The Wizards are soaring and their defense deserves much of the credit

The Wizards have won 12 of 16 games in January, a result of a notably improved defensive effort. (Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports)

Through the early weeks of the season, the Washington Wizards stumbled and lost games because they could not defend. They didn’t help each other enough on the floor, and their individual effort was often lacking, with players failing to close out hard enough or fast enough while allowing three-point shooters to reach their sweet spots. Even as the Wizards began their unexpected rise in the Eastern Conference, their defensive effort still had not matured along with the rest of the team.

But in 16 games in January, it is abundantly clear: The Wizards are soaring and winning games because they’re now defending.

“We weren’t on the same page. We kind of weren’t helping each other and weren’t listening to the coverages we had,” John Wall said, recalling the team’s past defensive issues, “And ever since then we’ve locked in and focused on that end of the floor. We know we’re going to get open shots. We know we’re going to get in the paint, and we know we’re going to get out in transition. It’s just about, can you stop people multiple times? And I think we figured out ways to do that.”

On Tuesday night, the Wizards defeated the New York Knicks, 117-101, and earned their season-high fifth straight win along with their 15th consecutive at Verizon Center. Though Washington had won the previous two meetings against New York, its defense had struggled. Even in their early January matchup, the Wizards, already in the midst of their turnaround from 2-8 to now eight games over .500, still gave up too many points to a Knicks team that didn’t have…