CLEVELAND -- Before Saturday's game tipped off, Scott Brooks didn't care much about the pats on the back his team received for losing on Feb. 6 at Verizon Center, ending a 17-game home winning streak. The only validation that matters is winning in the second game of a back-to-back.
"You have to go out there and play well every night. It's one thing to have a great game against the best team in the league and lose. Of course they're going to say great things about you," Brooks said of that 140-135 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It doesn't mean anything. That last game means nothing."
After trailing 8-7, the Wizards (45-28) led by as many as 17 points and dominated the defending champs at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night behind a combined 64 points and 17 assists from the starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
The Cavs kept making a push to get back on top. They cut a 40-26 deficit after the first quarter to 65-59 with 1:03 left in the second. They trimmed a 71-61 halftime deficit to 92-89 with 1:28 left in the third. They got a 107-98 disadvantage down to 109-105 in the fourth, but in the end it was a 127-115 loss.
It puts Cleveland's hold to the No. 1 seed in the East in doubt. They're just one-half game ahead of the Boston Celtics. It keeps the No. 3 Wizards one game ahead of the No. 4 Toronto Raptors, but big picture it means more than any of that.
Wall was unstoppable. It didn't matter if the Cavs (47-25) went under the screens because he'd hit the jumper. If they went over he'd get to the rim. If they blitzed him he'd either split the double-team or make the simple pass to find the open man for a clean look.
"Whenever I get to knock down my first two mid-ranges, I was in a rhythm early of making shots," said Wall, who began making his first eight shots and finished 14-for-21 en route to his 47th double-double. "After that they started pressing up more and I started getting to the basket."
Kyrie Irving was no match for the second consecutive time in the matchup. He shot 8-for-24 before. He was 8-for-23 with just four assists this time.
"When John is shooting like that, because you know he's going to get those guys involved, they're a very tough team to beat," LeBron James said. "They've got so many guys that complement one another. Great starting five, great bench and that was without (Bojan) Bogdanovic, too."
Bogdanovic was a late scratch because of back tightness, but the more experienced and poised team down the stretch when stops were needed? That was the Wizards coming through and not the team that won the NBA title a year ago.
With 5:29 left in the game, Wall took over the team during a timeout. They'd gotten the lead back up to 115-105 after a putback from Kelly Oubre. Their point guard wanted to make sure the Cavs, who needed a Hail Mary three-pointer from James to force overtime a month ago, weren't given any daylight. He reinforced to them what to look for, what to take away and what to allow but never to lose the intensity that got them to that point.
"The thing that I see, the improvement as each month has gone by is his leadership," Brooks said of Wall. "That's a prime example when the game could go either way ... the voice of our leaders have to step up in the huddle. I thought John was tremendous throughout the game."
Cleveland sill won the season series 2-1, but winning on their floor is important to the Wizards who aspire to at least get to the conference finals. They've already clinched their third playoff berth in four years, but they only got to the semis and bowed out twice in six games.
"We don't want to go into the playoffs and have to face those guys never having won against them in the regular season." Wall said.
Markieff Morris, who has battled a sinus infection and foul trouble as he has struggled to regain his form since the All-Star break, anchored the middle in a 31-point fourth quarter for the small lineup.
He has been salty about the matchup since the last loss. He played 11 of 12 minutes to end it and only shot 1-for-4 but did the intangible things to get them over the hump, but before that he faced up Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and James to get crucial baskets.
"Those are great players they got but we feel as though we're the best team in the league," said Morris, who has never been to the postseason in his previous six seasons. "If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped."