ORLANDO – Through one wild, 48-minute, amusement park ride of a game, the Washington Wizards were taken through a gamut of emotion, beginning with the sadness of missed shots in the first quarter, the surprise of an Otto Porter Jr. alley-oop dunk in the second, the frightening sight of Nene grimacing and reaching his troublesome left knee, and the comedy of a Trevor Booker crash landing that, fortunately, ended with no one hurt.
After surviving the dramatic turns, the Wizards left the Amway Center with a 96-86 victory over the Orlando Magic that showed the team the value of having the skill and savvy of Nene back in the lineup; that the seldom-used Porter is capable of contributing in meaningful games, and that they can win even when their three-point shooting takes a vacation.
Perhaps most important, the win also put the Wizards (41-38) back in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race after Charlotte, which holds the tiebreaker with the Wizards, lost at Boston on Friday to drop to 40-39.
“It’s definitely great for us to be able to come out and get a win like this,” Bradley Beal said after the Wizards secured at least a .500 record for the first time in six years.
Washington snapped a two-game skid and swept the season series against Orlando for the first time since the 1989-90 season — the Magic’s expansion year.
“Let’s worry about Milwaukee,” Randy Wittman said, mentioning the Wizards’ opponent on Saturday at Verizon Center. “It does us no good if we don’t take care of ourselves. If we take care of our business, then that’ll work out — but we’ve got to take care of our business.”
Nene scored a team-high 17 points and his influence on the Wizards has been well documented. The revelation for the Wizards came in the form of Porter, who tied his career high with nine points and grabbed a career-high nine rebounds while helping his team rally from a 14-point first-half deficit.
Wittman’s lineups were unusual as he tried to reincorporate Nene while making the most of the ailing Trevor Ariza, who has been fighting the flu for nearly a week. Nevertheless, the experimentation yielded the desired outcome as the Wizards won without huge games from John Wall or Bradley Beal – and despite shooting 2 of 19 from three-point range.
Wall had 10 points and 12 assists and Beal had 16 points, but the Wizards also got a boost from Booker, who played well for the second game with Nene back in the fold. Booker scored 14 points and inspired an animated reaction from his teammates when he went flying into assistant coach Don Newman on the Wizards’ bench after sending an Andrew Nicholson jumper into the fourth row.
Booker came up grabbing his ribs after the emphatic block, but he couldn’t help but smile after teammates patted him on his back and the top of his head to celebrate the blocked shot. He was also relieved that he didn’t hurt Newman, who had right knee surgery last week but emerged unscathed.
“I was worried about Coach Newman, because I almost fell on his leg. Now he’s got his lawyers after me,” Booker said with a laugh. “We’re trying to win every game right now, trying to get that sixth seed. So we’re definitely keeping up with it. We just got to keep up with our part.”
Wittman has often defended the seldom-used Porter, the former Georgetown star who was the team’s top pick (third overall) last June, yet has been unable to find many opportunities to play him with those minutes occupied by veterans Ariza and Martell Webster. But with Ariza still feeling the effects of the flu and Webster struggling with his shot, Wittman decided to call on the rookie and he helped the Wizards rally from a 32-18 deficit to take a 38-36 lead when Wall found him under the basket for a layup.
The run began with Andre Miller spotted Porter trailing on the opposite wing and tossed a lob that third overall pick from Georgetown threw down with both hands. Porter’s teammates hopped up from their seats to celebrate on the bench.
“At Georgetown, they shoot nothing but layups. We were kind of surprised to see a dunk,” Beal said with a laugh.
“That oop is from my high school days, running and getting alley-oops. I still got it,” said Porter, who is graduated from high school three years ago. “But [Brad]’s right. Georgetown, very few dunks.”
Nene provided a scare early in the fourth quarter, when the left knee that kept him sidelined for six weeks collided with the right leg of Magic rookie Victor Oladipo. He hobbled to the bench and immediately started wincing but calmed his concerned teammates when he gave a thumps up gesture. After returning to the court, Nene made a jump hook and another jumper to tie the game and then put the Wizards ahead, 77-73, with a reverse layup.
Wittman then had to sit Nene and hope that his team could hold off a Magic team that has recorded 19 home wins this season. Orlando trailed 83-82 when Tobias Harris made two free throws, but Wall found Marcin Gortat (12 points) for a thunderous dunk and then Porter followed with a huge tip-in but the Wizards up 87-82.
“Everything is sore. I twist my ankle, my right, my left, I bumped my knee, so yeah,” Nene said afterward. “I know team the need me, I know I need to improve myself to prepare myself for playoffs and that’s what we’re doing.”
wizards 96, magic 86