Unfortunately, Atlanta appears on the Wizards’ schedule just one more time.
But if Washington can replicate the style of play exhibited in Saturday’s rout against the Hawks, it’s OK that other opponents won’t have the Eastern Conference’s worst record.
With John Wall sitting out due to a sore left knee, the Wizards turned in one of their best performances. They tied a franchise record (set earlier this season) by connecting on 18 3-pointers. Of their 49 field goals, 40 were via assists; the franchise hadn’t recorded that many assists since 1992. They shot 57 percent from the field and 56 percent from behind the arc.
“I think everybody just picked up the slack for John Wall not playing,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the 129-104 blowout.
That was more than picking up the slack. That was a level of crispiness rarely seen with Wall, let alone without him.
The All-Star point guard now has missed 12 games (and he’s expected to miss another six-to-eight weeks). The Wizards are 6-6 when he doesn’t play, but they’re only five games over .500 with him, suggesting a lot of underachieving has taken place.
At its current pace, Washington will fall short of the 49 wins posted last season. Reaching the Eastern Conference finals seems like another mark the team will miss. Last season’s promise has failed to become this season’s progress, despite an All-Star campaign from Bradley Beal, and Kelly Oubre’s bid for NBA Most Improved Player votes.
Wall presumably has plenty left at age 27. But his tendency to hit the ground several times per game, along with past surgery on both his knees, remind us that the expiration date for his athletic prime could come sooner than we imagine.
He needs to take advantage of the pieces around – warts and all. His teammates need to maximize their opportunity to run alongside one of the league’s best point guards. Playing like they did without him is a great place to start. Likewise, Wall should take it upon himself to make sure the same selfless, ball-movement remains when he returns.
Washington isn’t better when Wall is out, but overall performance should vastly improve when he suits up. The team simply must stick to the script it followed against Atlanta.
“I thought we played with a great spirit,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters. “Our mindset was right where it needs to be. It’s defending and passing the ball. It was a simple game plan, but they did it with great effort, great passion.
“Now we just need to keep doing it.”
With Wall. Not just without him.
Otherwise, everyone is wasting each other’s time.