By tying their season-high with three wins in a row -- really, a modest accomplishment in the bigger picture -- the Wizards can move on from the questions about their ability to stay defensively responsible in the pace-and-space offense. Yes, they can.
After Monday's 100-91 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies, they've held their second opponent in a row below the century mark. The Sacramento Kings are the NBA's third-highest scoring team and they reached 99. The Charlotte Hornets, 11th, posted 101.
And the Wizards (13-14) have done it while shorthanded, using Garrett Temple (20 points, six rebounds) in the starting lineup along with rookie Kelly Oubre (10 points, seven rebounds). Usually a defensive stopper, it was Temple's third game in a row with at least 20 points.
"He plays with that high energy," coach Randy Wittman said. "Kelly plays with that high energy whether he plays a minute or 12 minutes, he plays with a high intensity. I think that does rub off. Now those two guys are in the starting lineup, (Jared Dudley) is flying around ... I think that has something to do with it."
Nine days ago, the Wizards put forth one of their worst efforts of the season in a 112-95 loss in Memphis.
The Grizzlies (16-15) jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but the Wizards pushed the pace off made baskets. That's how Temple scored for the first time as did John Wall.
"That was one thing that we didn't do at their place," Temple said. "We harped on we've got to get pace. Even though they're starting to play small they still like to walk the ball up. That's just in their nature. We wanted to make sure we got out and run against them even on makes. ... Holding them to 18 points (in the first quarter) especially with the pace we played, that was big."
Dudley and Temple lauded Wittman on his continuing to make adjustments on their defensive coverages. Memphis shot 10 of 15 on three-pointers in that first meeting. This time, it went 3 of 17. Marc Gasol, who had 24 points in the first meeting, was held to 11 on nine shots.
"He's tired of the point guard killing us with that slot jump shot," Dudley said of Wittman. "Gasol had about nine in the first game. Took that away. Besides that I think guys looked at themselves in the mirror. The rookie, he might be a rookie, but he's one of our better defensive players."
Marcin Gortat is playing his best basketball of the season. He had 12 points and 12 rebounds against Gasol after putting up 26 points and 17 rebounds against DeMarcus Cousins with Sacramento. His defense on both has been exceptional as well.
"We knew that we had to bring energy and run in transition. That's what we did," Gortat said. "We pretty much outworked them.
"He didn’t shoot the ball as many times as he shot nine days ago. We were higher on the screens, more aggressive on the screens. That’s what helped us get back to Gasol, be on time and not have him have open looks. That was crucial.”
Just because the Wizards struggled mightily early on, they weren't rolling back the offense to what it was last season when they slowed it down with two post players on the floor at the same time. Wall is playing more with Ramon Sessions (16 points) and it has added a different dynamic as they break down defenses and they're fast enough on their feet to get established on the other end.
Wittman has used a seven-, eight- and nine-man rotation in succession during this winning streak. While Wall said the effort has been better, the coach backed off of comments he made earlier in the season that his team wasn't trying hard enough.
"It's not necessarily the effort, it's the intensity is more of the word I like. Nobody on this team does not come out and try," said Wittman. "There's an intensity level we're at right now that we haven't been at consistently. This is three games in a row with the intensity level. Effort is probably the wrong word and I've used that term. I don't have to worry about that. I know they're going to try."