Updated Jan. 22
Washington's season sweep of Dallas was its first over the Mavericks in 11 years, feeding the ever-developing confidence monster that has been growing as the team continues to keep it together without Gilbert Arenas.
|Caron Butler has his game face on as he leads the Wizards. (AP)|
How have they been able to manage? It goes way beyond Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison having career years, though that's certainly helped. The difference has simply been defense, a facet of the game that has been overlooked in the past. Last season, the team was 28th in points allowed and 27th in opponent field-goal percentage. The Wizards weren't only giving up a lot of baskets, they were giving up a lot of easy ones.
This season, they're in the top 10 in both categories.
Sure, Butler becoming one of the best forwards in the Eastern Conference has helped. So has the fact Jamison ranks second in the conference behind Dwight Howard in double-doubles and is hustling on the boards to the tune of 10.6 a night, nearly three higher than his career average.
But it's the contributions of Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood on the defensive end that has supplied the difference. It has more to do with Butler recording at least one steal a game in the last 22 contests than it does with him scoring 20.
Washington has a new identity. Arenas will have to buy in when he returns and he's smart and hungry enough to know that.
Bottom line, come April, Eddie Jordan will finally have the roster he envisioned during training camp. Arenas will be back from his knee surgery. Etan Thomas, already back on the bench, gives the team another post defender. They Wizards will have a few weeks to gel before the postseason and should be in the mix for the Southeast Division title.
Will it all come together? That remains to be seen, but at least the Wizards are halfway there. They now know what it takes to win. Plugging in their best player and another rugged big man shouldn't hurt matters, so long as those currently on the mend are observant.
The week's Power Rankings: