(Rob Carr / Getty Images)
With Saturday night’s win over Chicago, the Wizards are miraculously one of the hottest teams in the NBA, going 7-3 in their past ten games. The return of John Wall is probably the most important factor in this recent hot streak, but his ability to improve everyone on this team is probably the most impressive.
The two most notable performers, in my opinion, for the Wizards since John's return:
Emeka Okafor: For the first two months of the season, I was calling for his head. He looked awful on the floor and was showing no signs of life in the box score. Fast forward to Wall’s return and he’s averaging a double-double. He’s sinking his jumper (which I still can’t give myself the courage to approve of it), he’s one of the most aggressive defenders in the paint on the team, and he looks comfortable finally. If this is the Emeka Okafor that’s going to play for the rest of the season, I’m going to have to surgically remove the foot from my mouth and rescind the many trade offers I’ve suggested for him all season.
Trevor Ariza: He’s been pretty non-existent all season from a statistical standpoint, but it’s the way he’s not showing up now that’s making a difference. His time on the floor seems to be spent on pure defensive hustle. Diving for the loose balls, smothering the offensive player, and finding the open man on the offensive end instead of throwing up brick after brick. He shut down Kyle Korver two weeks ago in an impressive win versus Atlanta and he created a problem for everyone on the Chicago roster Saturday night.
I could literally list each player and describe the effect Wall has had in their play. It’s so easy to see. This is finally a team that is meshing. They’ve found their stride. Sans Jan Vesely, there’s really no one on this team that I don’t feel confident about anymore. They’ve found a way to beat three teams who are highly favored to win the NBA title this season.
It’s weird, isn’t it?
The Chicago win was such a big win, maybe even more than the victories against Oklahoma City or Miami, due to the fact that no one person was to credit for it. It was a team victory based on astounding defense. The hoop seemed to appear 10 times smaller for Chicago in the fourth quarter. Without that effort, the Bulls would have probably came back and stole the game the way almost every team did in the months of November and December.
With the loss twelve days ago in Sacramento still fresh in the minds of fans and players alike due to some poor free throw shooting and a very weak defensive outing, tonight is another chance to steal a victory back from a team the Wiz kids should have beat the first time.
After the Chicago win, Nene put it pretty bluntly. He was finding some solace knowing that now that the team is winning, it’s going to shut up a lot of people talking down about the franchise; and with John Wall missing those crucial free throws in Sacramento, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him out tonight ready to shut everybody up.