OKLAHOMA CITY -- The defense still is a work in progress for the Wizards, but for the first time in a long time they didn't fold when the opponent kept applying the pressure, avoided the kind of double-digit deficits that have doomed them and had stars such as John Wall convert plays and every role player from Nene to Ramon Sessions to Gary Neal factor in.
Saturday's 123-122 comeback win at the Houston Rockets was a reflection of all of this, and tonight they'll have to not get discouraged by the pressure they'll face from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 7:30).
"I told the guys before the game, every team in the league goes through some adversity at some point in the season. We've reached ours," said coach Randy Wittman, referring the players-only meeting called by Jared Dudley on Thursday. "True character of a person is what you do when you face it."
Wittman won't be with his team for the next two games while he's on personal leave after the death of his older brother, adding yet another hurdle to what has been a tumultuous season. Marcin Gortat had to leave for three games to tend to his ailing mother. The Wizards had by far the most lost games to injury in the league according to ManGamesLost.com (197) going into the weekend, with Kris Humphries (knee) and Alan Anderson (ankle) still in suits watching from the bench while Gary Neal (thigh) and Otto Porter (hip) have missed time recently and currently are playing through discomfort.
The Rockets still shot almost 50% from three-point range (17 of 35) and 47.7% overall (41 of 86), but the Wizards never trailed by more than six and never grew discouraged. They had eight players score in double figures with Wall's 19 leading the pack. Porter was one point away from making it nine.
But going away from starting two bigs, Nene and Marcin Gortat, and separating them after four starts together produced a 1-3 record was the correct move. They're a more fluid team.
"We didn't stop anybody. But the spacing, being able to get our shots where we wanted to, we missed a lot of shots and we still scored 120 (plus)," said Dudley of the Wizards, who were just 3 of 15 on three-point looks at halftime before shooting 8 of 16 in the second half. "A lot of wide-open looks put them in binds. That's not a great defensive team but to still score 123 in regulation that's a big win for us."
Sessions had 12 of his 17 points in the pivotal third quarter when he took over. Sessions' steal of a pass from James Harden turned into an assist to Dudley for a transition three-pointer. Then Sessions had five consecutive points for a 90-86 lead. Neal knocked down a fourth-quarter three as did Drew Gooden. Plus, the Wizards went to the foul line 18 times in the final 12 minutes -- double Houston's trips -- with their attack-minded approach. Sessions, as usual, took six foul shots in just 18 minutes played.
This is who they are when they're at their best. Wall and Bradley Beal don't have to score 30. Gortat can be himself as a pick-and-roll big while Nene doesn't waste the limited time he has clogging up the paint. If Neal has it going early with his jump shot, stick with him. If he doesn't, there are other options (Kelly Oubre) if more defense is the answer.
"When our offense is really small we can space the floor. We just got to have all guards kind of help rebound at times," said Wall, who was two rebounds short of a triple-double. "Early on we were getting killed on the boards and we went back to helping each other out and we were able to get into some transition."