As the Wizards currently surge in the positive direction with one of their best stretches of the 2020-21 season, you may be watching them and wondering how a team that lost 14 of 18 from March 10 to April 5 has now won six of their last seven games.
Sure, they got healthier. Adding Daniel Gafford has helped. But these streaks have been so dramatic that this current version of the Wizards looks completely different than the one we all saw just weeks ago.
Well, Pistons head coach Dwane Casey has a theory and it involves Russell Westbrook.
"Westbrook with his intensity and his toughness, they have taken on a personality of his, his personality. I think that’s the difference with this team when we’ve played them all year," Casey said.
Casey's Pistons handed the Wizards a blowout loss on April 1, just over two weeks before Washington returned the favor behind Westbrook's 25th triple-double of the season. Bradley Beal also had 37 points as the Wizards won by 21, 121-100.
Casey said the Wizards are an "offensive juggernaut" when those guys are playing well because defenses have to put so much attention on them. It frees up space for role players like Ish Smith and Robin Lopez to go to work.
Beal echoed what Casey said about Westbrook, describing how his intangibles have made a difference.
"He’s just full of energy, ready to go, always a winning mentality. He’s going to play extremely hard every single time he touches the floor. It’s so surreal to be able to see a guy that plays as hard as he does still have that type of energy, still getting himself up and ready to go," Beal said.
"It’s [motivating]. It just trickles down to the rest of us. We kind of embrace that. We embrace where we are, we embrace who we think we can be, our style of play. And then Russ’ attitude towards the game. He’s going to bark at you or yell at you if you’re not ready to go. You can either step it up and hoop or hear from Russ; one or the other."
The Wizards have shown a unique brand of resilience this season, now in position to potentially make the playoffs after a tumultuous regular season that included an unprecedented bout with the coronavirus. Along the way, Westbrook has never wavered. He's never stopped giving maximum effort or even shown dejection in his body language on the court.
Westbrook has consistently had his foot on the gas and it looks like the Wizards may be finally breaking through as he leads the way.
"Russ is special, man. The dude has got a motor that just don’t stop," Smith said.