The latest step in the stunning transformation of the Wizards involved doing to a short-handed team what had been done repeatedly to them so many times earlier in the year.
On Saturday they showed no mercy in an 86-73 smothering of the Chicago Bulls, holding one of the league's best defensive teams to season lows of 11 points in the third quarter and 29 points in the second half and two points shy of their season low in a game.
Of the five wins over current playoff teams the Wizards (11-31) have earned as during their current run of seven wins in 10 games, this one, before a sold out Verizon Center was by far the sweetest. They've won five straight at home for the first time since 2008.
"What I can say is that's what kind of potential we have," said Nene, who had a team-high 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. "I remember in the beginning everybody say we suck. Now we start proving a point. Now we start playing our game, have back all our players, and there is our team. Now we going to shut up people's mouth. That's what we're going to do."
The Brazilian big man and center Emeka Okafor (15 points, 16 rebounds, two steals) delivered the crushing blows, holding All-Star Joakim Noah to nine points, canceling out his 17 rebounds and 10 assists and limiting Carlos Boozer to six points and just two rebounds.
Nene had eight points in the third quarter, during which Okafor took a shot to the face from Boozer, who picked up a flagrant foul. Boozer then added a personal and a technical foul when he knocked Okafor to the floor the next time down the court.
"Our front line, I thought, was as physical tonight as we've really been in delivering blows and rebounding the ball," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman, who also credited his team for a defensive adjustment in pick and roll defense at halftime. "This should mean a lot to them. It means a lot to me. I told them that. We took a step tonight."
Behind John Wall (15 points, seven assists), the Wizards' efficient start was familiar. He broke up Richard Hamilton's pass on Chicago's opening possession and raced down the court, feeding Bradley Beal at high speed for layup. When he took a seat after six minutes, he had four points and three assists, and his teammates didn't relinquish the lead until Nate Robinson (19 points) — the only Bulls player to score in double figures — hit a long runner off the glass to put the visitors ahead 24-23 at the end of the first quarter.
Washington's second unit held serve in the second, setting the stage for a half-ending 15-4 run that included Wall feeding Nene for a fast break slam. A 50-44 lead at the break mushroomed to 75-55 on Jordan Crawford's jumper to open the fourth quarter.
The Bulls (26-17) came into the night having won six of their last seven games but played without All-Star forward Luol Deng (hamstring) for a sixth straight night and have been without former league MVP Derrick Rose (knee) all year.
Wittman's response: "I've been there, and a win is a win."
Wall insists his own return from injury isn't responsible for his team's turnaround, and his teammates refuse to revel in their newfound success.
"I wouldn't necessarily say we're impressed," Martell Webster said, "because we feel like it's the way we should have been playing since day one."
For now, doing so over consecutive nights — after a grueling five-game road trip — gives reason to expect they can match that level throughout the second half of the season.
"I think this solidifies and lets us know, hey, the guys are making moves in the right direction," Okafor said. "We are the team that we thought we were supposed to be, fully loaded."