Coach Randy Wittman started seldom-used reserve Earl Barron over Chris Singleton at the start of the second half of the Wizards‘ 100-95 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday, and he continued to use Barron instead over center Emeka Okafor in overtime.
Barron responded with season-highs of 14 rebounds and four blocked shots, and added four points, including a foul line jumper with 23 seconds left that tied the game at 90 and forced overtime.
“I tried to give us a little boost, just some energy. I just played hard and tried to change the game up,” Barron said after receiving a season-high 26 minutes, his most extended minutes since the season opener, when Wittman chose him over Okafor to contend with Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao in the second half.
Based on Wittman’s post-game comments, Barron could possibly replace Singleton or Okafor when the Wizards take on the surprising Orlando Magic at Amway Center.
“I’m not getting enough activity out of that spot. I’m looking for somebody that’s going to step up and show me that and he did,” Wittman said of Barron. “We just can’t continue along and just go through the motions and think you’re going to play night in and night out.”
Barron appeared to be on the most-likely to get cut list after A.J. Price broke his hand on Dec. 8, forcing the Wizards to consider signing a replacement at point guard. They have held off on those plans, but Barron had fallen completely out of the rotation and had appeared only sparingly in two of the previous seven games before Tuesday.
“In this league, it’s just a matter of being ready when your name is called,” Barron said. “Coach threw me in there unexpectedly and I was ready to go out there and battle.”
In addition to hauling in the second-best rebound total of any Wizard this season, Barron also played solid defense on Hawks forward Josh Smith. He blocked Smith’s jumper shortly after entering the game, and made a critical block late in the fourth quarter when he slapped a Jeff Teague offering off the glass. Teammate Martell Webster said Barron’s play was “amazing.”
“I mean this guy, there wasn’t a play run for him and he gets 10 shots, 14 rebounds and 4 blocks,” Wittman said.
Barron also stayed with it after missing his first seven shots from the field, taking a pass from Jordan Crawford and confidently burying the shot that forced overtime. He hit his next shot early in overtime.
“I know those shots that I missed I will make in the long run, but I had to just keep plugging at it,” said Barron, who finished 2 of 10 from the floor. “My shot wasn’t falling, but I just had to help the team on the defensive end.”
Wittman may have to rely on Barron regardless, since he is unsure how much Nene will be available on the second end of back-to-back games. Nene played 24 minutes against Atlanta after sitting out the previous game in Miami with soreness in his foot.
“We’re going to have to see. I took him out in the overtime, talked to him and he said he wanted to go back. I wanted to make sure the soreness wasn’t there,” Wittman said. “That’s another thing that’s hard to deal with in coaching, is the minutes. That’s a new thing for me in trying to monitor that on the fly; taking one of your best players out two minutes into overtime.”