Before Sunday night's win over the Cavaliers, the last time the Wizards had won eight straight games, Michael Jordan was in the first year of his second comeback. Kwame Brown was a rookie. Popeye Jones and Jahidi White were in the starting lineup. Hubert Davis, now the coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, and Tyronn Lue, who now coaches the Clippers, came off the bench.
Twenty years ago is long enough to be a distant memory for anyone. For many players on the current Wizards, they weren't old enough to remember it at all.
By beating Cleveland, the Wizards moved within one win of tying the franchise record for a winning streak, which is nine games, a feat they have accomplished four times before. After all the Wizards have been through this season, from injuries to their coronavirus outbreak to far too many disappointing losses, all of a sudden they are hotter than they have been in decades.
"Eight games in a row is good. I don’t know if I would have expected it a while back, but we’ve been playing pretty good basketball since that road trip," head coach Scott Brooks said.
"We’re just playing and having fun right now...We’re just one big happy family at this point," Daniel Gafford said.
Back in 2001, Brooks was a player/coach for the Southern California Surf of the American Basketball Association, just starting out his career in coaching. Gafford had just turned three years old.
When asked if he remembers M.J. on the Wizards, Gafford said basically all he's seen are highlights.
"I don’t, actually. Wait, I do have a faint memory of it. I’ve seen certain plays of him being with the Wizards. I just really don’t fully remember how long he was with them," he said.
Bradley Beal was eight years old back in 2001 when the Wizards last won eight in a row. But he was growing up in St. Louis, MO and not exactly paying close attention to the Wizards.
"The only Jordan memory I have of him on the Wizards was when he blocked the shot with two hands and just grabbed it off the glass. That’s the only memory I have of him on the Wizards," Beal said, referencing Jordan's famous block/steal against Ron Mercer of the Bulls.
"I hated that he came back and played because I always wanted him to be, and no offense D.C., I always wanted him to be a Bull for life."
Beal's main takeaway from the streak, however, was what it says about the Wizards' resiliency this season. They played Sunday night with their entire starting frontcourt out due to injury with Deni Avdija and Thomas Bryant lost for the year and Rui Hachimura having now missed four straight games with left knee soreness.
The Wizards had the NBA's first major Covid-19 outbreak and were more affected by it than any other team this season. They had six games postponed across 13 days and it took weeks after that for their players to regain their conditioning. Brooks has suggested recently that a few players are still dealing with effects from the coronavirus.
Winning eight consecutive games, though, has had something to do with health. They got Beal and Gafford back from injuries, plus Davis Bertans and Ish Smith. Collectively, they have become one of the NBA's best defenses in recent months.
They have the 10th-best defensive rating since Jan. 30 and in these last eight games have ranked second. They have also had the 10th-best offensive rating during that span with a net rating of plus-9.3.
Beal has regained his scoring touch, dropping 30 or more points in seven of his last eight games. And Russell Westbrook has re-established himself as a triple-double machine, all while seeing his shooting percentages continue to rise as the season has gone on.
Gafford, too, has been a huge factor. The Wizards are 10-1 in games he's played since they acquired him at the trade deadline in March.
The Wizards now sit two games ahead in the 10th spot in the East, which is the cutoff for the play-in tournament. They are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"Eight is not enough. We want to keep going," Brooks said.