By Dave Johnson
In a losing season, often the phrase it’s back to the grind is heard after the NBA All-Star break. That is not the case for the Washington Wizards, who should be eager to return to the court when they host the Toronto Raptors tonight at Verizon Center.
Here is today’s Wizards Report:
Coverage of the Wizards and Raptors begins at 6:45 pm on the Washington Wizards Radio Network.
The Wizards reached the All-Star break with what was considered by head coach Randy Wittman “a disappointing loss” to the Detroit Pistons. A bad fourth quarter on defense prevented the Wizards from wiggling out a fifth straight win. Still, the Wizards are 11-8 since a win over Oklahoma City on January 7.
In the next game after the win over the Thunder, John Wall made his season debut and the Wizards have not looked back. Since Wall’s return the Wizards' scoring average has gone up six points to 95.1 points per-game. The team’s shooting percentage has improved from 40 percent from the field to 46 percent from the field over the last 18 games.
The Wizards' surge goes beyond John Wall. In the month of December, Nene was averaging only 23 minutes per game. In February Nene is playing an average of 32 minutes a night and this month has averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds. Nene has also been a major factor in the Wizards' strong ball movement and has averaged 4.3 assists in February.
Nene’s partner on the inside, Emeka Okafor, has been equally impressive. Since December 12, a span of 33 games, Okafor is averaging 10.4 points and 10.5 rebounds. During this stretch he has posted all 12 of his double-doubles this season and also has 11 games with 12 or more rebounds.
Back from the Rising Stars Challenge in Houston, Bradley Beal is eager to craft a strong finish to his rookie season. Beal has earned the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award the last two months and last week scored a season-high 28 points against the Bucks in Milwaukee. In addition to his outside shooting, Beal has become more aggressive off the dribble.
The Wizards' production from the small forward position is also worth noting. Over the last 23 games Martell Webster is averaging 12.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while shooting 47 percent from three-point range. Off the bench Trevor Ariza has been going from strength to strength and in February has averaged 10.6 points, 4 rebounds and 1.3 steals.
The Wizards are 4-3 in the month of February and have a real chance at a winning record for the month with six of their next seven games at home.
The 4-19 start to the season is now a distant memory for the Toronto Raptors. In fact the All-Star break seemed to come at the wrong time for the Raptors. They are carrying a four-game winning streak with impressive victories against Indiana (in OT), New Orleans, Denver and New York.
The Raptors are 5-2 since Rudy Gay joined the lineup. Gay also hit game winners against Indiana and Denver.
DeMar DeRozan is consistently knocking down mid- to long-range jumpers, forcing opponents up on him, giving him the opportunity to use his speed and improved ball handling to get around them and to the glass.