The Washington Wizards went with the same starting lineup for consecutive games for the first time in five games, but roster consistency and stability were hardly the reasons that they snapped an eight-game losing streak on Friday at Verizon Center.
They overcame an early 17-point deficit and recorded a relatively easy 105-97 victory over the Orlando Magic because backup shooting guard Jordan Crawford responded to losing his job as starting point guard by scoring and sharing more; because backup point guard Garrett Temple showed the value of an apprenticeship in the NBA Development League; and because reserve big man Kevin Seraphin was focused on not upsetting his “big brother,” Nene, once again.
Nene plugged in all the remaining holes, posting a double-double with a season-high 23 points and 11 rebounds and helping the Wizards build such a big lead that fans could turn their attention to more pressing matters in the fourth quarter. As Nene stepped to the foul line late in the game, he heard fans chanting “RGIII” for quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose Washington Redskins will play hated rival Dallas for the NFC East division title this weekend.
“I guess we’ll have RGIII whenever we win,” said rookie Bradley Beal, who gleefully dribbled out the final seconds of the Wizards’ first home win since Griffin sat courtside to watch them upset the defending champion Miami Heat on Dec. 4.
For one night, however, the Wizards actually earned some cheers of their own, as they shot 47.7 percent, never trailed in the second half and avenged an earlier loss in Orlando on Dec. 19. Crawford came off the bench for the second game in a row and matched his season high with 27 points. Seraphin had 17 points and Temple, who was playing in Reno last week, scored 13 points, handing out six assists and played solid defense on whomever Coach Randy Wittman assigned him to guard.
“Garrett doesn’t know half of what we’re doing and I’m throwing him out there to the wolves,” Wittman said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Crawford approached the long-awaited victory with routine nonchalance.
“We supposed to win. We got good players,” said Crawford, who repeatedly explained the reason for the win with two simple words: “Making shots.”
The Wizards (4-23), the NBA’s lowest-scoring and worst shooting team, improved their chances of defeating the Magic two weeks ago, when Emeka Okafor fouled Glen “Big Baby” Davis late in the fourth quarter, forcing Davis to leave Orlando’s 90-83 win with a sprained left shoulder. Orlando (12-17) has lost four in a row since losing Davis, its second-leading scorer.
But Friday’s game started out in dreadful fashion for the Wizards. Shelvin Mack’s second honeymoon with Washington came to a screeching halt in the first seven minutes against Orlando. Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, one of just three remaining members of the team that reached the 2009 NBA Finals, made four three-pointers — including three in as many possessions — and scored 14 points to give his team a 25-8 lead early in the first quarter.
“I told Shelvin he must’ve drank some hot juice. He wasn’t missing,” said Temple, who was inserted into the game and teamed up with Crawford to help the Wizards take control.
Crawford was moved out of the starting lineup in the previous game against Cleveland after the additions of point guards Mack and Temple — not to mention because of his late arrival for a shoot-around before that game.
If he was upset, Crawford didn’t say but instead responded with inspired play, scoring 18 points and handing out four assists in the first half, almost personally turning the game upside down with his shooting and passing. Crawford tossed a lob to Bradley Beal from just beyond the three-point line and Beal threw down the alley-oop dunk with two hands.
“He does it all the time. How he plays, he’s confident,” Beal said of Crawford. “We have confidence in him as well.”
Temple was a perfect 5 for 5 in the first half, scoring 11 points and earning a spot on the floor to begin the third period. The lead expanded to 15 in the third quarter.
The Magic moved within 83-80 when Arron Afflalo (26 points) made a driving layup, but the Wizards scored nine straight points, with Seraphin adding a layup that put the game out of reach. After a disappointing performance on Wednesday against Cleveland, Seraphin received an angry lecture from Nene on the need for him to play better in order to help the Wizards win.
Seraphin was all smiles after beating Orlando, and not just because he finished with his highest-scoring game of the month. Nene “was happy. He was glad,” Seraphin said. “He told me, ‘That’s the way to listen.’ ”
The Wizards will now try to end the calendar year on a high note, as they travel to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. “We’ve got to win. We’re playing well. Let’s play again,” Wittman said.