JaVale McGee pulled out his iPad2, tapped the screen, leaned back in front of his locker room stall and started laughing.
“Kevin,” McGee said, calling over rookie Kevin Seraphin, who made the blooper reel during the Wizards’ 100-93 season finale loss in Cleveland. Late in the first period, Jordan Crawford spotted Seraphin cutting to the basket and made a beautiful no-look pass. Problem was, Seraphin wasn’t looking either and the ball popped him in the face before going out of bounds.
“Yeah,” McGee said with a laugh, as he showed the replay to Seraphin.
Seraphin stared blankly at the screen and quietly walked away as McGee continued to laugh.
The Wizards were unable to finish their best month in more than three years with win, but there was little disappointment in the locker room afterward. There was a sense of accomplishment, based on how the team competed in the final weeks, and there was also some comfort in knowing that they probably could’ve easily dominated the Cavaliers had Coach Flip Saunders decided to play his starters their regular minutes.
With Andray Blatche, Maurice Evans, John Wall, McGee and Crawford getting most of the playing time in the first and third quarters, the Wizards outscored the Cavaliers 59-47. And with the backups getting action in the second and fourth quarters, the Wizards were outscored 53-34. “We tried to get a lead, build a lead as much as possible,” Wall said. “Coach, he wanted to win this game. We all wanted to win this game. But I think he did a great job of giving everybody an opportunity to play, letting them develop the last game of the season. The second group struggled at times, but I think everybody gave all the effort they could.”
Blatche had a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes. Maurice Evans had 15 points, Yi Jianlian had 10 points and team-high 12 rebounds and Wall and McGee both scored 10 points. It was perhaps the least painful loss of the season, since it helped the Wizards (23-59) secure the fourth-best odds in the NBA draft lottery.
“I thought our first, main group played really well,” Saunders said. “I probably would like to see them play the whole game, the way they were playing. Were moving the ball, we were really active and pretty much dominating in many aspects. But it was a good opportunity for us to see a lot of the young guys.”
The starters didn’t have any problem with the decision. “Flip, I think wanted to thank those guys for their patience and hard work. You can’t help but root for an organization like this and think they’re going to get there faster than other people may think, like next year,” said Evans, who added that he would like to return next season.
The most surprising development of the evening was that Hamady Ndiaye was able to come back to play one last game, despite straining his left patella tendon during warm-ups nearly two weeks ago. Ndiaye didn’t score, but he had two blocked shots in nearly 10 minutes of action.
“I said, ‘I’m trying to come back for at least one more game,’ ” Ndiaye said. “I was ready for this one. I wasn’t even thinking about [the knee]. I just wanted to get out there. I spent all season, trying to get out there. Whatever I got, I was happy with. I wasn’t thinking at all.”
Before the game, I informed Larry Owens and Othyus Jeffers that they were both named to the NBA Developmental League second team. Owens was happy to hear the news, but Jeffers responded by asking, “Second team?” Saunders gave the D-League all-stars an opportunity to close out the game with Seraphin, Yi and Mustafa Shakur. They were handed a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but were unable to hold on.
“My personal performance, I didn’t want to end it like that,” said Owens, who finished with just three points on 1 for 6 shooting. “I guess I can’t dwell on that, just look at the overall picture. It was tough loss, because I know as a group, we could’ve pulled it out.”
Jeffers was grateful to have an opportunity to end the season in NBA, and on the court at the conclusion. “That was a great experience,” he said. “I worked hard to get to that point. I felt good with the confidence of the coaches to let us do that. I feel blessed. I started a game. I played significant minutes. I went through every stage that a person wish they could do. I’m going to cherish everything.”
Wall found it hard to believe that his rookie season was actually over. “It seems like it just started,” he said. “I’m kind of glad it’s over, so I can take some time off to rest and just study the game more, study what people did to me, study what I can learn from other guys and just getting back healthy next year and just know what I’ve got to do. But it’s tough. I still want to play.”