After Wednesday night's win against Cleveland, the Wizards improved to 8-3 and by doing so are now tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Level with the 8-3 Chicago Bulls, who like Washington have meshed new pieces quickly for a fast start out of the gates, the Wizards find themselves in an unfamiliar position looking down at the rest of the East in the standings. Even if it's still early, the Wizards being tied for first in the conference calls for some historical context.
The last time Washington found itself atop the East after playing at least 11 games: 2007.
After a 5-9 start in Nov. 2007, the Wizards turned it around with some great basketball in December and January to improve to 27-18 and tied with the 2004 champs Detroit. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler made the NBA All-Star game and had the most productive seasons of their respective careers to anchor the team. Of course, Butler broke his hand and the Wizards lost to LeBron James' Cavaliers for the second straight year.
While the '07 Wizards got it done with their "big three" at the time of Arenas, Butler and Antwan Jamison, the current roster set up is a bit different. General manager Tommy Sheppard utilized the Russell Westbrook trade to build a team of greater depth around his start shooting guard Bradley Beal.
That construction with added defense and versatility has allowed for a fast start for first-time head coach Wes Unseld Jr. While the 2007 Wizards finished sporting the third-worst defensive rating at the end of the season, this year's group has pulled its defensive rating out of the cellar toward the middle of the pack.
Wednesday night's win was a perfect example of that. With Beal admittedly not fully engaged in Cleveland after his grandmother died this week, he only scored 13 points and the Wizards still found a way to win. A 13-point Beal performance and a Washington victory would not have been possible with last year's group, but the defensive effort and some clutch Kyle Kuzma buckets made it possible.
Washington held the Cavs to 94 points, the fourth time in 11 games allowing less than 100 points. In 72 games in 2020-21, the Wizards allowed less than 100 points just three times.
The only better start in franchise history? The 1974-75 team was 9-2 after 11 games and would go on to win a team-record 60 games and make the NBA Finals.
Washington looks to stay atop the Eastern Conference standings in Orlando on Saturday night.