Catch your breath yet? Good, because I'm not sure I have.
There are games in every team's season where your highest-paid players have to play like your highest-paid players. The Wizards have a weird salary structure, but the adage holds true. If you want to go anywhere in this league, sometimes the guys that have the most expected of them need to lift the rest of the team when all else fails.
Tonight, John Wall and Nene lifted the rest of the team. It was enough for a 112-108 win over a Brooklyn Nets team with title aspirations.
When the Wizards looked listless in the second quarter, it was Wall, bad back and all, that brought them back with smart dribble probes, timely fast breaks and efficient offensive plays. Fourteen assists, two turnovers in regulation. The exact kind of beautiful floor game we've been craving.
When the Wizards looked dead in the water thanks to a hapless bench that yielded a double-digit deficit, it was Nene that brought the Wizards back with tough drives we haven't seen since he signed that fateful five-year, $67 million contract with the Nuggets in 2011.
When the Wizards' game-tying play attempt looked dead in the water when the Nets' grabbing swallowed Bradley Beal coming off a baseline screen, it was the max man who did the difficult thing instead of taking the easy way out. Rather than settle for a fadeaway jumper and hope for magic, Wall planted his foot between Deron Williams' legs, spun and got to the basket. He missed, but it was his drive that opened up Nene for the game-tying putback dunk.
And finally, when the Wizards' early overtime push was stymied by a veteran Nets squad, it was Nene that caught a difficult pass from Beal off a curl, roamed the baseline and somehow found Trevor Ariza open on the far end of the right wing for the go-ahead three.
There were other heroes. Beal made the initial play on that final Ariza bucket, then saved the Wizards on the next possession by pushing Joe Johnson to the baseline. Marcin Gortat rebounded after a tough start and gave the Wizards great play in the final 10 minutes of the game. But tonight's win was about the two highest-paid players on the team, the two guys that have to be great.
This is a flawed team, no question. The list of credible NBA players on the team ends somewhere around the seventh or eighth line on the roster sheet. The coach, bless his soul, is a retread that most thought would not get another job. The general manager has been here forever and never constructed a top-level squad.
But as long as the Wizards get these kind of performances out of Wall and Nene, they are a good team. Good players playing to their capabilities can cover up a hell of a lot of weaknesses.
- If you remove the shot attempts, the Wizards' start wasn't the worst in the world. They had some looks that didn't fall, and they generally contested Brooklyn's attempts. But eventually, the Nets realized they could help off Gortat to clog up everything else. Given the Nets' length, the strategy worked. The Wizards had no lanes to get to the hoop, and thus, their offense suffered.
- Sometimes, it's not the big man's fault when teams dominate in the paint. In this case, it's hard to blame Gortat too much for Brooklyn's early dominance. His perimeter players didn't make life especially easy either. On one Lopez layup, Ariza failed to bump Lopez as he came off a crossscreen, which would have given Gortat time to recover. On another easy layup by Joe Johnson, Bradley Beal allowed him to get middle on a side pick and roll way too easily. Those are perimeter breakdowns that lead to layups.
- The same goes for offensive rebounds, by the way. Usually, it's a late rotation that only manifests itself after the shot goes up.
- I don't know how the Wizards scored 27 first-quarter points. Thank Al Harrington for supplying some much-needed buckets on offensive possessions that were pretty bad otherwise.
- Eric Maynor has played much better the last couple games. He and Harrington really helped the second unit get the Wizards back into the game.
- Minor errors at bad times really can hurt a team. Two breakdowns by Martell Webster to leave Jason Terry open from the corner allowed Brooklyn to stem the tide, and a lapse in concentration immediately allowed Brooklyn to go back up by double digits. The second Webster breakdown was unfortunate -- the Wizards were trying to load up the strong side on a Deron Williams post isolation, but Webster sunk too far into the lane, allowing Williams the easy skip pass to Terry.
- Ariza should never dribble.
- This was not Gortat's best first half. He was powerless to stop Lopez in the post and elsewhere, and he blew a number of useful offensive opportunities, including a great post pass from Nene that he laid up instead of dunking. This was something Suns fans warned us about.
- It says a lot about the Wizards' lack of reliable spacing that it took 22 minutes for them to shoot a free throw. Blame Wall's passivity if you want, but when Lopez is allowed to camp in the lane because the Nets are freely giving Gortat and Nene mid-range shots.
- Wall stepped up his effort late in the half. An advanced play I really liked: after a Nets missed, he dribble-probed and saw that Lopez was trying to trap him out high instead of camp down low. Wall responded by ad-libbing a pick and roll with Gortat, and he got into the lane enough to draw Lopez off-balanced behind him, opening up the roll and layup for Gortat.
- Deron Williams looks really old.
- Much smarter execution of the offense to begin the half. The Wizards finally figured out how Lopez was playing them and started to go to more pick and rolls that involved him. That led to more penetration and more open looks. Lopez even gave Bradley Beal an easy 19-footer; a smart play against most shooters, but not against a player like Beal that will rise up when he's given that attempt.
- Brooklyn really bailed the Wizards' defense out with missed shots and turnovers early in that half. Pierce blew a wide-open three when Ariza stupidly doubled the post one pass away, then threw a ball into the first row when the Wizards' rotations were all messed up in transition. Williams looks slow; old Deron would not have had his pass swatted by Gortat when he seemed to get by Wall. And Garnett wasn't even looking to shoot, which allowed Nene to roam, which he does so well.
- It shouldn't be breaking news when Gortat slams the ball on a pick and roll, but after all the blown layups he had in the quarter, the dunk at 4:28 was much needed.
- Rough end to the quarter once Wall went out. Some breakdowns by Beal and Harrington were frustrating. Beal still lets his man get middle too much on side pick and rolls, and he struggled with his closeouts on Alan Anderson. Harrington was caught gambling and blew an easy putback after a beautiful Maynor hesitation.
- Reggie Evans shoves a lot of people around, but it was pretty embarrassing how he was all over Kevin Seraphin in the late-third and early-fourth quarter. The insertion of him and Anderson into the lineup changed things for the Nets.
- Just don't understand how you could play a lineup without Wall, Beal, Gortat or Nene. It's hard to do with this little depth, and somehow Randy Wittman did it.
- Brooklyn's physicality really wore the Wizards down. The Nets were aggressive in bumping cutters across the lane and overplaying the wings. They also were dogged in their pursuit on pick and rolls, and the end result was that they avoided fouls and prevented the Wizards from catching the ball in their spots.
- Bad gambles hurt. Ariza cannot overplay the wing, giving Anderson an open jumper.
- Loved Wall's game. He got everyone involved, played good, meat and potatoes defense and was the only guy that got anyone decent shots. One play I liked: he did a great job stunting to Garnett on a missed long-range jumper, which threw off a pass that otherwise would have been clean. Then, he got the ball and quickly found Beal to cut the game to four. I also never saw him get beat by ball watching in transition, a problem that has plagued him often in his career.
- Having a healthy Nene is awesome. AWESOME.
- And here's where my notes ended and my heart wouldn't stop beating.