Improved play from Russell Westbrook has sparked the Wizards‘ move up the Eastern Conference standings, writes Fred Katz of The Athletic. The former MVP says the difference involves recovering from a left quad injury that had been bothering him since he was acquired from the Rockets in December.
“Well, I can move and jump now,” Westbrook said. “So, there ya go.”
Westbrook’s quickness has returned, Katz adds, and he has become more aggressive in attacking the basket. He took 55% of his shots at the rim during the team’s recent four-game road trip after shooting just 26% of them from there earlier in the season.
“He just does a great job of staying in attack mode. We’re better when he does that,” Bradley Beal said. “He’s just being able to put pressure on the rim, getting to the basket, letting our bigs be able to follow up for offensive tip-backs if that’s the case. So, we just need him always in that mode. He never stops.”
There’s more on the Wizards:
- Thomas Bryant joined his teammates on the bench Saturday for the first time since suffering a season-ending ACL tear in January, Katz tweets. “That was definitely the best part about the first half, just seeing him in the locker room,” coach Scott Brooks said. “… He’s definitely missed, loved by all of us.”
- Backup point guard Raul Neto had to leave Saturday’s game with a left knee contusion, but Brooks doesn’t believe it’s serious, Katz adds (via Twitter). The team will check on Neto’s condition today.
- The Wizards have won seven of their eight games since Brooks inserted Garrison Mathews and Moritz Wagner into the starting lineup, notes Chase Hughes of NBC Sports. Both are among the top 10 in the league in drawing charges, and they have raised the team’s energy level. Brooks is particularly impressed with Mathews, who earned a two-way contract last year after going undrafted. “He’s a fighter,” Brooks said. “I remember the pre-draft workout. We did this running drill and he has our record. I thought his lungs were going to explode he was running so hard. You could tell that he wanted to slow down, but he was determined. That got my attention right there.”