Washington resumed right where it left off before the All-Star Game break. The Wizards won Thursday for the eighth time in 10 games since John Wall was sidelined with a knee injury, spoiling the home debut for the revamped Cleveland Cavaliers.
Of course the Wizards aren’t a better team with Wall in street clothes. That’s a ridiculous notion. But the team definitely discovered something about itself in his absence.
They’ll have to maintain the improved level of play over the next several weeks because their schedule is unrelenting. Thursday’s game began a stretch in which 15 of 17 opponents currently are playoff teams. The gauntlet includes the Spurs (twice), Warriors, Celtics, Raptors and Timberwolves.
“The rest of the year is going to be a challenge for us,” guard Bradley Beal told reporters after he notched team-highs in points (18) and assists (9) in the 110-103 victory. “But we did a great job starting out.”
Beal might be unaware that the Wizards owned the league’s weakest strength of schedule before the All-Star Game. But he knows Washington has played its best ball of the season lately. When they’re clicking like this, they’re a threat to beat anyone.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to come here and win,” he said. “We did. We had confidence coming into it. We’re just constantly going off the momentum we had before the break.”
Without Wall, the remaining players have turned up their games, making extra passes and carrying extra weight. Thursday’s game was an example:
Five Wizards scored in extra-figures (and three more players had at least eight points). They valued the ball, recording 29 assists compared to 10 turnovers. They took advantage from long distance, with six players hitting at least one 3-pointer.
The old team without Wall might not have rallied from an early 12-point deficit against LeBron James and an energized crowd at Quicken Loans Arena. It might not have held on after nearly blowing a late 11-point lead as James went on a rampage to bring the Cavs within 106-103.
But these Wizards realize they’re still a formidable bunch, even with their leader out of action.
“We hung together,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters. “We showed great resolve. That’s what we talked about. Resiliency is what successful teams do in this league. We’ve been showing that. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”
That won’t be easy.
But it seems easier than we thought possible a few weeks ago.