While it was against the 13th-place Orlando Magic, the Washington Wizards played an impressive game on Tuesday night en route to their 115-106 win. While losing Nene Hilario is going to be a tough loss, it’s clear they’ll be able to weather this storm and continue their winning ways.
Obviously, they’ll need John Wall playing like the All-Star that he is, and on Tuesday night he did. He dropped a game-high 27 points and seven assists. In the first half alone, Wall scored 18 points. If Washington wants to continue their success without Nene, they’ll need him to continue this level of play.
It wasn’t all Wall either. Including Wall, four of the five starters scored at least 20 points. Trevor Ariza (22 points), Marcin Gortat (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Bradley Beal (21 points) also played critical roles in the win. Ariza was a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc. If you can get multiple starters playing this well on a nightly basis, you’re going to be fine even without a star player.
What makes the future even more encouraging is how well the bench played. The Wizards got 21 points from their bench including seven from Al Harrington. New point guard Andre Miller added five points and three assists including a nice fast-break assist to Harrington. When you have a bench that can contribute like they did on Tuesday night, what could possibly worry you?
It’s impossible to replace Nene with one player, so it’ll be a by-committee fix, something Washington is capable of. Harrington, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton are all bench players who can contribute and fill that void. If rumors of the Wizards signing Drew Gooden to a 10-day contract are true, then there’s even more depth available for them in the paint.
Not having the big man likely means a smaller lineup for head coach Randy Wittman. Expect him to put more shooters on the floor. Beal and Ariza will need to continue their sharp-shooting in order to keep the team on the right track. As always, Wall will need to continue his All-Star season, something that should be expected regardless of who’s in the lineup.
If Tuesday night was any indication of how good this Wizards team can be without Nene, then there is no reason why they should lose ground in the playoff picture. Currently, the Wizards sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and exactly two games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks. When you look at their schedule over the next four-to-six weeks, only a handful of games stick out as ones that could cause them to stumble and lose.
While it’s easy to panic over the loss of a marquee player, the Wizards certainly did their part to put fans at ease. The bench stepped up and the starting lineup is still solid. There is still a long way to go in the season, but there is certainly no need to panic about their future without Nene.
As stated above, it’s important to take this game with a grain of salt because it came against the 17-42 Magic. On Thursday, we’ll get a much better gauge at where this team is as they play the third-place Toronto Raptors. However, if they continue the high level of play they’ve recently demonstrated, they should be able to weather the storm of Nene’s absence.