WASHINGTON -- Since John Wall's return, the defensive-minded Washington Wizards have been reborn.
No longer taking losing blow after losing blow, Washington is now delivering knockout hits and often against the NBA's best.
Following the latest decisive victory and amidst collective smiles, one question hovered above for the previously injury-plagued team: what if?
Nene had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and the Wizards outscored the Brooklyn Nets 30-11 in the second quarter, pulling away for an 89-74 victory on Friday night.
Martell Webster had 16 points and John Wall 15 points and nine assists for the Wizards (14-35), who swept their three-game homestand. Washington has won eight of its last nine at the Verizon Center and improved to 9-7 since Wall returned on Jan. 12.
"It feels great," Wall said about after a week that included wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and the Nets. "We're just trusting each, playing hard. Really doing it on the defensive end, just moving the ball and making big time shots."
Defensively potent throughout, the Wizards limited the Nets to a season-low 32.9 percent from the field and without a basket for nearly 9 minutes in the first half. Entering the game ninth in scoring defense, Washington has held eight straight opponents under 100 points.
"We talked about coming out and establishing defense right from the start," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That's got to be our identity as a team. That never waivers. Our guys are believing in that."
Deron Williams scored 20 points and Joe Johnson had 14 for the Nets (29-21), who had won two straight. Brooklyn made two free throws inside the final minute to avoid its lowest-scoring game of the season, but finished 19 of 32 from the foul line.
"Just a lot of bad habits," Williams said. "Then we start pointing the finger and getting a little selfish. We just got to get out of that habit."
Washington's own scoring drought of more than 6 minutes in the third quarter during a 14-0 Brooklyn run allowed the Nets to creep closer at 62-53. A.J. Price's 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left in the quarter ended the scoring skid and the Wizards led by double digits the rest of the game before the crowd of 19,614.
Bradley Beal's banked 3-pointer capped a back and forth first quarter and put the Wizards up 21-20. It also started a 22-2 run highlighted by Nene's offense and stellar team defense as Washington led 40-24 with 4:24 remaining in the second quarter.
In that stretch Nene scored eight straight points and 10 in the quarter, one less than the Nets, collectively. The Brazilian big man's jumper sent Washington into halftime leading 51-31, its largest halftime lead of the season.
After Andray Blatche's layup with 26 seconds left in the first quarter, the Nets went 8:50 without a field goal, missing 12 straight attempts.
"To come with that kind of effort in the second quarter, it's inexcusable," Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
Brook Lopez scored 13 points for the Nets, but missed eight of 11 shots. Williams finished 7 of 20 from the field.
Emeka Okafor's jumper with 6:05 remaining in the third quarter gave Washington its largest lead at 62-39. The Wizards did not score again until Price's 3-pointer.
Washington's eight recent home wins have come against teams with winning records, including all three on this homestand by an average of 11 points.
"That's a good team that's coming together," said Nets forward Andray Blatche, who spent the previous seven seasons with the Wizards. "With John Wall in the lineup, makes a huge difference. It's shown last couple of weeks."
Without Wall in the lineup for the first 33 games of the season, Washington got into a bad habit of losing, starting the season 5-28. Nene and other key players also missed time.
Asked if he ever imagines about what could have been, Wall said, "I think everybody knows what we would have been like because we're showing things now."
As for the rest of this season, Wall said, "I feel like we could be in a playoff spot right now. You don't give up on a season this early."
Notes: In the first meeting this season, Brooklyn survived a double-overtime thriller in Washington, 115-113. ...Beal, who missed the previous five games with a sprained right wrist scored three points in 18 minutes. ... Brooklyn entered 18-1 against teams with a record below .500 at the time of the game. ... The Nets, Wizards and all NBA teams playing on Feb. 8, Chinese New Year's eve, wore warmups shirts honoring the holiday. ... After flying into D.C., the Nets headed home on a train due to the powerful winter storm pounding the Northeast. Brooklyn hosts the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. The Wizards start a two-game road trip Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks.