Ever the optimist, Sacramento Kings coach George Karl was somewhat prophetic when asked about the Wizards' ominous start to the season.
"They're just struggling right now. I don't know if it's injuries, I don't know if it's personality, whatever it is. And the East has gotten to be a more difficult schedule," he said before tip-off Monday. "My gut says don't overreact to the first 25 games of the season. The season is long. There's injuries, there's trades, there's teams growing up, maturing. It might take 30 or 40 games before a team comes together just as long as they have a pedigree of the last couple years of pretty damn good basketball. My gut says trust them and they'll figure it out."
The Wizards (12-14), despite having just a seven-man rotation after Gary Neal was a late scratch because of lower back pain, broken open an 84-84 score to start with the fourth quarter and never looked back. John Wall, who set a career-high with 19 assists, didn't even have to score there as Garrett Temple led the way with 10 of his career-high 23 points and Marcin Gortat had season-highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds.
How long can this last is anyone's guess. Until the Wizards are able to string together victories and show they're now consistent in a good way, it's better to hold off judgment. After all, this is the first time they've won back-to-back games since Nov. 21. Coach Randy Wittman tightened his rotation to eight in Saturday's 109-101 win vs. the Charlotte Hornets and went with one fewer Monday.
"The East is so much better. You can't get to far behind," said Jared Dudley, who followed up season highs of 19 points and nine rebounds vs. Charlotte with 13 points against Sacramento, including a crucial three-pointer to begin the fourth. "For us having three winnable home games it's tough to get back.
"It's defensively if we can get stops. We've shown we can do it. The question is can you mentally sustain it 48 minutes for all these different games playing this amount of minutes."
Temple logged a season-high 42 minutes, Dudley played 41 to tie a season high for the second game in a row (he reached that limit once in all of last season), Wall 39, Marcin Gortat 37, Ramon Sessions a season-high 31 and rookie Kelly Oubre in his second start went a career-high 33.
"I personally don't feel fatigued at all. I'm ready to play 48 minutes," Gortat said. "I was excited, I had a lot of fun and I was committed to win this game."
The Wizards (12-14) haven't changed their pace-and-space style. They're just moving the ball better, getting open looks and are more committed to defense despite being short on players. They're averaging 111 points in the two wins and giving up 100.
"It shows how much we've worked in the beginning of the season and in training camp to get in shape to keep this pace," Temple said. "I honestly didn't feel tired except maybe one or two times and that was in the first half. That's a credit to Witt being able to get guy in and out.
"I think we're getting to that point of when to run, how much running will help us even on makes. We got a couple of runs with Marcin running after makes. He's under the basket, outrunning the whole team getting to the (other) basket and getting layups. We held one of the top scoring teams to 99 points with seven guys. That's honestly unheard of to keep the pace that we did, score 113, keep them to 99 and it wasn't a walk-up team. It's a team that likes to run. ... It's a process to get in shape and understand what we have to do defensively and offensively. I think we're trying to turn that corner."
The identity still is that of a blue-collar, grindhouse style but with more tempo offensively. They just haven't played with that sort of grit consistently. A win at home vs. the Memphis Grizzlies could determine if this team finally has figured things out of if this is just another false alarm (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 ET).
“Hopefully this can bleed onto other guys that are out watching," Wittman said. "As I told them before Saturday, before (Monday night's game) and after the game who knows we might be down to eight or seven guys on Wednesday. Whoever those eight, nine, seven guys are they’ll do enough if we come and lay it on the line. That’s been proven the last two nights. We didn’t play perfect but we didn’t let any of our mistakes (linger). You couldn’t tell with our energy level and effort."