Wizards experiment with smaller lineups in win over Miami

October 16, 2013

Coach Randy Wittman was already going to have to change his starting lineup on Tuesday against the Miami Heat with Nene back in his native Brazil dealing with a serious personal matter. But instead of just sliding in a player to replace Nene, Wittman decided to go with Kevin Seraphin – and replace Jan Vesely with Trevor Booker.

I'm back in the starting lineup! (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post) I’m back in the starting lineup! (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

That was only the beginning of Wittman’s tinkering. With a Heat squad that thrives on small ball, Wittman countered with his only unique lineups, including an odd mix that included Vesely, Trevor Ariza, Glen Rice Jr., Bradley Beal and John Wall.

“I wanted to look at things a little differently,” Wittman said.

And it’s hard to dispute the effectiveness of those experiments after the Wizards defeated the two-time defending champions, 100-82, at Verizon Center.

Booker made his preseason debut against the Chicago Bulls in Rio de Janeiro and Wittman said afterward that the 6-foot-8 forward he was the Wizards’ “best big.” Wittman rewarded Booker’s effort by giving him the nod over Vesely, who had led the Wizards with 21 total rebounds in the first two games.

“Just changed up,” Wittman said. “Nene wasn’t here and Book’s just getting back. I’ve got to get him some minutes. Again, working him back into shape. He’s not where he’s going to need to be when we get to Oct. 30.”

After scoring eight points with five rebounds in 15 minutes, Booker agreed that he’s probably “a week away” from being in game shape. But Booker is working hard to regain his rhythm and improve his conditioning after missing the first few weeks of training camp with a sore right knee.

“I’m glad to be back in the rotation,” Booker said. “My body is feeling good, getting my wind back up, just happy to be back out there.”

Booker was having such a good time that he almost forgot that he was in a competitive game in the second quarter when Heat center Chris Bosh made a seemingly poor toss that LeBron James was able to catch and throw down with authority. James leaned back, screamed and shook his shoulders and Booker almost did the same on the sideline.

“I almost jumped out my seat,” Booker said. “If you see a good dunk, you’re always impressed.”

Late in the Wizards’ win, Booker rested with his chest against the hardwood, watching the action as he bent back his knee to maintain flexibility. “I got to stretch after every game, after every practice. I’m just trying to do everything I can to stay healthy,” he said. “Got to do everything I can to stay healthy and if I’m healthy, hopefully, I’ll be out there.”

Vesely still finished the with the most minutes of any big man in the Wizards’ rotation, but had more fouls (five) than points (two). He took just one shot – an uncontested dunk on a pass from Al Harrington – but Wittman said he doesn’t measure Vesely’s contributions strictly from the offensive end.

“It’s not so much how many shots he takes, it’s about he plays on the floor,” Wittman said. “Is he flying around, is he rebounding the ball. Is he getting deflections. Is he active defensively ? That’s what I really talk about with Jan. And that’s been up and down and what he’s got to work on, and not let a bad play or a bad stint on the floor take him down. That’s what he’s got to do.”

The Wizards are still seeking a solution for the absence of Emeka Okafor, but with Nene also gone, Wittman tried lineups that featured Ariza and Martell Webster at power forward. Wittman could take those chances with the Heat often using Shane Battier at power forward, but went to smaller lineups several times at the end of games last season.

“When we are out there on the court we’re not worried about the lineups, we’re not worried about who is out there. We’re just out there playing and when we play together we give ourselves a chance to win every night,” said Ariza, who led the Wizards with nine rebounds.

Harrington, signed in the offseason to be the stretch four off the bench, also had his best performance after sitting out the previous game with a left quad injury. He scored 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting and connected on 3 of 6 from long distance. The Wizards made 12 three pointers on 32 attempts.

“Speed and spacing,” Beal said. “We’re able to space the floor out more, give John more room to work at the top. Give him room to create shots for himself and other people. I like that. It’s hard having [Okafor] out, but other guys have been stepping up. We just need those guys to continue doing what they’re doing.”

Backup point guard Eric Maynor sat out with a sore left Achilles’ tendon, but said the decision was precautionary and he expects to be available when the team plays the New York Knicks on Thursday in Baltimore.

 

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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