Wizards defense suffocates Nets
Over the last month, the Washington Wizards have put together a body of work at home worthy of comparison with any of the best teams in the NBA.
If only they weren't 21 games under .500.
''If this team was healthy at the beginning,'' forward Chris Singleton said, ''I feel like we'd be in the top four in the East. ... Looking at the standings just hurts.''
The Wizards capped an impressive three-game homestand Friday night with an 89-74 victory over the Brooklyn Nets. The team with the third-worst record in the NBA has won eight of nine at the Verizon Center - a stretch in which they've taken down Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers.
''Our record should be backwards,'' guard Bradley Beal said, ''whatever it is.''
For the record, it's 14-35, with the Wizards leapfrogging Orlando into 13th place in the Eastern Conference with Friday's win. After playing much of the season without John Wall, Nene and assorted other injured players, Washington's roster is finally close to full health and is starting to excel at the hardest part of the game: defense.
The Wizards held the Nets without a field goal for nearly nine minutes during the first half, getting on the kind of roll usually associated with a hot scorer who can't miss. Brooklyn went 0 for 12 from the field to start the second quarter and trailed 51-31 at halftime.
''We won that game defensively,'' Washington coach Randy Wittman said. ''It's a mindset. You don't have to have a ball go in anywhere on defense. It's just a matter of five guys being connected, and we're connected right now.''
Nene had 20 points and 11 rebounds, Wall added 15 points and nine assists, and Martell Webster scored 16 points for the Wizards, who rolled off a 22-2 run during the Nets' field goal drought, which finally ended on Brook Lopez's inside basket with 3:36 remaining in the half. Brooklyn shot 4 for 22 for the period and scored 11 points, just one more than Nene.
''When you can't make free throws, when you can't make 3-point shots, and you can't make shots in the paint, it's very hard to win,'' Brooklyn interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. ''To come with that kind of effort in the second quarter, it's inexcusable.''
The Wizards pushed the lead to 23 in the third quarter when Emeka Okafor made a fadeaway jumper just as the shot clock was expiring, then hit a dry spell of their own. Williams capped a 14-0 run with a steal and layup that cut Washington's lead to nine in the final minute of the period.
But the Wizards responded. Webster hit his third 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead to 14 with 7 1/2 minutes to play, and Wall followed with the play of the day - a behind-the-back-and-dish move on a fast break that led to a dunk by Trevor Ariza that made the score 74-58.
Deron Williams scored 20 points for the Nets, who lost to a sub-.500 team for only the second time this season. Brooklyn has lost five of eight overall.
''Just a lot of bad habits,'' Williams said. ''Then we start pointing the finger and getting a little selfish. We just got to get out of that habit.''
Notes: Former Wizards F Andray Blatche, booed heavily every time he touched the ball, scored five points. The crowd cheered when he missed a dunk, cheered again when he had a dunk blocked and cheered aplenty during his 1-for-6 performance at the free throw line. ''There's no part of me that wants to come back here to the Wizards,'' Blatche said. ... Beal returned after missing five games with a sprained right wrist. He scored three points in 18 minutes. ... The Wizards have held their last eight opponents under 100 points. ... Nets F-G Jerry Stackhouse missed the game with a stiff neck. ... Brooklyn had been 18-1 vs. teams with losing records. ... The Nets planned to take a train home instead of flying because of the expected blizzard in the New York area.