WASHINGTON -- Coming into Saturday's big matchup against the Nets, this felt like a potential statement game. We all knew that. What we didn't know, probably until the fifth jumper slid through the rim at Verizon Center, was the statement coming from Drew Gooden in the same game.
As excited as the fan base surely is about the 101-94 win, John Wall's latest escapades and Bradley Beal's clean bill of health, it's hard not to feel after what Gooden did to Brooklyn on Saturday. 21 points on 11 shots and just nine rebounds in 26 minutes, he took a relatively average game and turned it on its head.
He also, somehow, wasn't very surprised by any of it.
"You guys joke about me being old, but I'm still Drew Gooden," the 12-year NBA veteran said after the game. "That's what I do. Once I see a couple go in, I feel like I can't miss."
It might be weird to hear that kind of confidence from a guy who recently spent nearly 18 months away from the professional game, but Gooden never let up after being amnestied by Milwaukee in 2012. He's been living in nearby Bethesda, Md., and continued working out while away from the game.
It's something that coach Randy Wittman and others immediately picked up on, and likely one of the big reasons he was initially brought in.
"Obviously, he worked and worked and worked to keep himself ready, and it's hard to do that, you know, wait until March before you play," Wittman said after the game. "You can easily give up on that, sit on the couch and get fat. And obviously he kept himself ready and it's been a really good pickup for us."
Good pickup might be an understatement at this point. Paired together with fellow veterans Al Harrington and Andre Miller, Gooden has helped transform the Wizards' much-maligned bench into a potential weapon. The "AARP Unit," as fans affectionately call the aging bunch, could be a season-defining development for Washington.
"Drew Gooden, Al and Andre, I thought changed the tone of the game when they went in," Wittman said. "Their physicality bled onto our other guys, and that is what guys like them can do. They've been in games like this."
That hard-nosed approach to the game is something we didn't always see from the Wizards in the past, but it was undoubtedly present in the second half Saturday. Gooden and Harrington willingly banged with the Nets' bigs down low, even committing some hard fouls that matched the arena's playoff atmosphere.
"My thing is, coming off the bench and you have six fouls, why [not] use them? You can't go home with them," Gooden said after committing five in the game. While we don't usually hear praise for a guy drawing whistles, it's hard not to deny the effect such physical play had on both sides of the game.
Even Wall, who scored 33 in the win, has noticed the way Gooden plays the game.
"Most guys when they get on 10-days, they try to force the issue and do something and show whey you belong and stay, but he's just coming in and playing in a comfortable role," Wall said.
And that's really the statement Gooden made Saturday: he's comfortable in the NBA. He belongs. And frankly, it's getting harder to disagree with that assessment. Don't be surprised when the team announces his signing for the remainder of the season.
"He is an NBA player. He knocked down shots. That is what he does," Nets coach Jason Kidd said after the game.
Indeed, that's what he does. And while we all embrace our newest reserve forward, Aaron Rodgers shall have the final laugh: