Wizards Resurgence A Goal For Wolves In Stretch Run

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Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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This isn’t the same Washington Wizards team that won 15 percent of its games through mid-January. The Wizards team that will come through town tonight and face the Timberwolves at Target Center is in the middle of a resurgence—a stretch of sound basketball that has made them an above-.500 team over the past seven weeks.

The one tangible difference for the Wizards during that stretch of play is John Wall being inserted into the lineup. Washington is 14-11 with him this season and 5-28 without. That’s a pretty distinct line in the sand to draw when painting a before and after picture.

He’s not doing it with outstanding numbers—Wall is averaging the lowest points and assists per game of his career. But the Wizards keep winning at a much higher rate than before, and the intangibles Wall is adding to this team is paying off.

“He’s their glue guy,” Wolves forward Derrick Williams said. “I think they’ve built their whole team around him, and it’s bad when you lose a key guy like that.”

Sounds familiar, right?

The Wolves will be without Nikola Pekovic (abdominal strain) and Andrei Kirilenko (left calf strain) tonight and for the next three games. That means for the rest of the week the Wolves will again be without four of the team’s five projected starters at the beginning of the season (the fifth being Rubio, who started the year injured). It’s a tired story but one that continues to be prevalent with this Wolves team. They ponder what could be if they were all healthy at once but are relegated to taking on NBA teams every night without their full arsenal.

Right now, the Wizards are enjoying a stretch of play that the Wolves hope they’ll experience in the weeks to come. Yes, Washington will likely be missing Bradley Beal tonight with an ankle injury, but during this 25-game stretch they’ve seen what their team can do when they are at full strength.

Of Washington's 58 games, Wall has played in 25, Jordan Crawford and Nene in 43 and Beal in 51. This is about as healthy as the Wizards have been all season. Only Emeka Okafor has appeared in all 58 games, and former Wolves guard/forward Martell Webster has appeared in 57.

If Kevin Love and Chase Budinger can return in the next few weeks, and if Pekovic and Kirilenko work their way back as well, this Wolves team could get a chance to see a Rubio-Kirilenko-Love-Pekovic lineup for the first time. That’s the lineup Minnesota fans have waited for, and if they’re able to come together to end this year it would do wonders for getting prepared for 2013-14.

“We have to strive to do that ourselves,” coach Rick Adelman said of the Wizards’ resurgence. “We have to start playing better for now and for the future.”

As for tonight, the Wolves are 4-22 since they were last over .500 after a Jan. 5 home win over the Atlanta Hawks. They’re in need of a victory, and beating the Wizards—who because of their sluggish start still hold the third fewest wins in the NBA—would go a long way. J.J. Barea said Minnesota must defend better on its home court to make that happen.

The Wolves must take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time. Williams said there is still a lot of basketball yet to be played, and Minnesota must continue to battle regardless of who is health and available.

And when the team finally does reach full strength, that’s their time to springboard this franchise into the future.

“You’ve got to keep getting better,” Williams said. “Just because we’re losing doesn’t mean the season is over. I think everybody wants to win, we want to end this season on a good note leading into next year….We’re trying to get as many wins leading into next year, especially with our guys coming back. AK B-Roy, hopefully we can get those guys back as well and end on a high note. The key now is making sure we get better for next year as well.”

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