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Wizards 98, Trail Blazers 95: Three thoughts

You’re not going to believe this – mostly because it never gets said (especially not for the right reasons) about a team with the worst record in any league – but the Wizards are playing can’t miss basketball.

It’s not just that that their 98-95 win at Portland late Monday night was the one of the most astounding of their nine victories this season (behind the Oklahoma City and Miami games), or that it was the team’s fifth win in seven games.

From start to oh-what-a-finish at the Rose Garden, there was relevant, competitive intrigue flowing through the Wizards’ veins. Where most of the last two and a half seasons have bordered on irrelevance and at worst have been a side show act, the Wizards have put in one performance after another since John Wall’s return – and even a couple games before – that they can be proud of. They’ve also entertained (in the right way). They’ve shown toughness and determination. They’ve made plays that will make fans out of those who aren’t distracted or disillusioned by their record.

No, this is not a discussion of playoff hopes or future seasons. It’s just worth seeing how long this lasts. Three thoughts:

Yeah, that was a long setup for Jordan Crawford’s game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. It was a shot he had no business making. But then, he essentially had no business making any of the tough shots he made all night while Bradley Beal struggled. Steve Buckhantz’s call was magnificent. Trevor Booker’s fist-pump before the ball even went in was ridiculous.

Yes, I questioned what Crawford’s role would be when he returned from injury, especially in light of Beal’s surge in January. The one that he played tonight works pretty nicely.

The final quarter was high quality entertainment. Rookie of the year frontrunner Damian Lillard woke up and knocked down 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. His two early 3-pointers helped trim Washington’s decent advantage. His monster, enormous, huge, diabolical one-handed jam over Nene with just over two minutes remaining to pull the Blazers to within 91-90 would’ve been the highlight of the game.

But then Nene bounced a pass to Martell Webster for one slam, and then Wall picked Lillard’s pocket and coasted in for another dunk. Lillard and Wesley Mathews still made it 95-95. Now you’re set up for Crawford’s dagger.

Nene’s amazing start, Webster’s strong homecoming, Wall’s dynamic play (and at times, struggles) and defense when the Wizards needed it most – as of the last two weeks this is commonplace.

The Brazilian big man had 17 of his season-high 24 points in the first quarter, where he made his first six shots in a row. But he also had nine rebounds, five assists and four steals. At one point in the third quarter, he was doing everything on the court, intercepting a pair of long Portland passes and orchestrating the offense.

Webster also had a season-high 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range in the building where he played his first five NBA seasons.

Wall struggled with six points on 2-for-8 shooting, two assists and three turnovers, but there isn’t a possession where his presence isn’t felt. Tonight may have been his first game back in which he played at too high of a speed, but his control improved in the second half. Wizards coach Randy Wittman needs to consider whether Wall might be better served by first-half minutes with Beal and Nene.

On the defensive side of the ball, Emeka Okafor had 13 points, 13 rebounds and one massive and timely block on LaMarcus Aldridge late in the fourth quarter. For a guy that seemed to struggled to get his hands over the rim early in the season, Okafor has an increasing knack for being in the right place at the right time.

After all this, the Wizards have a chance to finish their first five-game road trip since March 2005 with a winning record. At this point, that could be reason enough to watch. Right now, it’s just the start.