TORONTO – With the Wizards missing Nene for six weeks with a sprained left knee ligament and Kevin Seraphin out for the second game in a row with a sore right knee, Coach Randy Wittman had no choice but to go small – or “midget,” as he said – Thursday night against the Toronto Raptors. And that strategy was able to work because the Wizards had at least one player who was pining for a chance to play, no matter what kind of lineup Wittman enlisted.
Chris Singleton, the Wizards’ lone remaining player from the 2011 draft, had season highs with 13 points, nine rebounds and two assists in the Wizards’ 134-129 triple-overtime victory and played with desperation that comes from spending most of the season on the deep end of the bench. It took a while, but the pugnacious version of Singleton re-emerged at the right time as he hustled, scrapped and reminded people why the Wizards were so excited about drafting him in the first round in 2011.
“That’s big for us,” Wittman said of Singleton’s contributions. “Nine rebounds. Thirteen points. That’s a big boost. That’s what we talk about. A guy goes down, Nene goes down, Kevin goes down and he’s done that.”
When Toronto closed to within one at 77-76, Singleton made sure that the Wizards wouldn’t surrender the lead before the start of the fourth quarter. He fought off Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson to rebound a John Wall miss, got fouled and made both free throws. Then, after rebounding a Harrington missed three-pointer, Singleton airballed a hook shot and looked around for a foul call.
When it didn’t come, Singleton didn’t spend too much time sulking. He jumped in front of Kyle Lowry to intercept an inbounds pass from Patterson and hop-stepped toward the hop and got fouled while making a layup.
Singleton made seven free throws against the Raptors – two fewer than his season total entering the game.
“That shows how deep our team is,” Trevor Ariza said. “We have a really deep team and guys are ready and staying ready to play when somebody gets hurt. Coach told us after the break, anything is possible and guys that aren’t playing, you’re an injury away from playing. So stay ready, stay into what we’re doing and when you get your chance be ready. If you’re not ready, it might not come back around. Guys are staying in shape, staying ready to play and I’m thankful that they work as hard as they do.”
Only three years ago, Singleton used his tenacity and defensive intensity to snatch the starting small forward job as a rookie. He took his occasional lumps, and was perhaps thrust into the rotation a little earlier than expected.
But in subsequent years, the makeup of the Wizards roster has changed and Singleton tried to adjust in the role as a stretch forward. But his inability to consistently hit three-pointers shoved him deeper on the bench until he was struggling to find a position and a role.
The Wizards declined his player option before the season began, placing Singleton in a precarious position, especially after he broke his foot in September and didn’t get a chance to compete for minutes in training camp. Wittman used him in five straight games from Nov. 29 to Dec. 9, but Singleton appeared in just seven of the next 36 games.
Singleton was shopped around the trade deadline, but the Wizards couldn’t find any takers. His frustration has been met with opportunity, however, with the Wizards dealing with injuries to Nene and Seraphin and with Jan Vesely being shipped to Denver at the deadline. In the past two games, Singleton has received 39 minutes. In the previous 38 games, Singleton played a total of 42. After struggling to become a shooter, Singleton has been more effective just crashing the boards, hustling and playing within himself.
“That’s great,” Wall said of Singleton’s play. “One thing I can say about the guys on this team, and I love all of them like a brother, they always stay ready. They are very professional about it and I know it’s not easy for no guy to sit on the bench and not play for a couple of months when you’re used to being a starter or being a star guy. But those guys are great professionals. They stay ready and they got the opportunity they give 110 percent effort.”