If you had been waiting all preseason to see Trevor Booker add some more recipes to the Cook Book, Jordan Crawford go on a one-man scoring run, Martell Webster block three shots, Jan Vesely to make two game-clinching free throws and A.J. Price to have a double-double, then you’re probably disappointed that you weren’t in Milwaukee on Saturday.
The Wizards needed all of those elements to come together in order to record their second victory of the preseason, with a 102-94 win over the Bucks at Bradley Center.
“It was a total team effort,” Price said. “I think we played together as a team on both ends of the floor. The things we wanted to do, we executed.”
Coach Randy Wittman has been tinkering and experimenting with lineups throughout the preseason, but he may have found the combinations that can best help the Wizards stay competitive – and possibly win a few games – as they wait for John Wall and Nene to get healthy. He started Emeka Okafor, Bradley Beal, Price and a double dose of Trevor, with Booker and Ariza (A search on www.basketball-reference.com revealed that only five Trevors have ever played in the NBA. The Wizards became the first team to start two of them).
Both Trevors played well, but Booker was the star of the game, turning his second preseason appearance into a showcase for nearly every weapon in the 6-foot-7 lefty’s offensive arsenal – dunks, mid-range jumpers, driving layups and even a right-handed hook. He scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed seven rebounds in less than 22 minutes, making up for some lost time.
“I was out a couple of weeks, but I’m feeling pretty good,” Booker said. “Still working though. Still trying to get that wind back. So hopefully next game, it’ll be better.”
Wittman won’t know what to do if Booker looks much better than he did against the Bucks. The plan was to keep Booker to limited minutes, since he is still recovering from a sore left hamstring. But Wittman said he had to let him play because “he was going too good.”
Booker had his most impressive sequence in a 20-second span in the first quarter, when he set a screen on Bucks guard Monta Ellis to get Beal open, then rolled to the basket to rebound an Ariza miss for an emphatic putback slam. As he backpedaled, Booker picked off a pass from Brandon Jennings, dribbled from halfcourt and dunked with two hands to the delight of his teammates on the bench.
“He’s a hustle-type player and he’s more skilled than people think,” Bucks Coach Scott Skiles said. “He can shoot the ball and he can finish with either hand. He’s big and strong and we certainly have respect for his game…He got loose on us. He was on the board and really active and we had trouble matching his intensity.”
After Booker got the Wizards started, Crawford came off the bench and heated up, Microwave style. At times, it looked like he was paying tribute to the iso-Joe offense ran by his former Atlanta Hawks teammate Joe Johnson. The Wizards put the ball in his hands, let him create, and he scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half.
Crawford scored or assisted 12 consecutive points in the first half, taking the Wizards from five points down to a seven-point lead when he found Vesely for a layup. Crawford made two difficult, contested jumpers, made a three-pointer, then decided to do a heat check as he pulled up for three on a one-on-two fastbreak and drained. Players on the Wizards laughed and shook their heads with disbelief as Crawford backpedaled, stone-faced.
“JC came off the bench and gave us a big spark,” said Ariza, who scored nine points with five rebounds and two assists.
Milwaukee was playing most of its regulars, which should leave the Wizards (2-4) encouraged about what they will look like when Wall and Nene return. Wittman tried several different lineups, using Vesely at center with Chris Singleton (eight points) at power forward and letting Crawford run point guard on the floor with Beal. During a critical stretch in the fourth quarter, Wittman played Cartier Martin, Brian Cook, Shelvin Mack, Crawford and Singleton.
“It’s good to see what you can do, because it’s going to come up at some point, foul trouble, somebody fouls out,” Wittman said.
He closed the game with Vesely and Price on the floor and they didn’t disappoint. Vesely was involved in two sequences that tested his resolve in the final minutes.
First, he got tangled up with former Virginia Commonwealth standout Larry Sanders and smirked as Sanders got in his face, challenging him. Then, he drew a foul and was sent to the free throw with the Wizards clinging to a 95-94 lead with 1 minute3 seconds remaining. Vesely knocked down both free throws and explained afterward that his goal in both situations was to stay calm.
“I just did my best to stay cool and make them,” said Vesely.
As for his exchange with Sanders, Vesely said, “I just don’t want to make problems. It was just preseason, we play for nothing. We just need to play the game. I don’t want to make some fights and things like that. I just stay calm.”
Price showed some more calm later as he knocked down a three-point dagger, forcing Skiles to call a timeout. He marched to bench, shouting and talking smack, after sealing the win.
“You hit a big shot like that, to decide the game, it feels good,” Price said.
It probably felt better that Price is slowly starting to separate himself from Mack and Jannero Pargo in the starting point guard battle. He had 17 points, 11 assists and four rebounds and only had two turnovers – one in each half. He had eight points and eight assists in the loss to Toronto.
“This is the two best games he’s played, back to back, here,” Wittman said. “And that was really good.”
Price said he hasn’t given much thought to the competition to fill in for Wall, with his only concern being to help the team win.
“I’m just playing,” he said. “However the game comes to me, taking what the defense gives me and just trying to keep this locomotive running as smoothly as possible. That’s my job and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”