The Washington Wizards beat the Detroit Pistons 101-87 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Here are five observations from the game...
1. If the Wizards can keep up their recent winning ways and remain in the playoff mix at the end of this season, what they did on Monday could come in handy either for seeding or making the postseason altogether.
They knocked off the Detroit Pistons to move into ninth place in the East, one spot outside of the playoff picture, and tied the season series at 1-1. The season series between the teams, ever-important for tiebreaker scenarios, will come down to their final matchup of the season on Feb. 11.
If Monday's game was any longterm indication, the Wizards should feel good about their chances to outpace the Pistons. They were the better team, offering a thorough beatdown on both ends of the floor. It helped the Pistons were missing Andre Drummond, but the Wizards are down three key players themselves.
Those injuries just haven't held the Wizards back like many expected they would. The Wizards are now 7-3 since they learned John Wall would miss the rest of the season due to left heel surgery. They moved to 20-26 on the year, the closest they've been to the .500 mark since Dec. 16.
2. The Wizards' defense has been something else recently. Despite arguably being the worst defensive team in the NBA overall this season, they have completely flipped the script in recent games. They came into this one boasting the eighth-best defensive rating over their past nine games.
It continued early against the Pistons who, to be fair, are among the worst offensive teams in the game. The Wizards allowed only 34 points in the first half, the fewest they have surrendered in any half this season. The Pistons shot just 30 percent from the field and 2-for-15 from three and had nine turnovers in the first half. Detroits 87 points were the fewest the Wizards have given up in a game this season.
Those 34 points first-half broke the season-low the Wizards set just last game against the Knicks in London, where they gave up 37 points in the second half in their win. That means the Wizards gave up only 71 points across four quarters, the equivalent of a full game.
The Wizards' defense has been on point in recent games. Now, let's see if they can do it against the Warriors on Thursday.
3. Any concerns about the Wizards losing momentum from the London trip were quickly put to rest. Seven players reached double figures and shot a solid 45.6 percent.
Tomas Satoransky (nine points, eight assists, two steals) appears to be taking another step as a ball-handler. He is way more assertive attacking the rim that we had seen in previous years. On several occasions in this game, he blew past defenders and finished with spin moves around the rim.
Otto Porter Jr. (19 points) is also playing with more confidence, now in an increased scoring role. On numerous plays in this game, he called for the ball, sensing a mismatch, often against Jose Calderon or Luke Kennard.
4. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks remarked at Sunday's practice that he has been pleasantly surprised with how Trevor Ariza can fill up the box score. He said he knew the guy could play defense but didn't know he was so well-rounded as a scorer and in other areas of the game.
Monday was a perfect example of that. Ariza finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers. He shot 7-for-13 from the field, 2-for-5 from three and 4-for-4 from the line.
He also, of course, was instrumental in the Wizards' strong defensive effort. He continues to make the impact the Wizards hoped for when they traded him as a tone-setting pest on the perimeter.
It may have taken a few games for that to reflect in the standings, and he needs to get his shooting percentages up, but he has clearly helped change the team's DNA defensively and is no slouch on the offensive end, either. He is averaging 14.7 points through 16 games with the Wizards, about three more per contest than he was with the Suns.
5. The Pistons playing without Drummond allowed the Wizards to find a lot of success on the boards. In their last meeting, they were out-rebounded by the Pistons, 46-31, but this time they won the rebounding margin, 45-to-40.
The Wizards have been among the worst rebounding teams in basketball this season, but when they commit to the glass, they are tough to beat. They are now 11-0 in games where they out-rebound their opponents.
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