Outside of Rashard Lewis, Coach Randy Wittman was getting next to nothing from the rest of his starting five early on Wednesday, so he called on Shelvin Mack, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker and the game suddenly turned. The Wizards lost, 109-103, but if not for a critical 22-5 first-half run – which turned an 11-point deficit into a six-point lead – fueled almost entirely by backups, they might have been knocked out much sooner.
“The first half was huge,” Wittman said. “We got off to a slow start and they came in, and they were big. They got us right back into the game.”
Before Wittman took over as head coach, Mack didn’t always know when or how he would be used by Flip Saunders. Sometimes, he wouldn’t play at all. Other times, he would get spot duty. Sometimes, he would spell John Wall for extended stretches. Other times, he would get mop-up duty in a blowout.
But through the first five games under Wittman, it has been routine.
“Pretty much I know I’m set to come in at the end of the first quarter, beginning of the second quarter, so it kind of gives me a stable thing knowing when I’m going to get in,” Mack said. “So I’m always ready for the opportunity. It just shows that he has confidence in me to get out there and run the team. It’s helping me out a lot.”
Mack repaid Wittman for his confidence with the best game of his rookie season, as he scored a career-high 12 points and added four assists to help the Wizards hang around in a game in which Wall simply didn’t have it. Mack helped engineer one of the Wizards’ best sequences of the season, calmly setting up his fellow reserves and taking his own opportunities as they came.
“I was happy to see Shelvin have one of his best games so far,” said Wall, who finished with just two points on 1 for 12 shooting but 10 assists.
Orlando reserve Glen “Big Baby” Davis hit a long jumper to give the Magic a 25-14 lead, but the Wizards responded with a run that was ignited through some aggressive, ball-hawking defense and some efficient offense built around sharing and ball movement. Booker started the rally with a layup, then Lewis (20 points) had a steal to set up Crawford for another layup.
Mack had a driving layup to end the first period and matched his previous career-high with nine points in just five minutes. He hit a three-pointer to put the Wizards ahead 29-27 and led the home fans to start booing the Magic.
“We tried to come in and bring energy for the guys,” Mack said. “I felt good.”
Magic forward Ryan Anderson responded with a three-pointer, but the Wizards scored the next seven points, capped by Seraphin’s impressive putback dunk, to take a 36-30 lead. As Seraphin hung on the rim, his teammates went bonkers on the bench, hopping out of their seats and hooting as fans at Amway Center continued to boo.
The Wizards (4-18) also needed a spirited effort from Seraphin, because not only did JaVale McGee struggle, but rookie Jan Vesely was limited after injuring his left ribcage in a collision with Orlando guard J.J. Redick’s shoulder. Vesely didn’t play in the second or fourth quarters but said after the game that the injury wasn’t serious
Seraphin has slid into his consistent role as backup center and he held his own against Magic all-star Dwight Howard. He matched his career-high with 12 points in 22 minutes and he added seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Howard tried to muscle inside for a layup in the third period, but Seraphin slapped the shot into the first row and Wall stepped to Seraphin to encourage him to keep attacking Howard.
Seraphin added he didn’t need any special motivation.
“I came out and in my mind, I was ready,” Seraphin said. “That was Dwight, and so I was ready to play against him. I know I have to play hard. You have to when you play against Dwight, if you don’t he will take it.”
Howard was able to take away a victory, but Seraphin and Mack both had more confidence going forward. “I think I can be better,” Seraphin said. “I played good. I was pretty good on the court. We almost won the game, so the team will have to keep going like that. If I keep going like that, of course I will try to keep going, not look back.”