- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Problems will pop-up, even when the depleted and baby faced Minnesota Timberwolves come to town. Their main nuisance Tuesday night was Thaddeus Young’s left-handed scoring. Young scored 19 points in the third quarter going around and over befuddled Kris Humphries.

In addition, Bradley Beal was clanking along. Beal led the Wizards in scoring the prior two games. Though, accuracy was not in the arsenal against Minnesota. He finished 3-for-12 from the field.

Those minor problems received crisp corrections from a Wizards team playing as well as it has in more than 30 years. The Wolves were swatted aside by Nene’s force and Rasual Butler’s shooting in a 109-95 fourth-quarter fueled Washington win. Butler scored 18 points in the fourth quarter. Young, guarded by Nene, scored three. The Wizards have proven to be a versatile team capable of plugging pinholes or fortifying dams. That’s why they are atop the division.

They have won five consecutive games. Their 13-2 home start is the best in franchise history. They are 9-1 in their last 10, 8-1 in December and a half game behind the Toronto Raptors for the best record in the Eastern Conference. This surge is owed to versatility.

Butler and Nene were the Tuesday night microcosms in what has quickly become a balanced amalgamation. Ten different players have led the Wizards in scoring just 24 games into the season. Six are averaging 10 points or more.

One of those is Butler, who is back from basketball’s third rail. He’s been to the D League. Without a roster spot for a season. He slipped into the final spot on the Wizards roster out of camp because of height, experience and his zeroed-in jumper.

Now, Butler is living the high life thanks to John Wall’s never-ending distribution and stern screens from big men. Butler, curiously covered in lumberjack inspired flannel postgame, talked softly and thankfully about his situation. Wall and coach Randy Wittman’s urging has made his reborn basketball journey encompassed by one word: shoot.

In front of the Wizards’ bench in the second quarter, Butler had a chance for a 3-pointer. Instead of shooting, he dribbled to the elbow and missed a midrange fadeaway. Disgruntled, Wittman turned and yelled to Otto Porter to enter the game. He put one arm around Butler when he came off and used the other to point at the spot Butler did not shoot from.

Butler explained that young and elongated Andrew Wiggins was coming to challenge. Then admitted to Wittman he missed the read because Wiggins closed short, leaving Butler what would have been a clean look at a 3-pointer.

The missed read is why Butler heard the horn. Just a week ago, Wittman told reporters that the sound of a pending sub is what should drive into Butler’s ears if he does not take an open shot. He proved that out Tuesday.

The point was clear. Butler’s full-throated fourth quarter was to follow. Wall assisted all seven of Butler’s made field goals in the fourth quarter.

“He does a great job reading defenses, and manipulating defenses,” Butler said.

Nene entered with 4:04 to play in the third. He dragged Young into the post, a place Humphries does not operate, and began the banging. Offense ran through him on post ups or high screens. A tone of brutality was also established. Nene gathered a loose ball and dunked on spindly second-year center Gorgiu Dieng with one hand. He smashed Dieng in the face with the other, delivering simultaneous blows to the youngster’s pride and nostrils.

Postgame, Nene had upgraded from a simple bag of ice to a full chilled foot bath. Plantar fasciitis is still biting at his right foot. It’s the cause of his minutes on the floor being pushed down after keeping him out for five games in late November and early December. However, Wittman thinks Nene’s health is improving.

“He can play longer periods of minutes now than he did when he first came back,” Wittman said. “I think he’s rounding back into condition that he wants to be in.”

Up to this point, the Wizards are filled with identity and solutions. Defense gives way to Wall’s pace. Sharing the ball, the team leads the league in assists per game and Wall tied a career-high with 17 again Tuesday, follows, as does efficient scoring. Even without Paul Pierce, who did not play against Minnesota because of a sore right toe but should be back this weekend, the team shot 50 percent.

Much of their offensive system is the one former Wizards coach and current Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders put into place. Except, he was working with a young Wall swathed by a roster populated with ineffectiveness.

“It’s a little different throwing the ball to Nene, [Marcin] Gortat, Paul Pierce than it is JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and those guys,” Saunders said.

Things are distinctly different, at least 24 games into the season. For every issue, the Wizards have found a remedy. Nene and Butler provided solutions Tuesday.


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