The harmony at the practice court can not only be heard and seen, but it can be felt. The Wizards are vibing at a level like never before -- including their two playoff seasons when they advanced to the conference semifinals -- and Scott Brooks is the conductor who has them all in tune.
Tonight they'll try to extend their home winning streak to 15 games vs. the N.Y. Knicks, who they've already beaten twice this season.
The atmosphere at Verizon Center has done an 180-degree turn after a 2-8 start, now that the Wizards are 25-12 since then. The atmosphere behind the scenes has shifted, too, because no matter the spoken word, the body language doesn't lie.
"The players have been around me for some time now. They're going to always get the same consistent approach whether we win a game or lose a game," said Brooks, who has his team fifth in the East and two games in the loss column from the No. 2 spot. "When we lose a game we're not going to change things up and just throw everything out the door because we feel that we have to. With our guys they understand that our system is in place. We want to tinker with it. We want to add to it. I'm not going to be so stubborn just to keep everything the same but we work every day. I've always done it. I have to be smart enough to realize on days like today, 35 to 40 minutes of good work is enough to get better. You just cant relax after a win. We don't. That's been a big part of our success recently."
Brooks, in his first season in Washington, said plenty. He wasn't referencing anything in the recent past, but among the biggest negatives with the previous coaching staff during a 41-41 season was the helter-skelter style. Then-coach Randy Wittman was constantly switching, or what he called "simplifying" defensive coverages, based on the latest results.
Even though they had the same starting five players, the production was down across the board. Brooks kept Monday's workout short and sweet whereas three-hour practices were the norm for John Wall who needed surgeries to both knees because of the wear and tear. And Bradley Beal repeatedly had overuse stress reactions in his lower right leg. On top of all that, the roster was much older at the time and they likely were leaving their best pereformances on the practice court.
"He understands situations for us, if we need rest, if he needs to step on the gas for us," Wall said of Brooks' coaching style. "All the other coaches do a great of giving us the scouting report, giving us game plans. ... They're pushing us in our drills and not letting us take plays off and days off."
Now the leader, Wall respected the Wizards' veterans but did grow agitated when some of them took off drills in practice while he gutted them out despite loose bodies and bone spurs in both knees
Earlier in the season, Marcin Gortat, who clashed with Wittman at every turn, had this to say about Brooks' staff which includes lead assistant Tony Brown, Sidney Lowe, Maz Trakh, Chad Iske and Mike Terpstra, to CSNmidatlantic.com: "They have a different way of communication with us. They have more patience with us. They work with us as a single units. They take us on the side. Each coach is responsible for certain players and we communicate a lot. Our level of commnication is much better, much higher. ... Most important is they're not trying to change up every game. We stick to pretty much one coverage for most of the time. The schemes we have a pretty much the same which is great. We don't have to ask queustions. We know what we got to do in certain situations."
The result: All of the Wizards starters are having standout seasons. In most cases, they're posting career-highs such as Gortat in rebounds (11.4) and field-goal shooting (59.2%); Wall in points (22.9), assists (10.3), steals (2.2) and field-goal accuracy (46.5%); Beal in points (21.8), Otto Porter in points (14.4), rebounds (6.6) and field-goal (53.5%) and three-point accuracy (46.8%) and Markieff Morris in rebounds (6.7) and three-point shooting (35.3%).
Brooks has sat down with Wall and showed him where he's not made the right plays or lacked the effort needed on the defensive end. He has emphasized to Morris to give better efforts when closing out shooters at the arc and improving his long-range shot. He has altered the offense that's not as pick-and-roll heavy, taken his four-time All-Star Wall off the ball some, put Beal on the ball more,and incorporated more flex action and motion to maximize everyone's skill set and a layer of unpredictability.
"We just don't want to be John-centric. We want to make sure everybody is involved," Brooks said. "When you have a great player like John you want to utilize his abilities to get to the bucket, create offense off of his speed and his toughness and his layup-making ability. But you have a lot of good players around him. You want to utilize them because the game of basketball everybody has to be involved otherwise you're going to have problems. You're going to have disinterested players on the defensive end but when you get everybody touching the ball offensively your defense, it's human nature, it spikes up."
In the first year of a five-year, $35 million deal, Brooks is the Wizards' top offseason acqusition. And based on the direction the team is headed, that pricetage continues to be a bargain.