With one game to leave a final impression, A.J. Price practically locked up the starting point guard job that was up for grabs while John Wall is sidelined, Earl Barron made a solid argument for keeping him as a fill in with a depleted front line, Jan Vesely’s confidence swung upward and led to an inspired game, and Bradley Beal had an outing that he would just as soon forget.
The Wizards lost to the San Antonio Spurs, 100-85, on Friday at AT&T Center in the last of eight games that won’t count. But the contest was hardly meaningless, given what was at stake for players seeking rotation spots and employment in the NBA.
Coach Randy Wittman rested Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor, who injured his right shoulder in practice the day before. That allowed Martell Webster and Barron to get starting spots, alongside Price, Beal and Trevor Booker. Barron found out he would start at the morning shootaround and made the most of his opportunity as he finished with preseason highs of 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Felt great, man. Tried to go out there, be as relaxed as I could. Got a good sweat and once I got out there, I was fine,” said Barron, who is playing on a non-guaranteed training camp contract.
Injuries to Nene, Kevin Seraphin, Booker, Singleton and Okafor opened up an unusual chance for Barron, Brian Cook and even Shavlik Randolph to get more playing time than Wittman planned to allot.
“It’s kind of tough, but if you just work hard and show up to practice everyday, anytime I touch on the court, I just leave it on the court. It’s really not in my hands,” said Barron, who also had 10 points and eight rebounds in a loss to Toronto this preseason. “I just pray, work hard and leave it up to the coaches and the management to make their decision. I feel good. I just have to wait and see.”
Barron certainly didn’t hurt himself as he matched up against future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and stayed active on both ends of the floor. He had three offensive rebounds, and followed one with a jump hook over Duncan to give the Wizards a 50-47 lead at halftime.
“I thought Earl did a nice job,” Wittman said. “Knocking down awesome looks. I thought he defended well. And was in good position.”
The Wizards had 19 players in camp and 13 players signed to guaranteed contracts, leaving two spots up for grabs for four players – Barron, Cook, Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo. Randolph and the seldom-used Steven Gray are probably out of the discussion, since they didn’t get much action in the last three games.
When asked about his leanings, Wittman said, “I ain’t telling you.”
Pargo didn’t play against the Spurs and Wittman said he wanted to get a more extended look at Mack, who finished with just two points and four assists in about 24 minutes. Mack, on a partially-guaranteed contract, played in all eight games and posted 22 assists to just six turnovers and averaged 4.1 points on 41.2 percent shooting.
“You really can’t think about that too much. Just do the things you can control. Playing hard,” Mack said of the stresses of playing for a roster spot. “Every time there is competition, everybody is going to rise because you can’t have a bad day. You have a bad day, somebody is going to take your spot. It’s great to come in, compete and play against these guys.”
Pargo appeared in five games, made two starts, and had his best performance against Miami on Wednesday, when he had 11 points and six assists after failing to play in Milwaukee. He averaged 7.6 points but had as many turnovers as assists (16) and shot better from three-point range (41.2) than the field (39.5).
“Not too great,” Pargo said, when asked how he thought he played. “It was a tough situation coming in late. I don’t want to make no excuses. I think I played well some games. I think I could’ve done better in others.”
Price created even more separation against the Spurs as he finished with a team-high 13 points, connecting on 5 of 9 from the field and 3 of 5 from beyond the three-point line, and held his own against all-star point guard Tony Parker.
“I’m confident. I am pleased with how I played,” said Price, who averaged 9.6 points, 3.9 assists and made 52 percent of his three-point attempts. “I got better each practice, each game. That’s what I really wanted to do. From first game, started off a little shaky, not really knowing personnel, not really knowing plays, to where I’m at now. I feel I progress.”
Vesely finished the preseason on a high note, as he matched Price with 13 points. He made his first four shots and was perfect from the foul line (3 for 3). He was self-assured when he got the ball and wasn’t hesitant or indecisive. He made a baseline jumper in the second quarter that put the Wizards ahead by 13 points.
“I try to bring intensity. I try to stay aggressive all the time and it paid off,” Vesely said. “I try to work hard everyday and put everything in the game and in practice. Coach told me to shoot with confidence and play more aggressive. I think it is working out.”
Vesely had an up-and-down preseason offensively, as he scored a combined 10 points in his previous two games. He averaged 5.4 points and 5.4 rebounds, with some dramatic swings in production. Wittman said, “Consistency has to be his No. 1 one thing.”
Beal had been consistent until the last two preseason games, when he failed to score in double figures. He failed to score at all in San Antonio, going 0-for-6 from the field and hitting the top of the backboard on a three-pointer.
“Guys were telling me, you’re going to have nights like that,” Beal said. “I’m glad it happened now and not later.”