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Wizards’ Kevin Seraphin comes from nowhere to dominate the Lakers

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After he extended his arms high above his head, rebounded Shelvin Mack’s errant layup attempt and dunked ball with two hands in one motion, Kevin Seraphin could’ve easily kept howling, mean-mugging and glaring as he ran down the floor. But the emphatic dunk, thrown down against one of the NBA’s most storied franchises in front of a sellout crowd, was so startling that even Seraphin couldn’t conceal his surprise.

Seraphin pointed toward the Washington Wizards’ bench, noticed the joyous reaction of his teammates and flashed a sheepish grin. The best eight-minute stretch of his short career had just begun. And when it was over, Seraphin had connected on 5 of 6 field goal attempts, scoring 10 of his career-high 14 points, and carried the Wizards offensively during their stunning 106-101 comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He also finished with a career-high-tying nine rebounds, five coming in the final period.

“Kevin, it’s his best game that he’s had since he’s been here. He was under control. He rebounded. He made shots. He took shots under control, no quickness to it. He defended,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “This team he was made for. He likes that, banging, those guys, and he did a good job with that.”

As he continued to make jump hooks, dunks and even an uncontested short jumper, Seraphin’s wide-eyed giddiness was replaced with a confident gesture. He repeatedly dropped two fingers to signify that the baskets were good, and his teammates continued to hop up from their seats and egg him on.

“They wasn’t ready for him,” Nick Young said of the Lakers. “I told him, ‘Hit ’em with that crazy stuff.’ He went out there, did it, did that strong man stuff, wasn’t playing nervous.”

To call Seraphin’s performance unexpected is a bit of an understatement, because Seraphin had not only matched the fourth-quarter scoring total of Lakers all-star big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol — and doubled the output of Kobe Bryant — but he also surpassed his scoring total from his previous three games combined.

“Guys that don’t score started getting swag and we lost,” a dismissive Bynum said, without mentioning Seraphin by name.

Seraphin admitted afterward that the Lakers probably didn’t know who he was before the game. A 6-foot-9 backup center from French Guiana, Seraphin has scored in double figures only five times in his two-year career. He matched his previous career-high with 12 points in Orlando last month, holding his own against Magic all-star center Dwight Howard and even sending one of Howard’s jump hooks into the front row.

Wittman gave Seraphin his first start of the season when the Wizards played Orlando last week, and he continued to make Howard work for his baskets inside. But Seraphin failed to enter the next game against Cleveland because of a coach’s decision for the eighth time this season.

“This is the NBA,” said Seraphin, who is averaging just 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds. “Last year, I did that a lot. You have to be ready all the time. You have to know, sometime you play, sometime you will not play. That’s difficult. So I was just not thinking. Just play, go out on the court and try to do what is asked me to do and do my thing and that’s it.”

Seraphin had hoped to be more a part of the rotation after helping France finish second in the European Olympic qualifying last summer and playing for Caja Laboral, a perennial power in both the Euroleague and ACB Spanish league during the lockout. He has struggled with his confidence and often played hesitantly or rushed in limited action. But teammate Trevor Booker said he isn’t surprised that Seraphin has managed to be effective against some of the NBA’s best big men.

“Have you seen his body? He’s huge,” Booker said. “I think he might be the strongest player I’ve ever played against. He’s so strong, and he uses it to his advantage.”

Seraphin certainly used it to his advantage against the Lakers, as he backed down Matt Barnes and beat the shot clock with a jump hook, and later leaned into Gasol, shielded him with his left forearm and buried another jump hook to give the Wizards the lead for good.

But proving that he isn’t just some slow-footed, lumbering big man, Seraphin sprinted down the floor after a missed Derek Fisher three-pointer and got ahead of Bryant and Metta World Peace to catch a pass from John Wall for another two-handed, swinging dunk that made the score 102-99. JaVale McGee, who sat the final 15 minutes because of the Seraphin show, gleefully celebrated the jam by flexing and tapping his right biceps from the bench, signaling Seraphin’s brawn.

“That feel very good,” Seraphin said. “I just play hard. You know that’s how I do. That’s how I play. Toughness, that’s it.”

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