It was exactly nine months ago that the Wizards watched Von Wafer, then with the Boston Celtics, embarrass himself by missing a dunk and unwittingly celebrating so hard that he bumped into Jermaine O’Neal and created a turnover. It was a hilarious scene that highlighted the Wizards’ last victory in 2011.
That was on April 11.
Since then, the Wizards have had little to laugh about. They had to endure a 149-day lockout and an awful, franchise-worst eight-game losing streak to start the season, meaning that it would take the length of a typical pregnancy for them to know what it felt like to win again.
“It’s about time for all of us,” John Wall said after the Wizards claimed their first victory since April 11. “We as a team was ready to get a win.”
And on Tuesday, Coach Flip Saunders actually made the necessary moves to get the desired result. He didn’t rely on reputation or status and rewarded production and effort with playing time. He benched banged up, high-price players with scorers’ mentalities in Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis and decided to go with energetic, low-cost players more willing to do the dirty work in Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.
“We didn’t really have any offensive-minded players in the game,” JaVale McGee said of the starters. “We mostly had players that are defensive-minded and are definitely team-oriented and ready to sacrifice themselves for the team. We were out there passing the ball around, and everything, it worked out.”
Saunders ended the Jordan Crawford-as-backup-point-guard experiment that had worked out horribly for everybody involved — specially Crawford. He also called on Shelvin Mack to spell Wall sooner, and gave Jan Vesely the opportunity to get more meaningful minutes.
With so many moving parts, the results weren’t immediate, but the end of the night, it was evident that a few tweaks could put an end to the misery — for at least one night.
“It feels good. Hopefully, there are lot more where that came from. Just go out with the mindset of playing as a team,” Singleton said after the Wizards improved to 1-8. “Nobody was selfish. We played as a team, for the first time. One of the first times this year.”
The Wizards had a season-high 20 assists, which was a credit to a better commitment to ball-movement and trust, but also an ability to make shots. Saunders felt the need to shake up his lineup because the team often had a huge dropoff whenever he went to his second unit. He had so many scorers in the starting lineup and not enough players willing to scrap, share and hustle. He had too many role players on the bench and not enough able to get buckets during lulls in action.
“We’ve had so many times when we’ve gone to the bench with so many of our young guys and we seem to have more droughts. It’s even more difficult when you’re not scoring,” Saunders said. “Most of the good teams in this league, you become better when you go to your bench. [Dallas Mavericks guard] Jason Terry is a starter. Most of the good teams have someone like that that they put into the game. He’s better than the guys they have on the floor usually.”
Having Blatche and Lewis in with the second unit gave them the opportunity to go to work and both were able to flourish in those roles. They came in an immediately made a difference, as the Wizards went from trailing by four when they entered the game with about three minutes left in the first quarter to leading by 12 at halftime.
“I don’t see why not,” Lewis, who scored a season-high 15 points, said when asked about coming off the bench again. “When you get a win, I don’t see a reason to change it up and go back to it, you’ve got to stick with it until it doesn’t work no more. Tonight, we got a win and it worked, so why not do it again tomorrow?”
The Wizards reserves accounted for 43 of the 93 points, surpassing the previous season-best total of 39 bench points in Milwaukee — when Crawford scored 24 by himself. Crawford hardly resembled that player over the previous five games, when he missed 30 of his 38 attempts and struggled in the role as backup point guard.
Saunders allowed him to focus on scoring and let Mack serve as the playmaker, and it worked well, as Crawford scored 11 points and Mack had four points with two assists. “It’s tough because Jordan is more of a two guard,” Wall said. “He’s a scorer so you can bring him in to back up Nick, and bringing in Shelvin to run the team and keep everything going, I think that takes a lot of pressure off Jordan, you see he got it going pretty easy.”
Vesely also finally had a chance to influence the game, as he scored four points, all on a pair of impressive, crowd-pleasing dunks, and added five steals in just over 16 minutes. All 10 players that Saunders played against the Raptors scored, giving the players reason for encouragement as they boarded a flight to Chicago, where they will face the Bulls on Wednesday.
“We all happy to win,” Wall said. “It’ll probably be a little bit more fun, talking to each other on the plane, joking around.”