The Washington Wizards led the Philadelphia 76ers by 20 points with seven minutes remaining Monday when Coach Randy Wittman looked toward the end of his bench and decided it was a good time to give seldom-used rookie Otto Porter Jr. and third-year swingman Chris Singleton a chance to finish the game with fellow reserves Kevin Seraphin, Martell Webster and Garrett Temple.
The lead became 21 when Porter got fouled on a three-pointer and made 2 of 3 free throws. But Wittman didn’t want his starters to get too relaxed on the bench, telling them to be ready just in case. The trainers didn’t start applying ice packs to knees, and John Wall heeded the advice of an old coach who always told him, “Never unlace your shoes.”
That prudent approach helped the Wizards hold on for a 107-99 victory after the backups treated the lead like a pair of holey socks — and it got down to single digits in less than five minutes. A one-time laugher quickly put the Wizards in survival mode and forced Wittman to call on his starters to close.
“I don’t think they were ready. It’s just too bad for them because they had an opportunity to get some playing time, and they just wasted it,” said Marcin Gortat, who started his career as Dwight Howard’s backup in Orlando. “I know how I was playing my first four years behind Dwight’s back. I was just praying for a few seconds on the court, and every time when I got on the court, I would just die before Coach would sub me out. I’m just glad we got the win.”
The Wizards still played well enough to win for the fourth time in five games behind Bradley Beal’s scoring and playmaking, Gortat’s rebounding and interior defense and Seraphin’s unexpected offensive burst after playing a total of 82 seconds in the previous four games. At 20-20, the Wizards are at .500 again with a fifth chance to claim a winning record Wednesday when they host the Boston Celtics. The Wizards have treated the topic of getting over the hump as taboo, but Wittman wants his players to focus on something else.
“It’s not a magical thing. I don’t think all of a sudden fairy dust is going to fall on us if we get over .500 and we’re not going to lose another game,” Wittman said. “We just got to continue to play the right way. That’s all I want to do.”
With Wall having a pedestrian performance (14 points, five assists) after doing much of the heavy lifting last week, Beal bounced back from one the worst shooting nights of his career to lead the Wizards with 22 points, a season-high nine rebounds and eight assists, tying a career high. After missing 12 of 14 shots in a loss against the Pistons on Saturday, Beal said he had to have “amnesia” and moved on. He also got a phone call from his mother, Besta, who “went off on me that I had to get my head out of my butt and shoot the ball the right way.”
Beal found Trevor Ariza for a three-pointer, fed Gortat for an alley-oop dunk and a driving layup and tossed a lob pass extremely high to reserve Jan Vesely, who threw down an impressive two-handed dunk.
“I thought it was a turnover. I threw it so high. But with Jan, you can throw it to the top of the backboard and he’ll get it. I’m glad he caught it because Witt probably would’ve chewed me out,” Beal said with a laugh.
Gortat had his 14th double-double of the season with 19 points and 11 rebounds and also matched his season high with four blocked shots on an afternoon in which the Wizards had a season-high 12. They beat the 76ers (13-28) for the second time this season to improve to 18-6 against teams with losing records. Gortat, however, did want to hear about the Wizards’ struggles to get a winning record.
“Every time we talk about being a .500 team and getting over .500, we have teams come in here and punking our butts,” Gortat said. “We just have another game, that’s it.”
The Wizards were playing without key reserve Trevor Booker, who sprained his left ankle against Detroit, but that opened up opportunities for Vesely and Seraphin. Vesely had six points, all on alley-oop dunks, and Seraphin was a dominant presence inside as he scored 16 points in 23 minutes.
Porter had appeared in only two of the previous four games and was seeking a chance but quickly threw a pass to 76ers reserve Elliott Williams and later threw a lob to Webster that was a few feet higher than the backboard. When Singleton was called for traveling, Wittman put his starters back in, but the 76ers still got within 100-92 with 2 minutes 26 seconds remaining. The Wizards missed 10 straight field goals in the fourth quarter before Ariza dunked to put Washington up 11 with 19.3 seconds left.
“Guys who want to play or think they should be in the rotation better show where it counts, and that’s the bottom line,” Wittman said. “I always tell you, ‘Always be ready, you never know.’ I’ve been in this league for 30 years, and I’ve seen some wild things. You think a game is over, but it’s not over. Guys that come in the game, we’re throwing half-court alley-oop passes going in the upper deck, turning and throwing the ball to the other team. You’re called upon, that’s an audition.”
Wall said he was disappointed he had to return. “You watch those guys work hard and do other things, and as starters, we play a lot of big minutes and we like to see those guys do a good job. We stand up and clap and cheer for those guys. It was frustrating. Good thing is we still got the win.”