As the Wizards ran off the floor celebrating a 101-94 win over the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks, they left behind them a start that seemed extremely unlikely just a few weeks ago and some more questions about what this team could become.
They beat Giannis Antetokounmpo and the reigning champs with defense and clutch shooting. Veterans hit needed shots and young players stepped up to play key roles down the stretch. And, perhaps most importantly, their defense stepped up to the challenge as it has all season long.
The win Sunday at Capital One Arena lifted the Wizards to a 7-3 record through, roughly, the 12% mark of the season. The Wizards are winning games, and not only that, they’re winning them in a variety of different ways.
“The nature of our group, we’ve been able to pull together relatively quickly with so many new pieces,” Washington coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “New coach obviously, staff and philosophy, it’s a lot to ask. For the most part, guys have been great with their effort and also locked in as far as what we’re trying to do. Big picture, I think they see now — and that’s where you get more buy-in.”
In the win over the Bucks, guard Bradley Beal scored 30 points to lead all scorers. But it was just the second time this season Beal has eclipsed the 30-point mark, as others around him have stepped up offensively.
“Not having to make every play and do everything, I can really focus on a lot of other things in a game — especially my defense, more or less,” Beal said of the veterans on the team. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing you have vets when it’s time to close out a game and win a game, they’re prepared. They know what to do, and we’re all camaraderie wise ready to go. You can look at the guy next to you and know that he’s been in this trench before.”
Their defense held together too, as they’ve now held three teams in the first 10 games to below 100 points. Against Antetokounmpo, they helped clog the paint and got key stops when they needed it.
Second year player Deni Avdija drew the assignment in the fourth quarter, as the Wizards closed out the Bucks down the stretch.
Beal told a story of the young players meshing with the veterans. Earlier in the game he committed a turnover on a pass intended for Avdija. Later, Avdija made a slight adjustment to make that a shorter pass. That growth from younger players, paired with the veterans on the team, has made for quite a combination for the Wizards.
“It feels good because we’ve got a lot of depth on this team now,” center Daniel Gafford said. “We’ve got a lot of seasoned vets, we’ve got a lot of guys that have been in the league for a good amount of time. So we’ve got a lot of experience. In the locker room, we’ve got guys that are really vocal. Say the things that we should do, say the things that we shouldn’t do. Trying to keep the team entangled into the game.”
And right now, the Wizards are feeling good both on and off the floor.
“Today was daylight saving’s time, so I think we got an extra hour of sleep,” Beal joked of the team’s win. ”That might have helped.”