Wizards winning ugly a sign of their new direction

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON -- They were down 16 points in their lowest moment, only scored 15 in the second quarter, shot under 40% from the field in the first half and committed 20 turnovers, almost enough to offset their 22 assists. It was ugly, borderline hideous, yet they found a way to win.

While that's the type of win the Miami Heat are known for, it was their opponent, the Washington Wizards, who dug down deep and clawed out a victory. It was the type of victory that has become far more common for the 2021-22 Wizards than it was in the recent past and the fact it came against the Heat seemed fitting.

The Wizards aren't the run-and-gun, first to 120 points wins team they were in recent years. They are a tough-defending, by-any-means-necessary group that can pull out games they have really have no business winning.

"I think it speaks to our grittiness," Spencer Dinwiddie said. "We continue to have that as our calling card, as well as our defense, this entire year. It bodes well for tough, playoff-type basketball."

Just about everyone who spoke after the game for the team used the word "ugly." Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said they "had to junk it up." 

The Wizards locked down the three-point line, holding a Heat team that ranks ninth in the league in percentage (35.3%) to 7-for-27 (25.9%). They went 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter.

Clamping down the perimeter helped the Wizards keep the score low long enough to get their offense going. After scoring only 41 points in the first half, they had 62 in the second and shot 5-for-9 from three in the fourth quarter. Spencer Dinwiddie and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 10 points apiece in the fourth and shot perfect from the field. That was after the two combined for 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting in the first three quarters.


Caldwell-Pope hit a three to tie it with 2:14 left and then Dinwiddie put them ahead with a three with 1:43 to go. The Wizards' defense kept them within striking distance and then they made timely plays to push themselves over the top.

"It speaks to our resolve. You can't quit. It's in our fiber. It's a great attribute that we're not just gonna hang our hats when things aren't going well," Unseld Jr. said.

Bradley Beal called the way they won "special," in part because he feels like they are collectively still learning how to play with each other. The team overhauled half of their roster in the offseason and brought in a new coaching staff. Yet, they are 11-5 after a month of regular season games with a collection of wins just like this one. Already they have come back from 10 points or more to win three different times.

"The only thing that matters is winning games," Beal said. "As long as that win column stays going up, who gives a damn? We make it work. It was ugly tonight. ... It's not perfect, it's ugly, but we find ways to win. We love that."

After Saturday's win, the Wizards have the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA (104.0) and the 17th-best offensive rating (106.8). That gives them the eighth-best net rating in the league (+2.8).

They hope to improve their offense as the season goes on and getting players like Davis Bertans (ankle), Rui Hachimura (personal reasons) and Thomas Bryant (ACL rehab) back should help. In the meantime, their defense is raising the level of the team and keeping them in games like Saturday's which they otherwise wouldn't be able to win.