Wizards Coach Randy Wittman experiments with eight-man rotation


Rotation is tight. Can’t get much tighter. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

For one night, at least, Coach Randy Wittman didn’t want to give Otto Porter Jr. some perfunctory playing time, or have to guess whether Jan Vesely or Kevin Seraphin would be able to make a contribution. With the Washington Wizards in desperate need of a win after sliding into some poor habits and inconsistent play, Wittman wanted to go with a group that he could trust to get a win over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.

That meant he put Nene back in the starting lineup and would only go three players deep into his bench with Martell Webster, Trevor Booker and Garrett Temple. Going with an eight-man rotation required some creativity, especially with Bradley Beal still being limited to just 30 minutes per game, but it proved to be effective as the Wizards won, 102-88, and snapped a two-game losing streak.

As the Wizards (17-19) prepare to host the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, Wittman said he wasn’t certain how long he would stick to a tight troop.

“That’s a feel in the game. I wanted to get off to a good start in Chicago. And that was my gut feel going into the game,” Wittman said. “But I can’t tell you the next 20 games, we’re going to have an eight-man rotation or a 12-man. That’s just kind of a coaching situation, who you’re playing, what guys are coming off the other team’s bench, what our advantages might be, our disadvantages. You look at all those things. It was a gut decision … and it worked.”

The three-man bench produced 28 points, with Webster scoring 12 points and reaching double figures for the first time in four games and Temple scoring a season-high 10 points. It also provided some defensive intensity, with Temple slowing Bulls backup point guard D.J. Augustin and Booker helping to limit Taj Gibson to just eight points after he had scored in double figures in each of his past six games.

“He’s a tough matchup. He’s their go-to guy these last few games. I’m sure he was frustrated because he couldn’t touch the ball,” Booker said of Gibson.

Booker returned to the bench for the first time in more than a month but received 24 minutes, which is actually more than he got in any of his previous four games.  Wittman informed Booker that he was going back to Nene in the starting lineup at the morning shootaround, but Booker said his mind-set doesn’t change in a reserve role.

“Either way, starting or coming off the bench, I’m going to come in playing the same way. Just come in. Play my game. don’t try to force anything,” Booker said, adding that the eight-man rotation got the desired results. “I think it worked well. The people that came off the bench, they played with a lot of energy. They did a great job of just playing within the team.”

Wittman’s move came one game after Seraphin scored 18 points to help lead a spirited comeback from a 25-point deficit to take a five-point lead over the Houston Rockets. But Seraphin didn’t get a chance for an encore as he received his fourth Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision in the past six games.

Vesely continued to slide back into irrelevance after posting a decent three-game stretch that concluded with a season-high 12 points in a 102-96 win in New Orleans. Porter hasn’t made more than one field goal in any game this month and received less than eight minutes in any of the past four games, including his second DNP-CD in the win over Chicago.

Eric Maynor and Chris Singleton have been used sporadically for the past month.

Wittman has long sought to have a nine-man group that he could depend on for consistent production. He initially tightened his rotation after the Wizards opened the season with a three-game losing streak. But he had to take a different approach when Trevor Ariza, Beal and Nene all went down with injuries. Now that Nene is able to play more, Wittman might continue to maintain a shorter leash.

“I feel good, because I know how many minutes I’m going to play, regardless,” John Wall said, when asked about the eight-man rotation. “I think it’s tough, sometimes, because some guys are wondering why they’re not playing and what’s going on, but Coach is making his decision that he feels like is best for our team and what’s going to help us. but at the same time, the guys that’s not in that rotation, I still like how they’ve been professional about it and always prepared and ready to play. I respect those guys and I feel like coach knows what he’s doing and we just believe in him and go out there and play basketball.”

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