The Washington Wizards have won three games in a row. You read that right – a three-game win streak. The wins haven't merely come against bottom-dwelling teams either.
Washington posted a dominant victory over the Boston Celtics on Sunday night, 91-104. They even led by as many as 25 points in the 4th quarter before the lead was slowly trimmed to 13 in the final two minutes.
The very next day on a back-to-back set, the Wizards held a grudge match against their offseason trade parter – the Houston Rockets. John Wall obviously had this one circled on his calendar, putting up 29 points and 11 assists. But again Washington dominated the contest, only trailing for a mere 24 seconds in the 2nd quarter in an otherwise wire-to-wire win.
Those first two games gave Washington a reason to punch above their weight class. The first had Bradley Beal pitted against his St. Louis little brother Jayson Tatum, who he helped limit to just six points on 3 of 14 shooting. The second was a Wall vs. Russell Westbrook and Beal matchup that obviously went beyond the confines of the court. It was actually the first time Westbrook played on a back-to-back this season. Coincidence, much?
But the third matchup, Washington had no business winning. They were up against the Denver Nuggets, whose star player Nikola Jokic has put up MVP-type numbers this season and just dropped 43 points on the Boston Celtics. It should have been a surefire loss, especially considering the Wizards are extremely light at the center position after starter Thomas Bryant went down with a torn ACL. The first quarter looked that way, with the Joker posting 15 early points and helped build an early 20-point lead.
The barometer for Washington's limited success hasn't been entirely clear this season up to that point. Bradley Beal is indeed leading the NBA in scoring, averaging 32.8 points through 24 games. But it's been well-documented how despite his massive scoring numbers, it doesn't necessarily equate to wins.
A number of pundits point to Russell Westbrook, particularly with how Washington seems to perform better without him on the court. After all, four of the team's first six victories came with him on the sidelines. But Westbrook played in all three games of their current win-streak, and wasn't exactly self-destructive during his time on the court despite subpar shooting numbers.
But the comeback win over the Denver Nuggets made things abundantly clear, the Wizards' success this season hinges on the play of Davis Bertans.
Although it wasn't obvious prior to Wednesday's game against Denver, it's abundantly clear now. The Latvian Laser finally went off for a career-high 35 points and nine huge three-pointers that absolutely buried the Nuggets for their 130-128 win. Even more encouraging was his efficiency. Bertans went 9 of 11 from the field, taking all 11 shots from downtown.
Before his last two games, Bertans had been hot garbage. And that's putting it mildly. The sharpshooter signed a massive 5-year, $80 million contract with the Wiz in the offseason but largely underachieved in his first 24 appearances. Before the last two games, he shot a terrible 33.1% from deep, a steep drop off from his 42% clip the two seasons prior.
But in games he did play relatively decently, the Wizards have found success. More than success, they've actually been undefeated. The Washington Wizards are 6-0 in the last six games that Davis Bertans has scored in double figures. They've been 8-4 total when he's done so this season, while holding a disgusting 1-13 record when he scores fewer than 10. Given the season-long sample size, it's become evident that Davis Bertans playing well has been the true secret for the Wizards finding a way to turn things around this season.
There's reason to believe that Bertans has finally turned the corner. He hasn't been hiding the fact that his conditioning hasn't been up to his normal standards. He already sat out the Wizards' participation in the NBA bubble to make sure he didn't injure himself before signing his big contract. He also faced COVID-19 protocol orders, making the shocking admission that he was playing video games for 10-12 hours per day during the stint he had on the sidelines with nothing else to do. That's more than half a year of missing professional-grade training and repetition for Bertans.
But after his career-high performance against Denver, this may be the sign that Davis Bertans is finally ready to rock for the Wizards this season.
In a year that's seen Washington lose its long-time face of the franchise in John Wall, and felt the threat of losing their other one in Bradley Beal, turning this season around will go a long way in changing the fortunes of this oft-maligned franchise for the next few seasons.