When his sixth three-pointer splashed through the net near the end of the third quarter of the Washington Wizards’ 127-105 victory over the Phoenix Suns, Martell Webster skipped back on defense, arms swinging along, carefree, as he rocked side to side.
When his seventh three-pointer dropped at the start of the fourth period, Webster ran back down the court and began to shrug his shoulders like Michael Jordan during the 1992 NBA Finals when he looked over and saw his Wizards teammates waving towels, laughing and hooting on the bench.
Webster has been one of the NBA’s most consistent marksmen from beyond the three-point line this season, but he had never been better than Saturday night against a Suns team that rarely stepped out to contest any of his shots, giving him ample time and space to have the best night of his professional career. After scoring a career-high 34 points, Webster again honored his favorite NBA player growing up by lacing up another pair of Jordan’s shoes, as he often does, win or lose.
“He studies Jordan all the time, too. He thinks he’s Jordan,” rookie Bradley Beal said, shaking his head with a laugh. “I might have to start calling him Jordan; he’s dropping 30.”
The Wizards (23-42) have waited all season to have a player reach 30 points in a game — the backcourt of the future, Beal and John Wall, have both had individual highs of 29 points in games — but as the season began, Webster may have been the most unlikely candidate. Waived unceremoniously by Minnesota after a second straight, injury-plagued season, Webster was unsure about how many minutes would play or his role, but has emerged as an indispensable player with his shooting after signing a one-year deal in Washington last August. Wall said he has already made a pitch to owner Ted Leonsis to keep Webster beyond this season.
“I already talked to Ted about that. That’s an easy, hands-down question about trying to get him back here,” Wall said after recording his eighth double-double of the season (17 points, 11 assists) while adding three steals and an impressive block on Suns point guard Goran Dragic. “Him being a free agent. A lot of people are going to come after him, especially after the season he is having. He is a having a big night for us every night.”
The Wizards snapped a 10-game losing streak against Phoenix, dating from Dec. 22, 2006, and have won four in a row at Verizon Center as they prepare to play six of the next seven games on the road.
They also improved to 18-14 since John Wall made his season debut. And while Wall had to take a backseat to Webster — who extended his string of consecutive games with at least four three-pointers to five — the former No. 1 overall pick was in complete control of the game in other areas. He picked off Dragic, leading to a fast-break dunk, and consistently jumped and whipped passes to his teammates in the corner for open three-pointers.
Early in the third quarter, Wall was in a mismatch with Suns forward Markieff Morris and used a crossover dribble to get separation before dumping the ball underneath to center Emeka Okafor for a layup.
Six players scored in double figures, with Okafor posting his team-leading 19th double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and the team set new season highs for points in a game and in the first half (66). Backup point guard A.J. Price (right groin) and reserve forward Trevor Ariza (sore left knee) sat out with injuries and Chris Singleton was absent as he attended a funeral, but Beal decided to come back after missing the previous six games with a sprained left ankle. Beal didn’t appear to be favoring his bum wheel and contributed 13 points while making three three-pointers in 21 minutes.
“I didn’t have too many problems. I just wanted to get out and see how it felt,” said Beal, who actually disappointed that he had to sit.
Garrett Temple, starting his fifth consecutive game, was relieved to have Beal return after playing 87 minutes combined in the previous two games. Playing a more manageable 35, Temple scored in double figures for the third game in a row, finishing with 11 points.
Nene had 14 points and five rebounds as the Wizards improved to 18-17 at home. The Wizards swept their three-game homestand and have a winning record at home after 35 games for the first time since the 2007-08 season.
Webster was so discouraged last offseason as he rehabilitated from a lower back injury that he wondered about the purpose of the grinding and physical workouts. He even pondered retirement until his family encouraged him to keep pushing and exhaust every means to get back on the court.
The Wizards took a chance on him, and Webster has emerged as a starter and a leader, providing humor and a hard-working attitude for his team. Webster now ranks second in the league in three-point efficiency, behind only Atlanta’s Kyle Korver, at 45.3 percent.
“I would love to be here next year, but this is a business and we’ll see what happens,” Webster said. “I’m having an extraordinary time here. City is great, the fans are great. Teammates are awesome. Really freaking awesome.”
After his shoulder shrug, Webster proved that he really could do no wrong on the night. He threw a pass that bounced off the shoulder of Suns forward and District native Michael Beasley (team-high 21 points) and bounced back to him. Webster then recovered the ball, cut inside and threw down a reverse dunk to give the Wizards a 109-86 lead and force Suns Coach Lindsey Hunter to call a timeout.
As he returned to the huddle, Webster waved his hands because he was so hot, finishing the night 10 of 18 from the floor and 7 of 10 from beyond the three-point line. He left the floor to a standing ovation with 7 minutes 22 seconds remaining.
“I drew it up. I called it,” Webster said afterward with a laugh. “I even told Beas, ‘I’m going to hit this off your shoulder and I’m going to have a reverse dunk.’ Beas even said, ‘Here.’ ”
“Do I get the assist?” Webster asked, before laughing to himself. “Next question.”