The Washington Wizards certainly are a different team when both John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the court together, as the two teamed up to lead the Wizards to yet another road win, this time over the Milwaukee Bucks 102-90, to improve to 15-35 on the year.
Perhaps the most unlikely story in sports right now, the Washington Wizards, who looked like they could challenge the New Jersey Nets’ record for futility to start a season, have suddenly gone 11-11 since the start of the new year. A big part of the turnaround is the overall health of the team, which is now above average, but also because of the way the supporting cast has surrounded the team’s best players. Early albatrosses like Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Kevin Seraphin are now playing key minutes and making big plays throughout the course of the game.
Before we get to the backup dancers on the Wizards, lets talk about the shining stars.
As a rookie, Beal’s development throughout the course of the year has been amazing to watch. It is almost impossible to call him a rookie anymore. The guard from the University of Florida looks polished, energetic and wily as he makes plays throughout the game. At some points looking like an NBA veteran, Beal looks as if he has ice in his veins, something he did not have earlier in the season.
Perhaps it is no longer shouldering the burden for the entire offense, Beal has looked smooth as silk playing with ease on the offensive side of the ball. He exuded confidence coming off the bench Monday night with 10-17 shooting, knocking down four of his five shots from downtown to give him a game high 28 total points.
John Wall, the other star of the evening, has been by far one of the best creators in the Eastern Conference since returning from multiple injuries. Maybe it is finally having a shooter to pass too in Beal, but whatever the case, Wall is able to free up points for the Wizards. Tallying his first double-double since January 18 against the Denver Nuggets, Wall knocked down six shots for 14 points and added 10 dimes to his record.
Washington led for much of the game and held the Bucks, the NBA’s 12th-highest scoring team, to just 90-points, seven under their season average. Much of the credit for the defensive success should go to Nene and Okafor, who limited second chance points with 19 combined defensive rebounds, 12 of them Nene’s. Together, they combined for 23 total rebounds and Okafor had 12-points to accompany Nene’s 21. They were the best two players after Wall and Beal and continue to show why they have been key pickups for the Wizards’ roster.
There is not enough time to go through every good player on the Wizards Monday night, but to show just how strong the team played, only three players were minuses today and the bench was a combined plus-67 for the team. Those numbers, despite sometimes being flakey, show just how strong the Wizards played from start to finish.
Even though most fan-bases would be upset with this fact, Washington fans should be ecstatic the team is now third to last in the Eastern Conference. While still ten games back of the Bucks for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot, the Wizards could be playing meaningful basketball come the end of the season. In order to ensure that though, they have to keep up this strong play against the Detroit Pistons heading into the All-Star break on the road on Wednesday.