TORONTO — Nene and Trevor Booker were both seated on the bench, wearing identical walking boots on their left feet and seemingly matching gray suit jackets, as the Washington Wizards took on the Toronto Raptors on Sunday at Air Canada Centre.
With their usual starting center and power forward both out with pulled plantar fascias, the Wizards fielded their youngest starting lineup in franchise history — two rookies and three second-year players — as replacements Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin and regular starters John Wall, Jordan Crawford and Chris Singleton took to the court.
Coach Randy Wittman has joked that leading such a young team has led his hair to get a little grayer, and his players gave him reason to scoff, scream and fold his arms in frustration as the Wizards fell behind by 15 points in the fourth quarter. But his team made a valiant charge, twice getting within three points in the final 78 seconds, until it simply ran out of time and lost in Toronto for the fifth consecutive time, 99-92.
“We competed. No doubt about it. I still feel with an undermanned team, we should’ve won the game,” Crawford said after scoring a team-high 18 points. “We just had a lot of mental lapses, a lot of stupid mistakes that cost us the game.”
Wall had his 11th double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 assists, and flipped a pass behind to Seraphin for a dunk that brought the Wizards (12-40) within 89-86 with less than two minutes remaining. Needing a stop, the Wizards forced Raptors shooting guard DeMar DeRozan into missing a layup, but Seraphin moved to contest the shot, leaving reserve Amir Johnson alone to come soaring inside for a putback dunk. Andrea Bargnani then made two free throws that proved to be the decisive points.
“I thought our guys fought hard, being short-handed the way we were. We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Wittman said. “Rebounding hurt us tonight, their size, obviously. We couldn’t control the boards, and I think that was really the difference in the game.”
The Raptors outrebounded the Wizards, 43-31, and had five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Washington had just 10 players in uniform and was forced to give more playing time than usual to reserve forward Brian Cook and use the 6-foot-9 Singleton at power forward to match up with the 7-foot Bargnani.
“It’s tough, but we’ve been like this,” said Singleton, who made a career-high four three-pointers, scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out for the first time in his career. “When we won in New Orleans, we didn’t have a lot of people. Cook wasn’t here. We didn’t have Nene. We dealt with it before, but that’s no excuse. We’re all NBA players. We have to go out there and play.”
Seraphin had a career-high 16 points and Vesely added 10 points, including an impressive rebound putback on a Crawford miss, as all five Wizards starters scored in double figures for the first time since April 3, 2011. Roger Mason Jr. had 12 points off the bench.
The Wizards also had shared the ball, handing out 25 assists on 34 field goals, and barely held their ninth consecutive opponent below 100 points for the first time since the 2002-03 season — when Michael Jordan suited up with the franchise for the last season of his legendary career.
The Wizards trailed 9-1 at the start, fell behind by nine points near the end of the first half and rallied to get within 66-61 when Singleton made a free throw with 1 minute 37 seconds left in the third quarter. The Raptors scored the next eight points and led by 13 when Alan Anderson, a reserve on a 10-day contract, buried a three-pointer from the right corner. Bargnani (18 points, eight rebounds) later made two free throws to put his team ahead, 80-65, with 8:11 left. But the Wizards had one more run in them.
“We’re just playing hard, playing as a team,” Wall said. “It just shows we’re competing. I think teams are taking us more serious. That’s the thing you want to do. Don’t have teams come in thinking they can take full advantage of you.”
Vesely got the fifth start of his career and first since Feb. 3 in Toronto, where the Wizards were thrashed, 106-89. Booker replaced Vesely the next night and started 27 of the next 28 games before injury his left plantar fascia on Friday in the first quarter of the Wizards’ 97-76 win over Philadelphia. Nene left early in the fourth quarter with the same injury and the Wizards held on to win in his absence.
Nene and Booker both said they felt better but remain day-to-day, but Booker intimated that he would probably not be available on Monday when the Wizards host Milwaukee at Verizon Center. As for the duplicate looks in Toronto, Nene grabbed the lapel of his jacket and said jokingly, “He copied me.”