Wizards’ Kevin Seraphin serves as “X-factor” in win over Portland

Washington Wizards center Kevin Seraphin (13), from France, shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Joel Freeland (19), from England, in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
I just have to be ready. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kevin Seraphin came close to committing a turnover the first time he touched the ball Monday night. He started dribbling sloppily and quickly picked up the bouncing ball before a Portland Trail Blazer poked it away, then turned and hit a one-handed scoop shot.

From there, Seraphin started hitting from anywhere he wanted – baseline jumpers, a swooping left handed runner in traffic, jump hooks, a foul line jumper off the pick-and-roll. Seraphin scored a season-high 19 points – including the final eight of a game-changing 12-0 second-half run that propelled the Wizards to a 100-90 win over the Trail Blazers and got them over .500 for the first time in more than four years.

The performance caught the attention of Portland Coach Terry Stotts, who referred to Seraphin afterward as, “the X-factor” in the game.

“Seraphin had a terrific game. He did a little bit of everything,” Stotts said. “He made jump shots, he made post-ups, he drew fouls and that kind of put us in a bind for a while.”

If Seraphin hadn’t been coming off the bench to provide instant scoring in recent weeks, the eruption might have been surprising. But when it comes to Seraphin, his offense always seems to come in waves even as his opportunities come with the consistency of a faucet drip.

Seraphin has appeared in 10 of the past 13 games for the Wizards, with his playing time ranging from 28 seconds to 29 minutes. With Trevor Booker excused from the game to attend the funeral of his late grandfather, Seraphin got 23 minutes on Monday against Portland, going 7 of 10 from the field and 5 of 6 from the foul line to record his fourth double-digit effort over that span.

“Kevin came in and gave us a big lift. Not only offense, that might be his best alertness from a defensive standpoint that he’s had since he’s been here,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s moving along in the right direction.”

Seraphin’s playing time has oscillated throughout this season primarily because of his late defensive rotations, a proclivity for fouling, a penchant for fumbling the ball when double-teams arrive and occasional allergic reactions to rebounds. But he has been able to maintain his focus in those areas, and Wittman has been showing more trust in him. Wittman actually rode with Seraphin in favor of Marcin Gortat in the final minutes against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Since coming off the bench to score 18 points, then a season high, against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 11, Seraphin has been averaging 7.7 points on 63.5 percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds. His per-36 minute numbers are impressive: 20.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots. Of course, he wouldn’t be allowed to play that long with an average of 6.4 personal fouls as well.

As Seraphin spoke to reporters on Tuesday, Garrett Temple walked up and shouted, “Game Changer!” The encouragement of his teammates has allowed Seraphin to stay ready even when he doesn’t know when his chances will come. “All my teammates talk to me, try to keep my confidence up. That’s the only thing I really can do,” Seraphin said.

Seraphin’s locker room neighbor, Nene, has routinely challenged Seraphin to do his homework and commit himself to learning that the game is about more than just putting the ball in the basket. After the game, Nene praised Seraphin for his play.

“I told him, ‘Man you need to think. You need to visualize what he’s going to do on the court,’” said Nene. “Watch video. Watch what he did good, what he did bad. Then you’re going to start to develop your skills and improve your game. That’s what I told him. He’s playing good. He made simple movement. He put himself in position.”

Seraphin was grateful to receive compliments from Nene, Wittman and Stotts after the game. “I appreciate it, but I’m still not satisfied, because my playing time has been up and down,” Seraphin said. “I have to keep going like that – and we talk about it in 10 games. I try to be ready every time I step on the court.”

Now that the Wizards have gone over .500 for the first time in his four seasons, Seraphin also didn’t want to get too excited.  “This league, everything can switch really fast. We can be here right now and maybe in two months be way under .500,” Seraphin said. “We should be here earlier. I’m not really hype about it, because that’s where we’re supposed to be. We have just to keep going because in the next game, we lose it, we have to still be at .500, so I’m not hype about it. I want to keep going.”

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