What changed for the Wizards after going down by 10 points early in the third quarter and playing short-handed against the best team in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night? Defense.
They turned the tide by being a more physical team, which they were not in a loss to the Miami Heat two nights prior, in a 109-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets in front of 13,447 at Verizon Center.
The Wizards (10-14) had six players in double figures before the third quarter ended and John Wall (25 points, 10 assists) led the way. Wall also had a career-high of seven steals and set the franchise record for career steals along the way (793).
Wall was followed by Bradley Beal (20 points, nine assists), Kelly Oubre (15 points, six rebounds, two steals), Marcin Gortat (16 points, 12 rebounds, two steals) and Otto Porter (10 points, five rebounds).
Charlotte (14-12) was led by Nic Batum (20 points, eight assists) but he didn’t have much help outside of Kemba Walker (17 points, nine assists) and Cody Zeller (18 points). Marco Belinelli (16 points) came off the bench to spark them when they trailed in the fourth, but the Hornets could never regain the lead. Walker's tying three-pointer rimmed out at the final buzzer.
-- The Wizards were more aggressive in the pick-and-roll coverage, especially Gortat, which threw off Walker’s execution. Gortat didn't get stuck in-between. When he had to contain on Walker, he did so aggressively and prevented the pass over the top to the roller. While they got a few buckets early, the coverage posed problems. Walker tried to split a trap of the ball late but Gortat poked it away to put the Wizards in transition where they had a 20-5 edge in points.
-- Gortat posted up Zeller early. While Zeller is an athletic center who can face up from mid-range, he’s not strong enough to defend for long periods under the basket. Zeller had four fouls by 1:42 of the third as a result. He had a minimal impact on the boards with just two rebounds, an area that the Wizards dominated 41-33.
-- A 10-0 run by the Hornets to open the third quarter broke the game open for a 66-56 lead. It came after Beal made his first shot of the game, a three, to tie the score at 10:12. But the Wizards locked down defensively and cut the deficit to 67-65 with 6:12 left behind hustle plays, defense and creating turnovers by Charlotte. The Hornets had seven in the third that produced 10 points for Washington which was credited with five steals. It was a 38-point third for an 87-77 lead entering the fourth.
--The second unit did its job for the second game in a row. The Wizards trailed 30-26 entering the second quarter, Jason Smith (season-high 12 points, seven rebounds) had a steal and a layup and Marcus Thornton (five points) had a three and a layup to tie the score at 33. In regards to plus-minus ratings, three of the Wizards were on the positive and Andrew Nicholson was even. Smith reached double figures for the first time this season. And Smith's jumper when the Hornets cut the deficit to 91-85 in the fourth was clutch.
--The absence of Markieff Morris, who was a late scratch because of a sore left foot, meant more time than usual for Smith (19 minutes) and Nicholson (0 points in 5 minutes) but it didn’t result in Tomas Satoransky getting off the bench. The rookie point guard has played some at small forward this season in three-guard lineups because he’s 6-7.
-- Belinelli was stuck on Wall in an isolation and was beaten to the rim. Wall putback his own miss and the two had words as the Wizards went up 99-93. But Wall was assessed his sixth technical foul of the season in the process.