Nothing easy, Jermaine. (AP Photo/Matt York) Nothing easy, Jermaine. (AP Photo/Matt York)

If there was any wonder how Jason Collins went from never playing, to starting, to actually helping the Wizards claim a victory in a building where they had lost five straight, the 12-year veteran big man showed it with his post-game resourcefulness.

Right hand wrapped in ice, Collins needed some assistance to quench his thirst after the Wizards defeated the Phoenix Suns, 88-79, on Wednesday at US Airways Center. He reached for a bottled water in the refrigerator inside visitor’s locker room but couldn’t separate it from the plastic linking the six pack.

So, he asked a reporter to hold the other bottles as he ripped one away. Then, after being unable to open the bottle by himself, Collins again asked the reporter to hold the bottle as he twisted it open and took a swig.

Despite a less than ideal situation, Collins made the best of it – just as he has after leaving a solid role on a possible playoff team in Boston to collecting DNP-CDs for a lottery team in Washington.

“Ahh, okay. Let’s go,” Collins said before conducting the interview.

Coach Randy Wittman told Collins during shootaround that there was chance that he would get a start in Phoenix after not appearing in 13 of the 14 games the Wizards had played since acquiring him from Boston in exchange for Jordan Crawford at the trade deadline.

Emeka Okafor had been the one constant this season for the Wizards, suiting up for the first 66 games whether or not Nene, John Wall or Bradley Beal were playing; adjusting to 19 different starting lineups and suffering through all 43 losses.

Okafor’s ability to stay in the lineup is a reflection of his dedication to a strict program to keep his body in its best condition. But that diligence could not spare him from a flu bug that wiped him out of Thursday’s practice and eventually forced him to miss his first game of the season.

Collins got the call, though he had yet to record a statistic – not even a foul – in his one appearance, a three-minute stint in Cleveland. But the timing of Okafor’s illness worked out well for Collins, because the game was against Phoenix, which relies on the inside play of veteran Jermaine O’Neal.

“That was sort of like circa 2003 matchup, Indiana versus New Jersey flashback right there,” Collins said with a laugh about going up against a fellow 30-something. “He’s been playing really well this whole season for Phoenix. It’s cool seeing another big getting the job done. I knew I just had to battle him, making shoot jump shots, keep him out of the paint.”

Collins went scoreless but handled his business on the defensive end. O’Neal scored 12 points but missed 8 of 11 from the field and got only one shot to fall while Collins shared the floor with him. In the fourth quarter, Collins forced O’Neal into three missed shots, and he blocked a short jumper.

In 17 minutes, Collins had three rebounds, two steals, two blocks, and four personal fouls.

“Once I got my second wind, I was fine. That first wind,” Collins said, shaking his head after not playing in the four previous games. “…Obviously, I do a great job of running on the treadmill but there is no way of simulating it, the NBA is much different than running sprints on a treadmill.”

Nene, who spent time in the locker room rubbing his jaw after absorbing a hit from Suns forward Luis Scola, praised Collins for providing some physical play for the Wizards.

Okafor is expected to return Friday when the Wizards take on the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. But given his reputation for flustering Dwight Howard throughout his career, Collins will probably get an opportunity to defend and hack him. Either way, Collins is prepared.

“My job as a professional is to be ready when your name and number is called,” he said. “You always have to be ready.”