The type of electricity that ran through Verizon Center will be on hiatus while the Wizards take a four-game, six-day West coast trip that begins Tuesday at the Sacramento Kings (CSN+, 10 p.m. ET). By the time they return, it'll likely be back because the Wizards should be on the verge of officially clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years.
"It was a playoff game," Wizards forward Al Harrington said after Saturday's 101-94 comeback win vs. the Brooklyn Nets that put them back at a No. 5 seed. "That's what the playoff are going to be about. It's going to be about coming out with timely possession, a steal a block, a foul here or there to stop their momentum."
The Wizards (35-31) did with their second unit. Harrington and Drew Gooden were key not only with their offense, but down the stretch with their defense and refusal to give an inch. They refused to allow the Nets, who shot just 5-for-16 in the fourth quarter, to get easy baskets and used hard fouls as if it already was playoff time. The game took place in front of 20,356, the Wizards' third sellout of the season but first in which most of the fans in the arena were rooting for the home team rather than being split because of the previous two sellout opponents were marquee teams, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder.
After Gooden scored six consecutive points to put the Wizards ahead 87-86 for the first time since the first quarter, Marcus Thornton scored five quick points as the Nets edged back ahead with 6:22 left. That's when the play got more physical.
Andrei Kirilenko had the ball in the paint and was met with a hard foul from Gooden. A 54.2% shooter, Kirilenko missed both free throws. After John Wall tied the score at 91, Kirilenko had the ball in the paint again and Harrington hacked him hard to make sure he couldn't get up a shot. He made 1 of 2 free throws.
"Coming off the bench you have six fouls, why (not) use them?" said Gooden, who was called for five in 26 minutes. "You can't go home with them. (My) foul was OK, but that foul that Al had was a real playoff foul. I think that also set the tone."
All season, Wizards coach Randy Wittman has been bothered by his team's occasional failure to recognize game situations, particularly in the fourth quarters when foul calls are less plentiful and game officials prefer players to decide the outcome. The Wizards had to learn to expect contact when they have the ball and make sure they dole it out defensively, especially at this late stage of the season with playoff berths on the line. Playoff-experienced veterans such as Gooden and Harrington don't have to be told such things. They already know.
"We don't want to give up any layups, especially if we're not in foul trouble," Wittman said of the fouls on Kirilenko. "You want to make him earn them."