Tonight’s win increased the Wizards win total to 18. And while their overall record is still only a less than impressive 18-33, their overall effort was very impressive. For the first time, in quite some time they actually seem to be interested in playing defense. Consider that just a few weeks ago, this was a team that was crucified, and rightfully so, for its lack of defensive effort, or maybe more accurately in their lack of interest in putting forth an effort on the defensive side of the court. (Truthaboutit.net details one example in painful detail.)
In other sports, like the NFL, we glorify the teams that seem to not have the best talent at every position, but manage to routinely find the hungry overachievers that form the nucleus of a successful team. For example, how many Pro Bowl players do the Patriots and Steelers have each year, compared with other teams, but yet they are two of the most successful teams over this last decade. Believe me; I am not letting myself get carried away by a couple of games. I do not think that this team is going to make a miracle run to the playoffs – personally I rather they continue to play with energy and grit, while remaining in the lottery.
While not a perfect effort for 48 minutes, I was impressed with Nick Young diving for balls, players hustling back on defense, Josh Howard’s beer crunching attempt at a lose ball, the Wizards picking up their defense in the backcourt… THE BACKCOURT! I liked the fact that this new collection of parts – or as a commenter on Bulletsforever put it, “The Replacement Killers” – are hungry! They have something to prove and early into their tenure with the Wizards are playing like it. I can’t remember a player on the Bullets/Wizards over the last 15 years playing defense on the other team’s superstar like Al Thornton did.
And on the offensive end of the court they made shots. But just as importantly, they did not give up on plays and drift back up court, they actually fought for rebounds. They fought for rebounds even with a CRAZY small lineup on the court – who was their center??? That was the craziest lineup I can remember seeing, but it worked.
An effort like this, win or lose, is great to watch. However, it also elicits another emotion from me – anger. It makes you wonder why this team with Gilbert, Antawn, Caron, Brendan and DeShawn couldn’t play with this same type of effort. What could that team have accomplished if they truly played this hard? I got used to the other team winning all of the “hustle plays.” Today, the Wizards won those plays. For much of this season the Wizards pretended to play defense, today they actually played some particularly when it counted most. Could you imagine a Wizards team that actually held Carmelo scoreless in the 4th quarter?!?!?
Yes, this was a Nuggets team that just came off an emotional (and likely physically draining) overtime win against King Crab Dribble and the Cavaliers. But this is also a Nuggets team that is deep and has superior talent. The Nuggets were mostly playing against a collection of inexperienced young guys and cast-off role players. I hope the Wizards learned an important lesson today. If they play with this level of effort and passion, even as presently constructed, they can play with any team in the NBA (at least for the rest of this season).
For one game, I forgot that this was a 17 win team. It was fun to watch this team go out and compete. If they continue to play like this, I look forward to watching the rest of their games.
What these players offered tonight the Wizards need moving forward in 2010-2011. Ernie and the coaching staff need to figure out how many of these guys to keep (and at what price). But Thornton and Singleton in particular play with an edge that has been lacking in this team for quite some time.
Gilbert, I hope you were at home watching this effort tonight.