The Wizards have been here before.
With a 119-107 win over the Thunder on Monday at Capital One Arena, the Wizards tallied their fifth-straight victory and seventh win in eight games to boost their record to 24-33. With Rui Hachimura scheduled to return soon, the Wizards are hopeful their best basketball is ahead of them.
The problem, however, is finding that same rhythm and consistency long-term — because they’ve been in this exact same position this season.
In February, after they fell to 6-17, they won five straight games, including a seven of eight stretch. They followed that streak up with a five-game losing streak that included losses in seven of eight games and in 10 of 12. Their goal now is to not let that happen again.
“I think they’re two separate situations,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I think we’re focused on continuing to play good basketball...Focus on the next game, the Warriors are playing well. (Steph) Curry is on the hottest streak that we’ve seen in a long time by any player in league history. He’s feeling good. We’ve just got to focus on playing the next game and locking into it.”
The Wizards will certainly be tested by Curry on Wednesday night, but even if he pulls the Warriors to a win, the key for the Wizards will be not letting a loss spiral into more.
Of late, they’ve played well and have allowed 111, 115 (OT), 100 and 107 points in their last four games. With most of their lineup back and healthy, they’ve started to string solid wins together. Their only loss was to the Suns the night after a win over the Warriors. That night, the Wizards didn’t have Bradley Beal.
“We’re just taking it a game at a time,” Beal said. “That’s been our motto and our mindset the last six or seven. One game at a time, one day at a time. We obviously know we’ll need a little help from some other teams, but as far as what we can control and our destiny, we know we can compete and go out and try and win every night.”
Against the Thunder, their offense looked like what the ideal version of it would look like: Beal scored 30 points, Russell Westbrook put up a triple-double, Davis Bertans shot 12 3-pointers (making half of them) and they tallied 119 points on a night where they didn’t shoot well from deep as a team.
“It feels great, but obviously we wish it could’ve happened earlier in the year,” Beal said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot, the way we’d been playing and all the excuses we could make and round up. But still, it’s a great feeling of knowing we’re figuring it out, guys are growing and guys are really starting to play top-level basketball.”
The key to that top-level basketball in the last few weeks has been closing out quarters and games, something that has plagued them all season long.
Monday, even though they never relinquished the lead, the Wizards were never very far away from falling behind the Thunder. But despite a few Thunder runs that cut the lead to within a basket at times, the Wizards always had an answer ready to go. And their improved defense has played a part in that.
“I know we didn’t come out of the All-Star break playing good basketball or getting wins against the best teams in basketball, but I like how we’re playing defense,” Brooks said. “We’re getting better to the ball, I don’t think we’re fouling as much, we’re not getting beat by ‘C’ moves as I like to call them. Guys are going to have to give their best stuff to get around us, get to the paint. We’re definitely doing a much better job defensively.”
They still need to get healthier and get their ideal lineup and rotations in order, but now in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, there’s not much wiggle room left over the last 15 games. Fortunately for the Wizards, they think there’s more to give.
“I think we have a chance to take another step in the right direction,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to get some consistency with our health, we’re going to get Rui back soon. I think we’ve got to get a nice little rhythm. We’re going to get better shooting, I know it, I know it, I know it. (Bertans) is going to help that. Sometimes when you have one of the best shooters on the court, it’s contagious. I think we can still play better basketball down the stretch.”