What better way for a team to shake up their so-so season than to lose their best player?

The Washington Wizards have been stumbling over their own feet all season, but after losing All-Star guard John Wall last week to a two-month-plus recovery from knee surgery, the Wizards have been up and running. Wall opted for a knee cleanup procedure to overcome ongoing knee soreness, an announcement perceived as the beginning of the end for the Wizards’ season. Instead, the team’s remaining starters stepped up.

Washington Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. makes a shot against the Orlando Magic during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. Washington won 115-98. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A 102-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 30 and a 122-119 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 1, both at home, highlighted the Wizards’ new and improved ball movement. Washington averaged 28.5 assists in the two wins, and the Wizards’ other All-Star, Bradley Beal, led the team in assists in both games. With Wall out, Washington cranked up their defense against the Thunder. After Russell Westbrook’s 46-point outing against them on Jan. 25, Washington held him to just 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting in their most recent matchup. Beal was at his finest against Toronto, scoring 25 points in the second half, including the go-ahead pair of free throws to ice the game.

With Wall out, Beal has stepped up as the team’s primary playmaker. He added another team-leading eight assists in a 115-98 win over the Orlando Magic on Feb. 3. All five starters scored in double-figures, but Beal’s 18 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block paced the team. Otto Porter Jr. added 20 points and five assists, while reserve combo forward Tomas Satoransky continued to take advantage of Wall’s absence with a career-high 19 points.

Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal (3) drives around Orlando Magic’s Bismack Biyombo, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

That absence has highlighted a slew of solid but still-developing players. Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Beal have taken turns pushing the team along, while their star point guard is out. Ball movement has been at a premium, and there’s been a clearer focus on details and defense.

Next: The Wizards return to action with a road trip against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 5, as they try to maintain their 1.5 game-lead over the Miami Heat in the Southeast Division. Washington’s record currently stands at 30-22.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO