Markieff Morris isn't even a serious factor yet for the Wizards, who won for the second time in a row Friday, but with the way they're defending they don't just look like a playoff team but one that could seriously contend for a top four seed which seemed unthinkable prior to the All-Star break.
The Wizards (25-28) won in a mismatch 98-86 at Verizon Center, the eighth announced sellout of the season, and just as importantly they lead the season series 2-0 in an East race that's growing increasingly tight. The teams have two more meetings left and if the Wizards win one more time they have the tiebreaker edge which is vital.
John Wall (22 points, eight assists, eight rebounds) led five players in double figures followed by Marcin Gortat (15 points, nine rebounds), Bradley Beal (17 points), Otto Porter Porter (11 points, six rebounds) and Jared Dudley (10 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks).
Morris (six points) received a standing ovation when he appeared for the first time. In dominating the Utah Jazz here on Thursday, the energy from the crowd that had been absent before the break had returned as the Wizards played with a defensive intensity that held them to 40% shooting in a blowout. They've held consecutive opponents to less than 90 points.
Tobias Harris, who Detroit (27-28) acquired at the trade deadline like Morris was for the Wizards on Thursday, was his team's best weapon. He had a team-high 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting but that was the only thing that went right for them offensively.
Reggie Jackson (16 points) was largely ineffective on 7 of 18 shooting, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (four) was invisible along with the other starters Marcus Morris (nine points) and Anthony Tolliver (six points). Andre Drummond (11 points, 13 rebounds) had good stats but that's where his impact ended.
- For the second game in a row, the Wizards' defense was stellar as they held the Pistons to a 15 points in the first quarter and just 40 for the half. Both are season lows. Jackson was 3 of 10, Caldwell-Pope 0-for-5 and Marcus Morris 1 of 7. The Wizards are 14-5 when they hold opponents to 50 points or fewer in the first two quarters.
- Markieff Morris came off the bench to play nine minutes in the first half but missed his first three shots. He went one-on-one with his brother, Marcus, and missed the pull-up jump shot and later was assessed a foul for running over him. Morris' status was unclear until just before tipoff, when Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair had their physicals approved by the Phoenix Suns to finalize the deal. He has yet to practice with his new teammates but eventually will be the starting "stretch" option at power forward. His first field goal came late in the third quarter when he drove baseline for a pull up jumper.
- Gortat continues to be dominant, especially when he matches up with elite centers like Drummond. He outplayed him the first meeting (14 points and eight rebounds in less than 27 minutes) and did so again. A key moment in the third quarter came when Drummond tried to use his strength to bully Gortat off the dribble to create space. It didn't work as Drummond was blocked at the rim and then fouled Gortat as he collected the loose ball. Gortat has 26 double-doubles for the season, with 22 coming since Dec. 1. When Gortat is this effective defensively with Nene coming behind him as his backup, the Wizards are well-anchored in the middle. And the NBA's worst rebounding team (Wizards) had a 47-41 edge in rebounds against a team with the NBA's best rebounder (Drummond).
- Dudley's help defense is evident with this stat: He has had six blocked shots in the last three games. In the previous 49, Dudley was credited with just six. Not noted for his size or his leaping ability, that's a telling stat for him. Stanley Johnson was pushing the ball on the fast break and Dudley, seeing that his team had greater numbers back and could gamble, stepped up to surprise him with the strip. That led to a dunk the other way for a 76-60 lead. It's knowing when to say when. Gambling for blocks and steals often can have the opposite effect when you don't have numbers and it breaks down your own defense. Dudley recognizes the difference.
- The Pistons kept doing under the screens to allow Wall to take open mid-range shots or give him the time to find the open man to get Washington out to as much as a 23-point lead. The Boston Celtics learned from that mistake after Wall lit them up for 36 points earlier in the season, and when they rematched they mixed up the coverages to surprise him and it proved a game-changing decision. Wall shot 8-for-17 overall in this one and just two turnovers for the second game in a row, and when he meets the Pistons for a third time Stan Van Gundy probably will have his team be more aggressive in that regard.