards’ offense.
More importantly, however, he returned confidence across the board.
It is no coincidence that the Wizards have won four of their seven games since Wall’s return against the Atlanta Hawks, yet Wall only led the Wizards in points once – with 24 in Washington’s road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Other unlikely heroes have stepped up their game too. Okafor and Webster each spent a night out in front in the points column – leading to two of the Wizards’ nine victories. Jan Vesely, who typically serves as the Wizards’ designated bench-warmer, even pulled through with 10 points and seven rebounds in the team’s rout of the Orlando Magic.
Add to that, the Wizards have showed an unwillingness to bow out in the second half – like they did for the greater portion of the first 30 games of the season – the most obvious indicator being Jordan Crawford’s buzzer-beater 3-pointer to top the Trail Blazers on Monday.
As yesterday’s loss to the Jazz – a team perfectly described as average – will show, the Wizards have not yet stumbled upon a cure-all for this season’s woes. Nevertheless, fans who continue to tune in have been rewarded for their patience.
Despite finishing the road trip with a 2-3 record, it was actually a positive step forward for the Wizards. Finally, it seems the team is learning how to win on the road, with them adding two of their three total road wins in the last week. I don’t think it is any coincidence the turnaround coincides with the return of Wall, but there are certainly other factors in the equation that has resulted in them playing better.
Washington is moving the ball better and settling for better shots in what has become a high-tempo offense that seems to have abandoned a little bit of the defense-first mind-set. Since Wall’s return, the team has won all three games in which five or more scorers have reached double-digit points – including their Jan. 18 win on the road against the Denver Nuggets – something almost unheard of with the Wizards.
With sudden life, look out for the Wizards to get better as Wall’s health improves and he continues to improve his game with rookie Bradley Beal.
Alyssa Wolice and Andrew Tomlinson are Contributors to District Sports Page. Both American University Graduates, Alyssa and Andrew hail from New Jersey and Michigan, respectively. With immense experience in the DC sports world, the two have covered the Redskins, Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. You can follow Alyssa on Twitter @awolice and Andrew @drew_tomlinson .