Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook have the Washington Wizards on the right track
While everyone was focused on the Denver Nuggets' awful 3-on-1 fast break on Thursday, there was another story being overlooked.
A quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings would suggest that the Wizards are likely to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season, as they sit 13th, with a record of 12-18.
But below the surface of that record is a team that might finally be hitting its stride.
The Wizards have won six of their past seven games, and those wins have come against impressive foes, including the Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Nuggets twice. All four of those teams currently occupy playoff spots in their respective conferences.
The Wizards' only loss during the run was against the LA Clippers, and that came on the second night of a back-to-back following an impressive rally and overtime win against the Lakers.
Recently named an All-Star starter for the first time in his career, Beal is averaging a career-high and NBA-leading 32.8 points per game. Over the course of this run, he has been even better, with 33.3 points per game and at least 33 points in five of the six wins.
While Beal has been a model of consistency for the Wizards this season, his counterpart Westbrook has needed more time to get acclimated to a new team after being traded from the Houston Rockets before the season.
After the Wizards started 0-5 in December, Westbrook struggled to find his footing in the month of January, shooting just 39.8% from the field.
But in February, he has shot 44.2% while averaging 18.7 points, 10 rebounds and 9.9 assists.
Westbrook's play is continuing to trend upward after a 32-point, 14-rebound, nine-assist masterpiece in the win over the Lakers.
After a rough start to the season that saw the team go 4-12 through the first two months of play, an 8-6 record in February has the Wizards two games behind the Miami Heat for 10th in the East. That is where they need to finish to qualify for the play-in round of the playoffs.
With the wins piling up, the Wizards' franchise player has gone from disgruntled superstar to happy camper.
Naturally, the play of Beal and Westbrook has been at the forefront of the Wizards' current run of success. But they have gotten timely and effective contributions from their role players as well, which Chase Hughes detailed for Yahoo! Sports.
"As the Wizards continue to raise their level this season, now having won eight of 13 games, they are continuing to display signs of being a good team, one that not only could make the playoffs but potentially do some damage once they get there.
"They are playing good defense, beating good teams and showing off their depth."
Hachimura, in particular, has shown the capability of being the Wizards' third cog on offense, averaging 14.3 PPG in February and scoring in double figures in 10 straight contests.
The Wizards are working their magic right now, and it's opening the door for a potential playoff berth.