CINCINNATI – The leg-kicking exhilaration, towel-waving jubilation and high-fiving celebration along the Wizards’ bench as seldom-used backup Xavier Silas drained back-to-back three-pointers in the final minutes of a 101-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers was enough to make Coach Randy Wittman pause, shake his head and crack a smile.
With an astounding second-half flurry in which they outscored the Cavaliers, 60-29, the Wizards closed the preseason in ideal fashion at US Bank Arena. Bradley Beal planted more seeds for a potential breakout campaign, Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington finally snapped out of some long-distance shooting slumps, and Silas inspired the most spirited reactions of the preseason.
Once he buried his second shot directly in front of the Cavaliers’ bench to put the Wizards ahead, 97-78, Silas looked down at the bench, saw Beal getting ready to form his arms into an “X” and reacted in kind. John Wall shouted the same phrase, inspired by a song by rapper DMX, that he had used for Silas throughout the past month: “X gon’ give it to ‘em!”
“Because he always heat up,” Wall said of Silas. “It’s just a saying we say, and he’s like the microwave, he gets hot quick.”
Silas and the rest of his teammates realized that it was the final time that he would “get hot” while wearing a Wizards’ uniform. Washington has 15 players under guaranteed contracts – with a payroll nipping into luxury tax territory – so Silas, Josh Childress and Pops Mensah-Bonsu won’t be around when the team makes its season debut on Oct. 30 against the Detroit Pistons.
After the Wizards’ regulars turned what was about to be a blowout loss into a lopsided victory, Wittman gave the tenuous trio one last opportunity to play as a way of recognizing the contributions that they had made since training camp.
“You always like to play guys like that more than you’re able to,” Wittman said. “That’s the tough part about, having a bunch of those guys in the preseason, especially with us. We needed to get guys on the floor playing together. But they were great. Practiced hard, played like they did. X has a lot of confidence. Josh knows how to play. He’s been around the block. Pop. It was good to get them in.”
Childress, the sixth overall pick of the 2004 NBA draft, received almost four times more minutes than Silas and Mensah-Bonsu with Martell Webster sidelined because of a sprained left ankle. He scored five points, grabbed four rebounds and added a steal but was appreciative of the opportunity that he got to revitalize his career in Washington.
“I’ve been around the league for a minute and I know that, you’re not always going to get playing time, you’re not always going to get a ton of touches,” he said. “You have to try and work through that and bring a bunch of other things to the table. I’m glad I came and we’ll see what happens in the future. I don’t have any expectations. Just kind of wait and continue to keep working and keep pushing.”
Mensah-Bonsu sat alone, quietly, in the locker room after the game and appeared to be coming to grips with the uncertainty ahead. He committed three fouls and a turnover and didn’t attempt a field against Cleveland, but he expressed a similar sentiment as Childress about his situation.
“Obviously, I would’ve loved to play a little more, but what more can you say?” Mensah-Bonsu said. “They were trying to accomplish something and they have a full roster. I’m a professional. I’ve been in that situation before and I knew what it was when I came in. So I can’t complain. Because I’m glad I was able to help the guys out. Hopefully, my presence could help them be successful in the regular season.”
Mensah-Bonsu, who was seeking to return to the NBA after being out the past two seasons, said the past month also has helped him gain an appreciation and respect for several players that he only got to know from a distance. He praised Al Harrington for his leadership within the locker room and also singled out Beal, who scored 21 and has the second-highest scoring total this preseason with 145 points.
“I’m really looking forward to what he does this season and seasons to come, because he’s got a lot of potential,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “I thought he was good before, but he just exceeded any expectation I had of him.”
The Wizards weren’t in need of another guard but Silas managed to stick around because of his confidence and scoring ability. One team insider joked that Silas wasn’t a shooter, he was a maker. He appeared in just three of the seven preseason games but scored 12 points in 10 minutes played.
“I just stayed ready, stayed into the game, kept encouraging guys. When it’s my turn, everybody knows I can shoot. I just let it go,” Silas said. “It’s always a fight. Everything you do, nothing comes easy.”
Harrington said players were giddy to see Silas and Childress score because they understood how hard he worked. “I mean those guys deserve it. We know it’s going to be tough for these guys to make the team but we just happy they can get out there and show other people in the league what they got and what they about. Even if they don’t make our team, hopefully somebody else can pick them up.”
Based on what he has witnessed since training camp, Childress wouldn’t have expected any other reaction from his teammates. “Over the past month, guys have bonded,” Childress said. “We’re genuinely happy for each other. Everybody genuinely was happy and thrilled that the next guy is doing well and that’s something that you can’t say is true for a lot of teams.”