Wizards

Wizards

WASHINGTON -- One month is by no means a large sample size of NBA games. It's also not a small sample size, though, and over the past month the Wizards have played .500 ball, at 7-7 in their last 14 games.

That goes back four weeks to Saturday, Jan. 4 when they took out the Denver Nuggets at home. Of their seven wins in those four weeks, four have come against teams currently in the playoff picture.

That included a 113-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, where they have now won six of their last seven. The Wizards may be 17-31 overall on the year, but lately things are looking up.

"That's a good stat," head coach Scott Brooks said when informed of the 7-7 mark. "We are just going to continue to have the growth mindset and keep getting better."

The stats say defense has been the difference. Though their offense has taken a step back recently, largely due to injuries, their defense has improved. In their seven wins over these last 14 games, the Wizards have posted a 104.1 defensive rating, 12 points better than their league-worst mark for the season (116.3).

Some of their most unheralded players have helped that cause. Gary Payton II has set an important tone on the perimeter, including on Saturday night when he was the key to holding Kyrie Irving to 11 points. Isaac Bonga has also been disruptive in the midrange and in transition, while Ian Mahinmi has provided rim protection.

 

The Wizards have been the league's worst defensive team this season, but lately Brooks has tinkered with the rotation to find some patchwork solutions. There is also the simple benefit of having more time to play together as a group.

The Wizards transformed their roster over the offseason, adding a lot of new players. It was perhaps expected it would take them time to find chemistry and learn the playbook.

"Once you're 40-plus games in, you start to know what coach wants and how we're going to play in our system and know our roles," guard Bradley Beal said. "We're just getting better every day. We're putting in the work and it's showing out on the floor."

Playing .500 basketball for four weeks is by no means a significant feat, but it is a marked improvement from their previous pace. Before going on this 7-7 run, the Wizards were 10-24, good for a .294 win percentage.

If the Wizards were to sustain a .500 pace the rest of the way, the would end up 34-48 overall. Though that would be two games better than they were last season, that almost certainly wouldn't be enough to get them in the playoffs. Based on last year's NBA standings, it would land them the ninth-best odds for the draft lottery.

The Wizards, of course, are arguably better off missing the postseason this year and getting a lottery pick. But right now the playoffs aren't farfetched by any means. After beating the Nets, Washington is only 3 1/2 games out of the playoffs with the NBA-worst 11-39 Warriors coming to town on Monday.

After that, they host the Dallas Mavericks without Luka Doncic, then play the Grizzlies before seeing the Bulls, Knicks, Cavs and Bulls again. That is a manageable schedule and five of their next six are at home, where the Wizards are 11-11 this year.

The likelihood the Wizards make the playoffs this season remains low, but the way they have played lately has made the dream a possibility.

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