The Washington Wizards just finished a four-game homestand at the Verizon Center, starting with a rout of the New York Knicks 117-101, and culminating in a thrilling but heartbreaking overtime loss against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers (side note: “champion” before “Cleveland” is still something I’m not completely used to).
Washington has not lost back to back games since the start of 2017, but that gives the impression that their month of December wasn’t great, which is wrong. In fact, one could point to the 10-5 record in December as the prequel to the great January the Wizards had. But why was Washington’s January so good, how did they go from such a weak start to this, and can the Wizard’s scorching pace be continued and turned into a deep playoff run?
The Wizards began the season stumbling out of the gate, dropping 11 out of 15 games heading into December. The same grumblings of dysfunction in backcourt appeared, and the season was beginning to look lost before it had even begun. So what changed?
For starters, the starters. Bradley Beal has been healthy for the first time in forever, having only missed four games at this point in the season, a big improvement considering the fact that he’s missed about of quarter of his career up to this point. Not only has Beal been healthy, he’s been balling out, with a career high 21.8 points per game and 3.6 assists per game. Speaking of career seasons, John Wall has been absurd, averaging 23 and 10 and creating multiple highlight plays in a night while doing so. Overall, this starting lineup has been firing on all cylinders for the Wizards, as well as big production numbers from younger guys like Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr.
But can this output stick long term? Most likely no. The majority of the Wizards games to this point in the season have been in the comfort of the Verizon Center, but most of the schedule from here on out is on the road, including two road trips of five games each. While the starters having been balling outrageous, the bench hasn’t produced the way it should. Of the Wizards 107.6 points per game, the starting five accounts for 85.9 of those points, leaving the bench responsible for a little over 20% of the offense, which is cause for concern anytime subs come in. For comparison, the Atlanta Hawks, who trail the Wizards by half a game, have about 35% of their points come from the bench. This lack of production by the bench is concurrently putting a strain on the minutes of starters, namely Marcin Gortat, the soon to be 33-year old who will be playing more minutes now than at any other point in his career.
So can this last? No. Is it working now? Absolutely.
It remains to be seen how this formula will work for the rest of the season, so the Wizards will need to maximize their “right now” to make for playoffs to remain in the near future. But if the Cavaliers game on Monday was any indication, this Wizards team the way it’s currently assembled will be a problem for the East heading down the stretch.
Washington plays the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center tonight at 7:30 EST.