A minor hiccup didn’t stop the Washington Wizards from playing some of their best basketball in years, and as winners of eight of their last nine games, the Wizards are peaking at just the right time.

Despite an injury to key front court player Nene, Washington’s recent acquisition of Andre Miller and Drew Gooden delivered a boost over the past few weeks, so much so that Washington is expected to sign Gooden to another 10-day contract when his current deal expires next week. The Wizards have their sights set on acquiring the third seed in the Eastern Conference and securing their first postseason appearance since 2007. Washington is once again playing solid basketball; the AFRO recaps the week that was for the Washington Wizards.

Mon., March 3: Wizards’ Comeback Attempt Falls Short Against Memphis, 110-104
A home game against the Memphis Grizzlies played out like a boxing match against a heavyweight opponent for the Wizards. Memphis never wavered after Washington tried to sink them early, and continued to fight as the Wizards eventually wilted under the Grizzlies’ heavy defensive pressure in a 110-104 defeat.

Washington struggled offensively during the first three quarters, scoring 63 points before erupting for 40 points in the final period amid a last-second comeback attempt. Seldom-used rookie Otto Porter sank two huge three-pointers in the waning minutes, helping Washington slice a 19-point lead to just two points with less than nine seconds remaining. But Memphis hit several clutch free throws and the Wizards came up just short in a test against one of the better teams in the league’s tough Western Conference. John Wall and Bradley Beal led the team with 23 and 21 points in the loss.

Wed., March 5: Gooden Secures 104-91 Win over Utah
The next home matchup against the Utah Jazz would have been a typical “trap game” for the team earlier in the season, but Washington showed some maturity in a 104-91 win, during which they never trailed. Strong play by Trevor Ariza (26 points, four three pointers), Wall (10 assists) and Beal (22 points) allowed the Wizards to surge ahead by as many as 15 points, but a pesky Jazz team kept erasing those leads. Strong play and 12 much-needed points off the bench from Gooden prevented the second unit from collapsing, and allowed the starting five to flex their talent over the bottom-feeding Jazz. Washington won despite an injury inactive list that included Nene, Kevin Seraphin and Martell Webster.

Sat., March 8: Wizards Hang on, Drop Bucks 114-107
Webster returned for the subsequent road game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and his energy off the bench was crucial as Washington nearly blew a 28-point lead before holding on to defeat the Bucks, 114-107, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Washington led 71-53 late in the second quarter, but allowed the Bucks to charge back and cut the lead to just four points late in the final period. Beal’s 12 fourth-quarter points helped Washington hang on for the victory. Webster’s 15 points and Gooden’s 13 points were among five Wizards in double-digit scoring, and Washington shot 15-of-28 from deep as Beal and Ariza hit five three-pointers apiece. The victory gave Washington an impressive record in several categories, including a 5-1 record since losing Nene to injury, and capped their 14th win in their last 20 road games. Ariza led all scorers with 28 points.

With Webster back from injury and Seraphin set to return soon, Washington will be at their healthiest point this season, even with Nene sidelined for another month and a half. The additions of Gooden and Miller and the return of Al Harrington from a knee ailment have given Washington quality depth across the board. The team feels like it can compete with any ball club, and with the way the squad is currently playing, a playoff trip is definitely on the horizon.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO