CLEVELAND – Kevin Seraphin couldn’t get overly concerned when he saw Nene crumple to the ground in pain, then hop off the court and through the tunnel toward the Wizards’ locker room on his good, right leg. Coach Randy Wittman called on Seraphin immediately after Nene went down with what the team is calling a sprained left knee in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Seraphin had to be ready.
“Yeah. I saw him leave, but when we’re in the game, we have to be focused on the game,” Seraphin said.
The Wizards (28-28) were only up by three points at the time of Nene’s departure and they have typically become flimsy when their most gifted big man is unable to finish a game. Washington squandered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead when Nene was ejected with roughly three minutes left in Oklahoma City, lost in overtime to Milwaukee when Nene strained his right Achilles’ tendon, and suffered a controversial defeat in Houston after Nene fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
Seraphin has had some huge offensive games for the Wizards this season but actually made his presence felt on the defensive end shortly after entering the game. Cavaliers all-star guard Kyrie Irving got past John Wall and Seraphin slid over bat down Irving’s layup attempt. Marcin Gortat got two free throws on the other end.
After Luol Deng completed a three-point play to bring the Cavaliers within 73-72 with 93 seconds left in the third quarter, the Wizards were once again in danger of letting a winnable game get away from them. Then, Wittman put veteran Al Harrington on the floor and he made two huge shots – a driving layup and a three-pointer – to send the Wizards into the fourth period with a six-point lead.
“I was just looking for an opportunity. I was ready, obviously, the situation with Nene allowed me to do a little more,” Harrington said. “It’s tough. He’s been playing some great basketball, so that was tough to see. Hopefully we can get him back sooner than later, but guys got to step up. I think we got enough guys that can do that.”
Harrington didn’t score for the rest of the game, missing his last four shots. But Seraphin came through with two huge, 10-foot jump hooks to push the Wizards ahead 82-74 early in the fourth quarter. “I had the ball in the post and I do what I know what to do,” Seraphin said.
Seraphin was swift and decisive, putting up the ball before a double team could arrive.
“He’s capable of doing that,” Wittman said of Seraphin. “The more he simplifies his game the better. Sometimes he likes to trick people, and we got to get him just to be simple. That’s his move and he does it very well. Big couple of shots he hit.”
Harrington finished with two rebounds and an assist and tried to extend the lead but missed a three-pointer and Wittman replaced him with Marcin Gortat. “I thought Al gave us a big lift in the second half. He was panting like a dog out there but we got to continue to get him rounded into shape,” Wittman said of Harrington.
Wittman gave Harrington a token run in his first game since Nov. 11 on Saturday, when the 15-year veteran played just 31 seconds against New Orleans as Nene matched his career high with 30 points. But after Cavaliers guard Jarrett Jack crashed into Nene’s knee, Harrington’s role quickly expanded.
When asked how he held up after receiving his most extended playing time in more than three months, Harrington chuckled to himself and admitted that he asked out of the game. “I was fatigued,” Harrington said. “It’s nothing you can do to simulate an NBA game. You can run as many sprints as you want, cut as much as you want, but there is nothing like getting out there banging and getting that adrenaline going. It was a step in the right direction for me, so I’ll just keep working.”
The Wizards traded Jan Vesely in order to acquire veteran backup point guard Andre Miller. While he rarely played for Wittman, Vesely was a 7-footer and his absence left the team without much size. Primary backups Seraphin and Trevor Booker are both shorter than 6-10. The 6-11 Gortat is the tallest player on the roster.
Wittman has been reluctant to go small much this season but it might have to be an option if Nene has to miss an extended amount of time. An MRI on Monday morning will determine how much longer the Wizards will need duplicate – or better – performances. For one night at least, the Wizards were able to find a solution.
“We have older players on this team that know when somebody goes down, it [stinks] but it also opens up opportunities for other players,” Trevor Ariza said. “They came in and did what they needed to do in that situation.”