Whatever the trade deadline and All-Star break did to disrupt the flow of the resurgent Wizards, they're back.
The idea of home wins over legitimate Western Conference teams Denver and Houston on back-to-back nights appeared daunting after the Wizards looked lethargic in their loss to Toronto earlier in the week. Instead, they proved they can still dictate how they want to play defensively over the course of 48 minutes against two teams with different kinds of significant offensive punch.
On Saturday, they found a way to not just endure the Rockets' 3-point onslaught but to make them react (or not) in a 105-103 victory.
Yes, I admit to looking at the standings and noticing immediately that there are now nine games between the Wizards and the Milwaukee Bucks, who also lost tonight. There are 28 games remaining. Let's not get crazy, but then, why do I keep looking at the standings? It can't be any crazier than going 11-4 against teams with winning records and 2-5 against losing squads.
The Wizards' ridiculous road woes do continue to stare them in the face. Now, I'm inclined to believe they're not as bad as they seem. The record (4-22) speaks for itself, but there are a lot of ways to try and explain away their struggles away from Verizon Center, even with Wall back in the lineup.
They lost a nail-biter by one at Sacramento, had legit losses at the Clippers and Jazz. They were bad in three straight defeats at Philadelphia, Memphis and San Antonio, but the Spurs are essentially unbeatable and that road trip took place as Jordan Crawford was unraveling. The Detroit loss before the All-Star break was a case of checking out before it was time.
The fact is, the Wizards have become solid and tough at home against good teams. Until they prove they can be the same on the road, they can't be described that way.
Anyone still think they can do Randy Wittman's job better than him? That's a joke. Wittman showed just how much credibility he has with his guys on the game-winning call late against Houston, choosing whatever mismatch appeared over giving the ball to one player.
(Okay, two points to make here. One, it goes two ways. To be fair, the guys on the roster right now not only respect Wittman, but they're sharp enough to execute what he asks. Trust is a two-way street. Second, John Wall only had two turnovers against the Rockets, but one came down the stretch. That's as good a reason as any to keep the ball moving.)
Certainly, Emeka Okafor is proving his worth every night, but who would choose him first for a game-winning bucket?
"I'm a firm believer in going at mistmatches," Wittman said. "I'm a firm believer in the feel of the game, how a guy is going. I thought Emeka played outstanding tonight for us, again. He was doing a job down there when he was getting the ball down there. I coach by feel. I don't have set thing we're going to go to every time. We're going to see John in a spread a little bit, like we did a little bit in the last couple minutes, but t.hey did it all game long, and I thought that they would stay small. I said, 'Screw it, let's go big.' It could've been Nene. Actually, it was for either one. Whoever they wanted to put the little guy on, we were going to."
*Bradley Beal is in take-over mode. More will be said about this with every game, but something happened to the rookie in Houston during All-Star Weekend. It's not as if the light got turned on -- that actually happened with the changing of the calendar to 2013. But he's gone from not just knowing he has the game to make it to carrying himself like the Wizards' most important player.
That was a veteran move to steal a rebound that had no business being his at the end of the win over the Rockets. But it wasn't his only play. He made clutch shots, was composed in transition, even converted a mini alley-oop to Okafor. He doesn't get rattled, even when he's guarding the other team's best player.
"Crazy confidence," Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. "If you ask me, he's playing like an All-Star right now."
Now, this doesn't happen in a vacuum. I wrote earlier this week about how what Beal brought home with him from Houston was different than Wall. It will really be interesting down the stretch to see the two handle each other and sharing a spotlight that used to be reserved solely for Wall.