WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Ahhhhhhh.
You know that feeling of really having to urinate while on a long car trip? You keep getting visual images of Niagara Falls, can't even think straight and begin to fall numb. After a few hours you finally pull into that shady gas station with a dead skunk outside. But you couldn't be more relieved.
Ahhhhhh. That soothing ahhhhhhh.
That's exactly what the (1-8) Wizards 93-78 victory felt like against the (4-6) Toronto Raptors. Washington can breathe a sigh of relief and maybe, just mayyybeeee, the team will be able to build upon the most distinct effort of this season.
Before I spew out adjectives that praise what should still be considered the NBA's worst team, it's worth noting Toronto was hideous. Two long offensive cold stretches in the second and third quarters made Washington's documented scoring issues look pedestrian.
Now let's carry on...
A Building Block?
A few teams in the NBA survive and sometimes even thrive by their defensive identity, even without superstars. The Milwaukee Bucks teams of the past few years, this year's Philadelphia 76ers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
With a shift entirely towards this mentality, I think the Wizards might be able to salvage the season into something respectable.
Tuesday night's first victory should almost exclusively be attributed to defensive concentration and anticipation. The Wizards notched 12 steals, eight blocks and all together forced 22 Raptor turnovers. They made Toronto uncomfortable to operate their own offense. Mission accomplished.
Maybe it's just me, but I think the entire team is responding to the way Chris Singleton plays defense. There have been signs of it in previous games but Tuesday night it was like the entire team woke up from the coma. Players took calculated risks on defense, and I think feel confident in doing so after watching Singleton on film.
Singleton himself wasn't exactly the stalwart he's been against the Raptors -- DeMar DeRozan blew by him more than once. Luckily nearly everyone else was. Especially Jan Vesely.
The sixth overall pick saw his first meaningful action and made every moment count. Vesely finished with an absurd five steals in just 16 minutes of play. He's what I call a sneaky defender. Opponents don't think he's as fast as he really is. That gives him the ability to come out of nowhere and deflect passes.
Leading 32-28 with a little over three minutes remaining in the first half, Vesely forced back-to-back steals, taking the latter all the way to the rim for a slam. Those plays launched a 14-4 Washington run and a much needed positive vibe in the locker room at halftime.
Let's also credit Trevor Booker. For the third straight game he marked the opposing team's top player -- Carmelo and Kevin Love were the others -- for a large part of the game. I thought he held Bargnani in check after the first quarter and of course played noticeable help defense. Booker does every little thing right.
Do not forget JaVale McGee's three blocks early in the first quarter, which evidently scared away Raptors big men Rasual Butler, Amir Johnson and Ed Davis (11 points in 73 combined minutes). John Wall even had three blocks on deep shot attempts.
Washington will have to continue to buy in to this defensive theme and realize it's going to drain them physically. It's very hard to believe that these lowly Wizards can adapt their identity so quickly, but if so, the whole season can be flipped upside down in a good way.
Rotations Were Phenomenal
Again, let's all reiterate to ourselves that this is just a lone win over Toronto of all teams. But how much did you love the lineups tonight? Flip Saunders pushed all the right buttons Tuesday, by really spreading out the minute count.
The final tally for minutes: Wall-34, Booker-32, Young-29, Lewis-27, Blatche-25, Singleton-23, McGee-21, Crawford-19, Vesely-16 and Mack-4.
Here's what I liked it.
*Andray Blatche off the bench should not be abandoned for quite awhile. He looked like an improved player tonight (9 points, 8 boards, 25 minutes) and his +17 was a team-high. Blatche can be "the man" off the pine. He needs to walk-the-walk in his self-appointed leadership position and accept his current assignment off the bench. Bullets Forever is reporting that Blatche is fine with this role, as long as the winning continues.
*Starting Booker and Singleton gives the Wizards momentum plays when they need them the most, rather than in the middle of the third down 17 points. These guys should be able to prevent the cold starts that have been bothering the offense.
*Shelvin Mack is the only real point guard on the roster and I like when he's in charge the early second quarter unit. You need a guy like Mack to at least try and evenly disperse the ball between ball hogs Lewis, Blatche and Crawford. Tuesday, they found the right basketball mojo together.
*I like not playing Kevin Seraphin at all. He just doesn't do it for me.
*The further into the season we get, the further I am realizing that the Wizards shouldn't be building their entire team around John Wall (3-for-12, 8 points, 9 assists). At least unless he shows significant offensive improvements.
You can't have your best player be a guard who can only score in the paint and who only flourishes in the open court. Defenses are going to continue to sag on Wall, making it that much harder for him to score near the hoop. Its looking like Wall will need a top flight scorer next to him in order to fully develop.
*The boneheaded plays continue for JaVale McGee. The biggest one being a goaltending on what would've been free throws. Since that Orlando domination last week, McGee really hasn't looked the same.
*The off-ball movement was there tonight. Rashard Lewis was able to find easy shot attempts inside the paint after breaking free of his man from all the motion. Lewis finished tied for a team-high 15 points.