January 25, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards player Emeka Okafor (50) dunks the ball in the first quarter at the game against Minnesota Timberwolves at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Playing Their Way Back Into Relevance

After everyone agreed that the Washington Wizards’ 2012-2013 season would be yet another afterthought for the franchise due to a multitude of injuries and ill-fated coaching schemes, the return of key players has sparked life into this squad now properly mixing youth with experience.

Since starting the year 5-28, the Wizards have recently gone on a roll, winning six of their last nine games and their last five at home behind strong performances by former No. 1 overall pick and Kentucky stand-out John Wall.  Wall missed the first 33 games with a stress injury in his left knee, but now that he’s back in the starting lineup, he’s looking better than ever.  In just 25 minutes of game time, Wall is averaging 14.1 points and 6.7 assists.  But, more importantly, he’s provided a leadership quality we’ve seen in years past and a spark on defense that the Wizards have missed the whole season. He’s turning forced turnovers into easy buckets, and is simply making all of his teammates—yes, even Jan Vesely—better on both ends of the floor.

It’s not just Wall that has recently made it back into the lineup for the ‘Zards, though.  Defensive specialist Trevor Ariza has returned from a left calf injury that held him out for 17 games, as well as back-up point guard A.J. Price, who’d been out four weeks with a fractured hand, and dominant forward Trevor Booker, out since November with an ankle injury.  The return of such players has given the Wizards much-needed depth, with 10-year veteran Nene already unable to play more than 30 minutes per game due to his old age.

It’s unclear whether the recent streak will help controversial head coach Randy Wittman keep his job, but for now, Wizards fans across the country are excited about their team being back on the map in the NBA.  After a failed 2011-2012 experiment in which GM Ernie Grunfeld loaded the team with young, inexperienced players, offseason additions of Emeka Okafor, Ariza, and Price were expected to help guide the younger players to a more disciplined style of play.  Finally, it seems the #FireGrunfeld tweets may be put to rest.

Even in the absence of injured players earlier this year, rookie Bradley Beal continues to play well and has established himself as a go-to shooter for the Wizards this season.  He’s averaging 13.4 points per game, good for third among all first-year players.  With Wall, Nene, Okafor, and even streaky shooters Jordan Crawford and Martell Webster playing well, Beal has been able to take a back seat and really learn from the more experienced players on the squad while still making his mark in each and every contest.

The Wizards have indeed knocked off the Hawks, Nuggets, Blazers, and Bulls since Wall’s return, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season pans out. But for now, expect more upbeat play to guide the Wizards to exciting wins against some of the NBA’s top teams in both the Eastern and Western conferences.

The Wizards look to make their record in January 8-7 tonight as they take on the Sacramento Kings at 7:00 PM EST.

Tags: Washington Wizards

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