Emeka Okafor has failed to score 14 points in 35 of his 43 games this season. On Monday, against the Sacramento Kings, Okafor scored 14 points in the first quarter, with a rare offensive explosion that featured much of his arsenal — and some shots few knew he had in him.
Okafor started by backing down Jason Thompson and hitting a jump hook over him, then found himself in a bizarre mismatch with Tyreke Evans and threw another hook over him. He probably started feeling like he was in a nice zone when he cut inside, caught a pass from Martell Webster, tossed the ball up and watched it bounce high above the rim before dropping.
After that, Okafor was confident enough to drill a foul line extended jumper over DeMarcus Cousins and later found Cousins sleeping as he cut behind him into the lane to catch a pass from Jordan Crawford. Okafor hopped, kicked his feet back and dropped another runner.
“You have quarters like that. I wish I can have them more often,” Okafor said with a laugh. “But when you’re rolling and everything is going your way, you just go with it.”
Okafor finished with a season-high 23 points and added 15 rebounds, but his first quarter was even more impressive considering the Wizards only had 18 points as a team in the fourth quarter of their 96-94 loss at Verizon Center.
After taking seven shots in the first quarter, Okafor only had six the rest of the game, but he was more upset that the Wizards abandoned the sharing that contributed their recent run of success at home and gave away another game to the Kings.
“It was unfortunate,” Okafor said. “We didn’t play the type of basketball that we would’ve liked to play. Sometimes you can do that and still get a win, but we’re not at that point yet. It’s frustrating.”
Since Nene was inserted into the starting lineup on Dec. 22, Okafor has found a comfort zone offensively and defensively and recorded all 10 of his double-doubles in the past 21 games. He is seeking his third consecutive double-double when the Wizards take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center, but even if he falls short, Coach Randy Wittman doesn’t expect Okafor to cheat him in the effort department.
“He’s just consistent,” Wittman said. “For me it’s always the most important thing I think in a player, the consistent level that you’re playing at. He’s given me that. I don’t have to worry about which Emeka is going to show up. It’s the one that’s going to rebound, block shots.”
Okafor struggled the first six weeks of the regular season and Wittman would go with alternatives in the fourth quarter. Instead of sulking, Okafor figured out the best way to earn Wittman’s trust was by attacking the glass and daring him to play someone else. “This is a new situation, new team, new teammates that he’s had to adjust to and I think he’s adjusted, understands where he’s at with this team, what he can do, what he can accomplish,” Wittman said.
Okafor also credited John Wall with helping him and the rest of the players have more clearly defined responsibilities. “I think with John coming back, everybody can settle back into their natural positions and that helps us have a better flow,” Okafor said. “On my end, it’s just been more consistent minutes. I know where the minutes are coming from.”
The Wizards (11-32) are back on the road for the next three games, with the last two against two of the Western Conference’s elite teams in Memphis and San Antonio, but Okafor is confident that the Wizards will be able to hold their own. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can be competitive,” he said. “We got to get one back. Get a roll and get the momentum building back up again.”