The team that coach Randy Wittman wants back isn't thinking much about offense. When they weren't playing well in a recent game, he was perturbed to witness at halftime the conversations that had nothing to do with defense. When they beat Tuesday's opponent earlier this season, the Milwaukee Bucks, it was because the attention to that detail.
“Just being greedy, aggressive, grimy, dirty team. Not trying to injure anybody, but playing aggressive," said John Wall about how the Wizards have to play, which should be music to Wittman's ears after he called his team "soft" in the middle after a 24-point loss last week. "Hitting people when they’re coming to the basket.
"Not trying to give guys easy layups and stuff like that. That’s what got us over the hump. You got to play that playoff style now. Just be smart when you foul certain people at certain times. That’s big for us to get into the ball. When we average 25 or more deflections, we win. ... Ten or 11 deflections in a game, that’s not the type of defensive pressure we like to have."
In a win over the weekend vs. the Orlando Magic, the Wizards (4-4) went from allowing 60% accuracy in the first quarter to holding them to 37%. 36% and 44% in subsequent quarters.
The Bucks (5-5) are coming off a double overtime win vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. Plus, they have Jabari Parker back who wasn't available in their 118-113 loss to the Wizards on Oct. 30 as he still was recovering from a knee injury that dated to last season.
There's a good chance that the Wizards won't have Bradley Beal, who hasn't practiced in more than a week because of a left shoulder contusion. He scored 14 of the Wizards' 36 fourth-quarter points in that 13-point comeback in Milwaukee.
“We just tightened up our defense. We played the defense that we usually played last year. When we added pressure to those guys they kind of folded and didn’t take good shots and gave us the opportunity to push the pace and get into transition," Wall said. "Guys just made big shots. We had the same kind of open threes that we had throughout the whole game. We just missed them. Then in the fourth quarter we made like seven of them."
It's far too early to say if the Wizards are cured. Their three-game losing streak in which they were blown out by double-digits still is fresh in their minds. They've shown that they can play pace-and-space offense without turning the ball over liberally. They've gone from 50 giveaways in losses at the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks to 19 total as they went 1-1 vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder and Magic.
“It’s early but I think we’re starting to see we can’t win games with a lot of turnovers," Wizards forward Otto Porter said. "It’s making it harder on the defense. We jut got to buckle down, play defense and go from there."
The Bucks have length and athleticism all over the floor with their starting unit.
“This is where you’re really going to get the sense of us," Wall said. "We only showed one sense of us for a whole game. That was San Antonio. Orlando and Milwaukee, we showed glimpses in the fourth quarter when we wanted to play defense. ... I don’t think we put a full package together when we played defense for a whole game and move the ball the way we want it to offensively."