Wizards hope effort issues behind them

November 27, 2018

Before the Wizards pulled off a 135-131 win in overtime Monday over the Houston Rockets, they first had to climb out of a 17-point deficit in the first quarter. As has been customary this season, Washington fell behind quickly due to a barrage of 3-pointers.

But this time, star John Wall said the team’s attitude was different during timeouts.

“There was never one time we talked about offense in the huddle,” Wall said. “In the past, that’s all we were worried about, ‘I’m not getting shots’ or ‘I’m not making shots.’ We were just trying to focus on defense and how we can help one another.”

It has taken 20 games, but the Wizards are starting to play with the effort and intensity coach Scott Brooks has desperately wanted. After the Wizards dominated headlines last week with trade rumors and internal dysfunction, the team has responded by winning three of its last four.

Even though they let up 131 points against the Rockets, the Wizards prevailed because they limited star James Harden to just four points in overtime after he had 50 in regulation.

“We are playing harder,” Brooks said when asked about the recent turnaround. “It’s really simple. There’s no coach, there’s no players that can overcome not playing hard. And the bottom line for whatever reason, we’ve been trying to figure out, that we have to play harder. ... But we have guys that need to play hard every night, and when you do that it’s fun to coach. And when you don’t do that, it’s not fun to coach.”

A lineup change has also helped. Brooks said he’s figured out who should Washington’s rotations moving Markieff Morris to the bench, starting Kelly Oubre and Thomas Bryant and increasing Tomas Satoransky’s minutes.

Morris’ workload has actually increased. He went from playing 25.1 minutes per game as a starter and is now averaging 30 minutes per game since he was swapped out of the starting lineup last week. Brooks said Morris has been playing with passion and enthusiasm, and the coach has relied on the stretch forward to close games at center.

Satoransky, too, has become a valuable member off the bench. He’s versatile and allows the Wizards to play three-guard sometimes four-guard lineups because he can be effective off the ball. Brooks has said Satoransky has earned additional playing time and in the past four games, he’s played nearly 21 minutes per game.

Star Bradley Beal said the Wizards have found their “niche.”

“We’re just building off momentum won some games,” said Beal, who had 32 points against the Rockets. “We feel good but we still have a lot of work to do and we still have to get better. We just have to stick with it. It’s a long year. The good thing about it is we’re not the only team struggling.”

Beal is correct both conferences are packed together in the standings, without much separation between each team. Around the league, perceived contenders like the Rockets (9-10), the Utah Jazz (9-12) and the Boston Celtics (11-10) have gotten off to slow starts.

In the East, the Wizards, now 8-12, are only a game-and-a-half back from the eighth seed. They’re also just three games back from jumping up to fifth.

Asked if the Wizards have turned a corner, Morris said “yeah, for sure,” but stopped short of making any bolder statements.

“At the beginning of the year, you know how all you guys get, ‘Blow the whole the thing up,’” Morris said of the media. “We are just gonna wait and see.”

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