I'm tempted to say that the Wizards did indeed approach their win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last night with a Game 7 mentality because of the 0-25 road record, but that seems a bit misleading the more I think about it. I don't deny that the Wizards played hard, but I suspect the real reason is much more simple: the Wizards are a better team.
That's not saying the Wizards focused, mind you, but I think it's saying that the Wizards did a lot of things they won't be able to do against another team. Andray Blatche isn't going to be able to dribble from the three-point line to the rim against most teams. JaVale McGee won't be able to power through defenders on offensive rebounds against most teams. Nick Young won't get uncontested layups against most teams. Etc. Once some of those things happened, the Wizards got confidence and played their game.
Credit the team, but also, let's recognize that there will be games the Wizards play like that and still lose.
Some quick player notes:
- Andray Blatche was fully engaged in this game early, and the result were outstanding. He was making quick, decisive moves offensively and working his butt off defensively. Maybe playing against Antawn Jamison was just the thing to get him going. It didn't always last, thanks to foul trouble, but I'll take it. The man isn't perfect, but he has the talent to dominate stretches of the game when he is fully engaged and using all his gifts. If I'm Flip Saunders, I'm showing Blatche the tape of that first quarter to jam into his head just how good he can be if he focuses.
- Nick Young hit some tough shots, sure, but not before getting off in rhythm early in the game. He had clean looks coming off screens, and I thought he did a nice job attacking Daniel Gibson when he was guarding him. I would have like his game even if he took fewer shots and scored fewer points.
- I thought John Wall settled a bit too much for perimeter jumpers early in the game (he was 2-8 from 16-23 feet, and that's too many attempts) when he could have attacked more, but he eventually got it together and was his typical speedy self in transition. I like that he pushed the ball to score too - he's fast enough to do that.
- Josh Howard was just tremendous. He played great defense when needed, and hit some huge shots early in the second half when the rest of the team looked a little flat. Josh is going to force some plays that aren't there, but overall, he brings a lot to the table, even if he's not much of a shooter. It's a tiny sample size, but the Wizards are 4-1 when he starts. Something to watch going forward.
- Kirk Hinrich was also tremendous, especially defensively. I wish he made less money, because he's the kind of person who is really good at some things (help defense, closing out on shooters, mid-range shots when the offense breaks down) and focuses on those things specifically. Good teams need guys like that, just not at $9 million per. But in general, I think he's played much, much better since Nick Young became a starter. Fewer minutes accentuates his strengths and limits his weaknesses.
- Twelve blocks for the Wizards in this one, which is great, but probably not sustainable against other teams.
- Wasn't wild about JaVale McGee's game, but he was +21, so there was probably something to his presence that made a difference.
- I liked seeing Cartier Martin and Trevor Booker get key bench minutes. Again, these are guys with limited skill sets, but they play hard and do certain things very well. Nothing against Al Thornton, but he's essentially slightly below-average at everything except maybe shot creation. I'd rather have someone who can bring a specific skill to the table, whether it's shooting (Martin) or speed and rebounding (Booker).
- Overall, this was an excellent offensive performance (119.8 points/100 possessions, 57.1 effective field goal percentage, only 11.5% of possessions ending in a turnover). A lot of that was Cleveland, but much of it was because everyone made quick decisions with the ball.
More links to come.