It would have been understandable if Washington coach Scott Brooks had worried that he might be stepping into a mess.
Before taking the Wizards job, he had heard reports that their top two players, guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, had been at odds.
So how did Brooks deal with the chatter?
“I never addressed it, and there’s no need,” Brooks said. “They’re tied at the hip. They understand they need each other. They understand they need all the other guys on the team. They’ve been great leaders.”
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Brooks put his faith in his players, and the two leaders have helped turn the Wizards into one of the best teams in the league after a rough start. Washington dropped eight of its first 10 and was 6-12 on Dec. 2 as Wall worked his way back from knee surgery.
The Wizards are 34-12 since then and have surged to second in the Eastern Conference through Friday.
Brooks credits his players for the turnaround, but the role he and his coaching staff played should not be underestimated. Had Brooks come in playing therapist, he could have created an unnecessary issue between his stars.
Instead, Brooks did his job, worked to help everyone improve and saw positive traits in Beal and Wall. Brooks’ focus wasn’t whether Wall and Beal would be meeting up for morning coffee. It was whether they could lead.
“That’s one of the hardest things to do, and that’s to lead when you’re young and develop your game and who you are in the league,” Brooks said. “Brad and John have been great leaders for our team and hopefully they continue to build that part of their game because ... when you’re ... the best two players on the team, you’ve got to be able to lead. And not lead when you’re doing well or scoring well. You’ve got to lead when times are tough, and they did a good job of that in the first part of the season.”
Wall is having another All-Star season, averaging 22.8 points, 10.9 assists and 2.0 steals. Beal, who probably should have been Kevin Love’s injury replacement in the All-Star Game (that spot went to Carmelo Anthony), is averaging 23.2 points.
Brooks believes the backcourt rivals any in the league.
“They both compete on both ends,” Brooks said. “There might be some better scoring backcourts; there might be some better defensive backcourts. But the two-way backcourt, they could be as good as anyone.”
Also key have been the growth of forwards Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris and additions during the season, like guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who is averaging 16.6 points in his first nine games with the Wizards.
But when games are close, it’s up to Beal and Wall to make things happen. Unlike last season, the results usually have been in Washington’s favor.
The difference, Wall said, is “just having a lot of veterans. Just me and Brad being better as leaders and being better at closing out games. We’ve been very smart; we’ve just been aggressive. We’re not always taking the shot – if somebody’s open, we’re willing to make that extra pass. We’re all locking in on the defensive end and understanding we have something special here going on with this team even with the way we started, and we’re just trying to finish the season on a high note.”
The ‘This Can’t Be Life’ Award
Golden State’s much-hyped game at San Antonio on Saturday nighton ABC slowly devolved into a dud.
Health issues took Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tony Parker out of San Antonio’s lineup.
Golden State rested its three healthy All-Stars (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson) and Andre Iguodala after a grueling stretch of games. Coach Steve Kerr said resting his stars is the “right thing to do” considering it was the eighth game in 13 days and their minutes have increased with Kevin Durant out.
That left the Warriors depending on the likes of Patrick McCaw and Zaza Pachulia to improve on their NBA-best record ahead of the Spurs.
Not exactly what everyone was looking forward to.
The ‘Keeping it Way Too Real’ Award
There’s a time and place for comedy, but generally it’s not during postgame interviews.
Iguodala pushed the lines (some would say crossed the lines) of racial sensitivity after Friday night’s loss at Minnesota, saying “Do what master say” when asked about resting, using “n---a” more than once and responding to one question with what would a “dumb n---a say?”
Iguodala explained to ESPN later that he was joking, but he already had set the Internet on fire as the clips made their rounds.
Like it or not, most folks don’t want a Paul Mooney routine when they tune in for postgame interviews.