Marcin Gortat didn’t sleep comfortably, or much at all, after the Wizards returned from Toronto early Saturday morning. Unnerved by some uneven play in his previous two games and a frustrating 96-88 loss to the Raptors that he put on his shoulders, Gortat was rummaging for solutions for his offensive woes and upset that he wasn’t giving his team more.
“I definitely had anger after last game,” said Gortat, whose towel-ripping display in the second half of that loss captured his agitation.
Gortat later spoke to Nene about positioning himself closer to the basket to get easier looks in the post and then watched to film to find out what he could do differently. But Gortat didn’t immediately find his rhythm as he missed his first three shots against the New York Knicks and started to wonder again what was going on.
“This time, I didn’t get frustrated,” Gortat said. “You’ve got to continue to play.”
John Wall helped Gortat get going when he spotted the 6-foot-11 big man running the floor on the break, paused to make the defense stop and flipped a no-look pass that Gortat finished with a dunk. Gortat would miss only one more shot the rest of the night and finish with 16 points but that first basket energized him on more than just on the offensive end. For the rest of the game, Gortat controlled the glass as he grabbed a season-high 17 rebounds –coming within one rebound of his career high – and also protected the rim as he added two blocked shots.
“There were a few different small things in the game that got me going,” Gortat said. “Offensive rebounds, the dunk. Just good defensive possessions and there were a few different things that helped me get my rhythm. John helped me to get some open looks on the pick and roll, I’m grateful to be playing with him.”
Martell Webster said Gortat “single-handedly set the tone” in the third quarter, when he scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds during a critical 23-11 run that helped the Wizards grab control of the game and turn a three-point deficit into a 72-63 lead. Gortat had four offensive rebounds during the run, including one sequence when he grabbed a Beal missed jumper, backed down Amare Stoudemire and buried a stepback fadeaway over him.
“He was the difference maker in the third quarter,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Gortat. “He came out and really changed the physicality of the game and I told our bigs…Nene and him, and [Trevor] Booker and Jan [Vesely] and [Kevin] Seraphin, they have to play with physical contact. They have to hit people. They have to stand people up. When we just play out there passive, it takes their aggression away.”
Gortat shot 7 for 11 from the field against the Knicks after going a combined 6 of 17 for 14 points against Cleveland and Toronto. The Knicks would often place their most physical defender, Kenyon Martin, on Nene and leave Gortat to work against Andrea Bargnani and Stoudemire. Gortat said Nene’s presence created more scoring opportunities for him.
“We all know Nene is going to go at everybody,” Gortat said. “It doesn’t if it’s an elephant or a little puppy. It’s fun to play. For some reason, they are putting the bigger guy on Nene, so I’m going to get a little puppy on me and I’m going to get rebounds and easy points.”
Still acclimating himself to a new scheme and new team after arriving just before the season opener in a trade with Phoenix, Gortat is almost averaging a double-double with 12.2 points and 9.8 rebounds, which ties him with Carmelo Anthony for 13th in the league. He has recorded six double-doubles.
Before completing the deal for Gortat, the Wizards spoke with a handful of teams in an attempt to acquire a center because of the uncertainty surrounding Emeka Okafor’s neck injury. According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, the Wizards contacted the Houston Rockets about disgruntled big man Omer Asik.
The conversation didn’t get very far, according to a source, because of the Rockets’ insistence on an unprotected first-round pick in the 2014 draft. At the time of the talks, Houston was still interested in seeing how the union between Asik and Dwight Howard would work out.
The Wizards were also apprehensive about the $15 million balloon payment that Asik is set to receive next season, according to the same source. Washington was finally able to make the deal with Phoenix when the Suns decided to accept a top-12 protected pick next summer.
“I think Marc has been good for us,” Wittman said. “He’s come in and given us good size. He’s the last line of defense at the rim, rebounding, he can score and I’ve been very pleased with what Marc has done for us.”
A few fans at Verizon Center showed their appreciation for Gortat’s contributions against the Knicks by chanting, “MVP,” when he shot free throws in the fourth quarter.
“I heard only Shaqtin’ a Fool,” Gortat said with a laugh, when asked about the recognition from the fans.
Gortat and Beal both made the TNT blooper highlight segment last Thursday. Gortat received dishonors for a failed attempt at Hakeem Olajuwon’s dream shake against Tim Duncan in San Antonio. He can laugh at himself, but he wants the Wizards (5-8) to start experiencing a few more wins.
“For a few different reasons, we started like that,” Gortat said. “I’m the new guy on the team, trying to find the comfort zone in this team. Trevor [Ariza] and Al [Harrington] is out right now and John is banged up, we just got to play through it and we kind of play through it. Each game, we are there, we just miss a few games to get over the hump and get a win. We got to come ready to play.”