The Wizards were able to pull out another win on Monday night, their third in four games since the All-Star break. This time however, they faced a bit of adversity.
Playing in front of what was as an energetic crowd, at least by 2009-10 Wizards standards, the Wizards saw one of the stars from their trade acquisitions go down to a left knee injury, and as Coach Saunders said after the game, it came right as Josh Howard was starting to get going too.
But this group as it has for the little time they have been together, rebounded and fought their way to a solid victory over a good Chicago Bulls team. Things got a bit dicey at the end of the game and Derrick Rose did his best impression of Michael Jordan in the clutch, trying to put the Bulls on his back, but Chicago just couldn't capitalize at the end.
The Wizards were led yet again by the new go-to guy in Andray Blatche who finished with a solid 25pts and 11rebs on 8 of 13 shooting in just over 41 minutes of play. After the game Blatche continued to show off that 1000 megawatt smile that seems to have come about in the last couple of weeks.
Asked about Blatche's play after the game, Saunders was very honest in his assessment and while stating that this is the most consistent Dray has been in his career, there is still much room to grow.
For yet another night though, the Verizon Center took delight in watching a team get down by double digits, only to lead a charge, and finish the game with strong, solid defensive play as well as clutch shots.
Al Thornton played another solid game by chipping in 7 rebs and 17 pts, none of which was more important than a clutch fade-away-esque move in the paint towards the end of the game.
What amazed me more than anything was watching the five of Blatche, Quinton Ross, James Singleton, Randy Foye, and Mike Miller finish the game. This team has taken on a new identity in the last four games and it seems to be that if you don't bring your A game you are going to have to work your ass off to beat them or you're going to get beat.
From a fan perspecitve, two of our newest Wizards, Quinton Ross, and James Singleton have taken on some old roles. Ross it would appear is in the role that Deshawn Stevenson was supposed to excel at, locking down defenders, while Singleton is the new "old" Dom McGuire, our energy guy.
The best part about it all is that the whole team is feeding off the energy and the fans are getting into the mix as well.
After the game, James Singleton said it best, "basketball is a game, and it's meant to have fun." If the Wizards can keep up this type of play, they will not only find themselves with a re-energized fan base, but they might just shock the hell out of some teams sitting ahead of them in the East.
For recap of ComcastSportsNet Live Chat
Wizards Head Coach Flip Saunders
On the new guys on the team:
“As a coach, that’s what you enjoy when you have a group like we have, and they want to learn, so when you tell them something, they’re trying to trust it. When you get your players to trust what you’re doing, what happens is they do it a lot more aggressively and you usually have a little better outcome.”
On the four games since the All-Star break:
“We’ve fallen behind by seven to 10 points every game and we just keep on battling. You’re talking about a team that’s led the league in rebounding. I wouldn’t say that we’re exactly an imposing line but everybody we have, and we play everybody, has had contributions and some guys get a hook because they know if they don’t move the ball and play the right way they aren’t going to play.
"So we’re getting the right idea as far as moving the ball and playing the right way and understanding mismatches.”
On tonight’s game:
“To be down 10 and lose Josh (Howard), who was on a roll when we lost him, for these guys to fight the way they did shows character and how hard they play. Before the game I said, ‘playing hard is a talent and a lot of people take that for granted, but some guys have higher motors and can play harder than others and some are better jumpers than other guys.’
We’ve got a group of guys that have high motors that play with a greater volume of aggression and intensity. What’s happened is, the new guys are playing that way and now all of a sudden Andray (Blatche) and JaVale (McGee) and those guys have fallen right into place.”
On the third quarter:
“I think our players have more of a sense of urgency. Not to take away from the guys we had, but I think at times they thought they could just play and we’ll get back into it when we have to, and that doesn’t always work. So I think we played with a greater sense of urgency.”
On Andray Blatche:
“He played well when we didn’t have Antawn (Jamison) at the beginning of the year, but his mindset has changed. I think it’s not just because those guys aren’t here but I think the changes he’s seen us do with our team all along, the way the organization has been handled, these guys can see, ‘they’re not messing around.’
He has had a different attitude from the standpoint of a more serious approach prior to the game, during the game, and after the game. For the first time he’s been the most consistent he’s been in his career for the last four games, and that’s just the beginning.
As I’ve told him, ‘when you start playing like this, your expectations become higher. Not only that, now teams are going to set their defense up to defend you and stop you from going into your key moves.’”
On the uncertainty of the players:
“I think they understand that if they play well and do good things, good things happen. Every time they step onto the court they are being judged by fans, by media, by other teams’ coaches, by other teams’ general managers and so I think a lot of those guys take a lot of pride in playing well.”
On playing well as a new team:
“A lot of people don’t know where some of these guys went to school. These are guys that have been behind the eight-ball and so they are used to being an underdog. No matter what we’ve had from a team standpoint, we’ve played our best four games our last four games.
I don’t care what anyone says as far as what their talent is or how much they are being paid or who they are, as far as I’m concerned, it’s how they perform. To our guys credit they are playing very well. Am I surprised how well they are playing as a team that’s basically only been together a week? Yes, I’m surprised. It says a little bit about them.”
Wizards Guard Mike Miller
On Andray Blatche:
“This league is about opportunity. You have a guy who is 20-and-10 in front of you for your entire career (in Antawn Jamison). It makes things a little more difficult but this is about opportunity and he is stepping up.
"The whole thing is about sustaining. One thing you realize with Jamison when he was here was that it was 20 and 10 every night. You could bank it. If he wants to take it to the next step that’s where it is going to be but right now he is playing unbelievable basketball.”
On tonight’s game:
“We play with energy. That’s one thing with this team. Even with Josh (Howard) going out early we continued to play. We went down 10 against a good Chicago team and came out in the second half with energy and confidence and went to work.”
On Randy Foye:
“Randy (Foye) is capable. Again, the opportunity. He is getting the opportunity and making the most of it. He’s a good point guard and really knocks down shots and had a great turnover situation tonight.”
Wizards Forward Al Thornton
On tonight’s comeback:
“We just came out with a defensive mindset and attacked the basket and were aggressive on the offensive end. I think our defense says it all, especially in the third quarter.”
On Andray Blatche:
“I didn’t know he was that good. I knew he was talented but he’s a player. He’s a player. Down the line he can be an All-Star. He can’t be stopped when he gets the ball in the block. They got us in it the other day. I didn’t know he was that good.”
Wizards Forward Andray Blatche
On team chemistry:
“Let me tell you one thing, it was just so crazy. When all these guys got here the chemistry was like we’ve been together since the beginning of the season. We all have one thing in mind and that’s winning. We all are working hard together competing and everything is paying off well for us.”
On his recent play:
“I have an opportunity, and I’m the type of person that is going to take full advantage of it. I’m going to try and help this organization win as many games as we can for the rest of the season.”
On the team’s attitude: “I feel like we have a group of guys that are on the same mission and we all are playing hard together and we are winning. It’s a great feeling right now for us.”
On the team’s hustle:
“All of the new guys brought so much more energy to the team and our fans have been coming back to us and been great and getting excited. That’s what we need. We are feeding off of their energy and that has been great for us.”
On being a leader:
“I feel like a leader. I feel like I’m leading my team in the right direction. I’m just really excited. I’m just truly blessed. I’ve been through a lot of stuff and God is just finally making my plan work out for me.”
Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro
On the third quarter:
“I felt in the third quarter we were terrible. We had too many turnovers and the Wizards really pushed the fastbreak on us and got some easy baskets. When the Wizards were able to do that they got their confidence up and the crowd back into the game which put us back on our heels on the defensive end. When that happened we couldn’t do anything constructive offensively to put pressure on them. They simply out worked us.”
On the Wizards:
“The Wizards are playing with good energy and have developed a little bit of confidence. They have obviously had to deal with a little bit of adversity this season but they are playing hard and have good players.
Andray (Blatche) played well. I thought (Al) Thornton was a big player for them tonight. Randy (Foye) did a nice job and James (Singleton) on the glass tonight hurt us. Overall the Wizards out worked us tonight and we didn’t get out in the open court and attack like we normally do.”
On playing better:
“We just have to get back to basics. We have five games in seven nights. A few of our guys struggled tonight and so we have to get back to guarding the glass and get some easy baskets. We have to learn how to get some easy baskets so we can try and prevent another team from getting back into the game like the Wizards did tonight.
When we did start to attack we didn’t execute enough. We shot a high enough percentage tonight to win, just that third quarter really hurt us tonight. We have been doing a good job of executing lately; however in that second half we couldn’t get anything going.”
On Joakim Noah:
“I thought Joakim Noah moved pretty well tonight, he has to get back in game condition and that will take some time. He is going to have to catch up to the “timing” of the game, but he gave us some good energy and worked hard on (Andray) Blatche. We will see how he feels tomorrow and come up with a plan for him and if he can practice he will. Once he starts to feel better we will extend his minutes and build up his conditioning.”
Bulls Guard Derrick Rose
On the game:
“It was a learning lesson for me tonight. I have to learn how to stay aggressive and put pressure on the defense. It’s hard playing back to back games. It seems like every time you wake up there is a game. We just have to figure it out and stick with each other so we can win games.”
On the new-look Wizards team: “They are going to Blatche inside like they should, and have a great group of young guys. I am very surprised with how well they are playing together. They’re a young team, but if they can play they can play. They know the game of basketball and they are finding a way to win games.”
For full article go to WizardsExtreme (includes photos)
Joe is a WizardsExtreme media correspondent.