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Wizards drop Nets for third straight win

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2013

Washington Wizards fans will never know how this 2012-13 campaign would have played out under more favorable circumstances. If John Wall hadn't missed the first 33 games with a knee injury. If Nene hadn't been limited by a foot ailment. If all had gone as planned.

But to Wall, one thing is certain: This would have been a playoff team. In his mind, in fact, it still could be.

"Everybody knows what team we would be like," the point guard said. "We're showing teams now."

With an 89-74 win over the Brooklyn Nets (29-21) at Verizon Center on Friday, the Wizards (14-35) reeled off their third straight triumph over a postseason contender following victories against the division-leading Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks.

After a 4-28 start, the Wizards have won 10 of their last 17 and 8 of 9 at home. Even if contesting for a playoff bid remains a long-shot proposition at best, it's an encouraging turn.

"I really do feel confident in this team," forward Chris Singleton said. "Over the last week, it shows that if we continue to play together, anything can happen."

Nene found success inside and out, compiling 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting while adding 11 rebounds for a double-double. Wall complemented his 15 points with nine assists. And forward Martell Webster poured in 16 points of his own.

It was the Wizards defense, however, that earned coach Randy Wittman's praise after holding the Nets to 33 percent from the field. When Washington made its move in a 30-11 second quarter, Brooklyn saw a field-goal drought extend to nearly nine minutes.

All-Star center Brook Lopez particularly struggled to get going, scoring just 13 on a 3-for-11 shooting night.

"We talked about coming out and establishing our defense right from the start," Wittman said. "That's got to be our identity as a team. That never waivers, and our guys are believing in that."

It was the second meeting of the season at Verizon Center between the conference foes. On Jan. 4, Brooklyn pulled out a 115-113 victory in double-overtime.

As such, the contest marked another return to Washington for Andray Blatche, who was relentlessly booed following six seasons with the Wizards that were defined by untapped potential and unwelcome antics.

Feeding the antagonism was Blatche's off night, with the forward going 2 of 9 from the field and 1 for 6 at the free-throw line.

Blatche, though, wasn't alone in his struggles. Using a 22-2 run, the Wizards took an 18-point lead during that prosperous second quarter. It wasn't until 3:36 remained that Lopez converted the Nets' first field goal of the stanza.

"We just know that if somebody is getting beat off the dribble and needs help, we double-team them," Wall said. "And we're doing a great job of rotating and contesting a lot of shots."

With the half expiring, Nene drained a baseline jumper that gave Washington a 51-31 edge — the team's biggest halftime lead of the season.

After intermission, the Nets climbed back. In the final minute of the third, a goaltending call gave Deron Williams (20 points) a basket in transition to cap a 14-0 spurt and trim the deficit to 62-53.

But the Wizards held the Brooklyn surge in check in the fourth. When Wall set up a Trevor Ariza dunk with a behind-the-back dribble and dish, Verizon Center erupted.

The lead was back to 16 with 7:16 remaining. The Nets weren't coming back. And Washington was putting the finishing touches on a 3-for-3 home stand.

"It was a great week for us," said guard Bradley Beal, who played 18 minutes after missing five games with a sprained wrist. "Everybody is stepping up more, everyone is knocking down shots and having fun, more than anything."

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