If only the Wizards could play the league’s elite every night. A good chunk of their 13 wins have come from the top-tier teams including back-to-back wins against the Clippers and the Knicks. It makes sense that teams get up to play the very best. And the sold out Verizon center was especially buzzing last night, albeit many in attendance were Tri-State area transplants rooting for the Knicks — a normal occurrence whenever the Knicks travel anywhere along the eastern seaboard.
The storyline heading into the game was seemingly all about New York, winners of five straight before last night. Carmelo didn’t necessarily disappoint with his 31 points. And Amar’e Stoudamire gave another solid performance putting up 19 points in what were noticeably longer minutes as he continues his comeback from microscopic knee surgery. Recently Mike Woodson has been gradually incorporating a bigger lineup of Anthony, Stoudamire and Tyson Chandler recognizing that he will eventually have to go with it in the playoffs if the Knicks are serious about making a push.
But while majority of the fans — and the likes of Magic Johnson and Kentucky coach John Calipari who were also in attendance — came to see a Carmelo Anthony highlight reel, they ended up getting an offensive showing by the Wizards who are now 8-7 since John Wall’s return. Impressively, the Wizards put up 36 points in the fourth quarter. How much of that is attributable to poor defense on the Knicks, is a fair question. John Wall had another promising outing, nearly posting a double-double with 21 points and nine assists. If only he could have cut down on those season-high six turnovers. But Wizards fans would be proud of little man Wall holding his ground against 6’11’’ Stoudamire after a few unnecessary elbows in the lane led to a mini-altercation, seen mid-way through this clip.
As it stands, a mere four games separates the Wizards from the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference which would officially put them “on the bubble” for playoff contention. The schedule over the next few weeks lightens up a bit with the All-Star break thrown in. If the Wizards can stay above .500 over the next month, we could be looking at a very different scenario come mid-March.
The revived Brooklyn Nets come into town on Friday. Though they lack the fan power of the Knicks, you can still call it a marquee match-up which, if theory holds, will translate into a solid performance by the Wizards. After that, the next game against a top-tier team isn’t until March 1 when the Knicks return to the Verizon Center. Trevor Ariza doubts the notion of playing with extra intensity against the elite teams. “I don’t think that’s something we intend to do,” he told reporters. “We just play hard every night.” Right. My thinking is, why deny it? If it works in your favor, embrace it.