DALLAS – The game began to slip away the moment Coach Randy Wittman started making substitutions.
The Wizards’ bench has been a concern for much of this season, with the team making a marked decline in productivity whenever Wittman decides to give one of his starters a breather. The drop-off was especially evident during a 105-95 loss on Tuesday in Dallas, where the starting five built an early seven-point lead in the first quarter only to watch it vanish in a matter of minutes.
Wittman has shown little confidence in his second unit, which resulted in him utilizing a mostly nine-man rotation in the first three games after Nene returned from a strained left calf. Only eight players received at least 13 minutes against the Mavericks and Wittman said he might have to have an even tighter rotation – or replace some of the reserves.
“I can probably shorten the bench,” Wittman said. “We are building too many good leads and then having quarters when we score four points for 10 minutes. So that’s another area that we are going to have to look to change.”
Last offseason, the Wizards supposedly improved their depth with the additions of Eric Maynor and Al Harrington and the retention of Martell Webster. The team also had Kevin Seraphin stick around to work out with the coaching staff rather than play for the French national team.
That quartet has been group that Wittman has leaned on recently. But through the first seven games, the second-unit has been one of the main reasons that the Wizards have sputtered to a 2-5 start.
Plus-minus isn’t always the most accurate statistic to measure how much influence a player has on the game because so much is based on lineups and matchups. But the disparity in plus-minus figures have been staggering this season.
The Wizards have been outscored by 21 points this season. The players with the worst plus-minus numbers are all reserves. Webster is a minus-72. Harrington is a minus-57. And Maynor is a minus-26. Bradley Beal is a team-best plus-27. Nene is a plus-19 and John Wall is a plus-11. The rest of the team fits into the middle of the extremes.
On Tuesday, Webster played 12 minutes in the first half and the Wizards were outscored by 22 points. When Webster entered the game, the Wizards led 26-19. When he sat 11 minutes later, the Mavericks led 47-38. Webster was reinserted later in the second period with the Wizards trailing by six points, but Dallas entered the locker room with a 12-point halftime lead.
Of course, Webster isn’t to blame but he has struggled to find his rhythm in the early part of the season. And, he just happened to be on the floor when the Wizards surrendered an incredible seven-point possession to the Mavericks, turning a 29-23 lead into a 30-29 deficit. Dallas reserve Jae Crowder scored, got fouled by Seraphin and missed his free throw. DeJuan Blair grabbed the rebound, made a layup, got fouled by Seraphin and missed his free throw. Vince Carter grabbed the rebound and made a three-pointer.
“We just have to be stay committed to playing hard, that’s all,” Seraphin said. “We just need to be consistent.”
Seraphin played less than three minutes and picked up three fouls, walking off the court and cursing himself. He never returned.
His poor play forced Wittman to go with Trevor Booker for the first time since he injured his left index finger in Miami on Nov. 3. Booker has been healthy and available but Wittman found some success with riding nine players. He only played four minutes against the Mavericks, missing his only shot attempt – a desperation heave as the shot clock was expiring.
And for the first time this season, Wittman cleared the bench in the final 79 seconds, allowing Glen Rice Jr. and Jan Vesely to make their season debuts. Rice quickly got on the scoreboard by hitting a three-pointer but he was the only reserve to score in the fourth quarter.
Dallas’s bench was responsible for 33 points, with 16 alone coming from Vince Carter. Before Rice’s three-pointer, Carter had matched the entire Wizards’ bench by himself. The Wizards had a 34-point first quarter and a 30-point third quarter. But they lost because they had a 15-point second quarter and a 16-point fourth quarter.
“Going to our bench, we’re not getting enough from that,” Wittman said. “I’m going to have to figure out different guys. Maybe shorten the bench, I don’t know. We’ll see.”