For the second straight night, point guard John Wall put the Washington Wizards on his back, using his considerable speed and skill to try to will his team to a win. On Nov. 23 at Verizon Center against the New York Knicks, Wall and his teammates got the win, 98-89. It was a better outcome than the previous night in Toronto, when a 37-point performance by Wall wasn't enough to prevent a 96-88 loss to the Raptors.
The win ended a grueling five-night stretch when Washington had four games, winning three of the four games to improve to 5-8. Wall led all scorers with 31 points, and guard Bradley Beal, after a slow first half during which he scored five points, finished with 18. Martell Webster, in the starting lineup at forward for the ailing Trevor Ariza, added 19.
The Wizards managed to pull off the nine-point win despite the ongoing meager contributions from the bench players. New York's bench outscored Washington's bench, 43-6. The previous night against Toronto, the bench was outscored, 25-9.
It's a problem that should correct itself once Ariza and forward Al Harrington return. Both players are expected to return to practice as early as Nov. 25. But until they return to the court, coach Randy Wittman has few options to rely on when his starters need a rest.
"I have to get more production out of our bench," Wittman said following the Nov. 22 loss in Toronto. "We just go into lag sometimes from an offensive standpoint where we don't score from a period of stretches."
After the Nov. 23 win against the Knicks, Wittman said he was pleased about the victory, but acknowledged that the problem from the previous night had remained the same. Wittman said he would do what he had to do to win games.
"I'm trying to pull some of our starters quicker to get back in with the second unit to put a little bit more experience there," Wittman said. "We've got to continue to fight and make that like last year, when it was a positive for us."
But despite the struggles of the second unit, winning three of the last four is the kind of positive turnaround the Wizards needed after a 2-7 start.
"We have what it takes, plain and simple," Webster said. "We've proved that already. It's just a matter of getting some games under our belt. We need some winning streaks around here. But these last four games, winning 75 percent of them, we'll take that any week."
The Nov. 23 win was also a breakout game for center Marcin Gortat (16 points, 17 rebounds), who took over the third quarter, during which the Wizards outscored the Knicks, 27-17. After struggling Nov. 22 against the Raptors (six points, eight rebounds), Gortat was ready to turn things around, he said.
"It was bad, the last three of four games for me," Gortat said. "I didn't sleep too much last night. I just tried to come back and focus on the game. I'm glad I was able to help the team win. Obviously John [Wall] helped me too. He gave me open looks on the pick and roll. I'm grateful I'm playing with him."
Wall plays an important role, whether it's consistency as a scorer or as a playmaker. His play will be a key component in whether the Wizards can keep winning, as will continuing to play better team defense.
"Just being confident and my teammates having confidence in me," Wall said. "The biggest thing for us is we're getting getter defensively every game, and that's something you've got to do for us to keep trying to win games."
Next week, the Wizards will do it all over again, playing four games from Nov. 26-30. Wall will have to keep up the pace, taking whatever he can from what the defense gives him to pull off the win.
"He can do it scoring 31," Wittman said of Wall. "He can do it scoring 10 and having 16 assists. When he plays to that balance, just saying: 'What are they going to do tonight? They going to take me away? All right, good, we'll make you pay, and I'm going to get 16, 17 assists.' "