Mired in a five-game losing streak and having lost by double-digits to the Philadelphia 76ers three times this season, the Wizards finally ended up in the win column, prevailing 97-76 on Friday night at Verizon Center.
As 76ers coach Doug Collins pointed out prior to the game, the two teams may have met five times this year, including a home-and-home during the preseason, but this is a new and improved squad, even while in the midst of its latest winless skid.
The 76ers' game plan was to slow down the Wizards' backcourt tandem of Jordan Crawford and John Wall. It was a sound plan by an experienced coach. It just didn't work.
"We didn't fold tonight," Wall said. "We kept running and executing and getting the ball into the post, and when they double-teamed, we made the right passes and made shots."
Crawford had 17 points and Wall had nine, as the Wizards were finally to grab an early lead and hold it until the final buzzer.
It was NBA Development League call-up Cartier Martin, with a game-high 20 points, and back-up center Kevin Seraphin, whose game has grown by leaps and bounds since Nene's arrival, who made some of the biggest impressions. Seraphin had 14 points and seven rebounds.
"Guys trusted in me and believed in me, and they know that I can make shots," Martin said. "It's my job to go out there make them. I had confidence in myself that I could get back [to the NBA]."
The Wizards appeared to be in trouble early on when Trevor Booker had to leave the game with 5:38 left in the first quarter with a pulled left fascia.
They had a second scare — while up by 14 points — when Nene signaled for a timeout with 7:18 left in the fourth quarter, limped off the court and went straight to the locker room, also with a pulled left fascia.
Nene had 16 points and eight rebounds when he left. More importantly, though, for a team that has struggled to close out leads, it was able to do so without its veteran center.
The Wizards will miss Booker's defensive energy and Nene's defense, scoring and leadership if they have to play without either, or both, for any length of time.
"Tonight, we did what we were supposed to do in the last four games," Nene said. "We played hard, pushed the tempo, we were physical. Our second group, they maintained the level of play, that's why we won the game."
Washington shot nearly 50 percent from the field, but coach Randy Wittman was encouraged the most by the all-around attention paid on the defensive end. The Wizards outrebounded Philadelphia 52 to 38 and limited Philadelphia to just 37 percent shooting.
"That was spectacular by our guys tonight," Wittman said. "The defensive effort that we put forth tonight was just as good if not better than what we've done the last seven or eight games. We turned the corner in understanding what to do defensively. That's why we won this game."
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Carla Peay keeps you up to date on the Washington Wizards and the NBA.
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