Midway through the second quarter of Thursday night's loss to the New York Knicks, Coach Gar Heard sent most of his starters back into the game. Backup point guard Chris Whitney sat down with no points, no steals and one assist.
Whitney did not seem at all pleased with his performance. But he got a second chance later in the game, burying a fourth-quarter three-pointer to pull the Wizards within one. Then he made a layup to give Washington a two-point lead. He later sank another three-pointer to extend the Wizards' lead to eight.
Like other Wizards reserves who excelled early in the season, Whitney recently has struggled during stretches in which the Wizards needed their bench to maintain leads or keep a game close. However, he has made key contributions, as has small forward Tracy Murray, at crucial times, even if the result has not always meant a victory.
The Wizards (10-20) have lost three of their last four entering tonight's game with the Golden State Warriors (6-23) at MCI Center. Washington is last in the Atlantic Division and the Warriors, who last week fired coach P.J. Carlesimo and replaced him with General Manager Garry St. Jean, occupy the basement of the Pacific Division.
"Every shot I take, I try to make it a clutch shot," said Whitney, who is averaging 5.3 points and 2.9 assists. "For some reason late in the game or when we're making a run we seem to come up with a big jumper. That's what we need every time we come off the bench. We don't need to make spectacular plays, just solid plays. In the first half, the same shot might have been there but didn't go down until the second half."
Murray has been more consistent offensively than most of his fellow backups any time he has entered the game. Yet he has saved his best for last lately. He knocked down a big three-pointer that gave Washington a chance to defeat Cleveland. The next night he hit another three-point shot against the Knicks that trimmed a four-point deficit to one with 40.9 seconds left in the game.
"Those are situations I'm used to being in," said Murray, who is scoring eight points a game and has made eight of his last 14 three-point attempts. "In the past when I'm at my best is usually when I take and knock shots down at the wire. When there's some big shots that are needed, I'm usually one of the guys that is there to knock them down."
Despite the clutch baskets the Wizards have received from their reserves, Heard said his bench has not been effective enough.
Lately the reserves have blown leads and allowed opponents to put them in fairly deep holes, as was the case against the Knicks. The starters' five-point first-quarter lead turned into a six-point, second-quarter deficit before the Wizards' starters, with a sprinkling of reserves, rallied to post a one-point halftime edge.
"Early in the year not only were they keeping us in the game they were getting us leads or catching up," Heard said of his backups. "Now we put them in the game and it seems like we lost that edge. We've got to get that edge back. Our starters have been doing a great job, but our bench has been slipping."