John Wall, Nene and Martell Webster all needed extended sessions in the training room after the Wizards defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 108-101, on Saturday night at Verizon Center.
If there is a down side to the team emerging from the grind of playing four games in five nights in consecutive weeks with a 6-2 record, it was that the Wizards’ flimsy bench applied so much pressure on the starters to carry the load.
During those eight games, the reserves scored in double digits only four times. They accounted for 14 of the Wizards’ 108 points against Atlanta, but only two backups – Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton – played at least 15 minutes.
“We’ve had some good nights and some not-s0- good nights,” Coach Randy Wittman said of his backups. “I tell those guys that I’m searching right now. This is their opportunity to audition, to show me that they deserve to be out there. I’m using just about everybody in the minutes that I can, but I can’t wait around. The bottom line is, that we put ourselves in the position to win, and I’m not going to lose a game.”
In the second of back-to-back games, Webster and Marcin Gortat played 41 minutes. Wall played 39. Trevor Ariza played 38 and Nene, who missed the previous game with sore right Achilles’ tendon, logged 36. Bradley Beal, the NBA leader in minutes per game, already intimated that playing heavy minutes probably contributed to the stress injury in his right fibula. And Nene hobbled out of the locker room after the game, dragging the right leg that has been giving him so much grief this season.
In the past week, Webster played at least 40 minutes three times, Wall played at least 37 minutes three times, Gortat played at least 40 minutes twice and Ariza played at least 38 minutes twice. Nene played at least 35 minutes in the three games in which he played.
“Rest is always important, especially when you are playing a lot. We definitely need to get some production off the bench,” Ariza said. “It’s not like those guys are trying to play bad. It’s just rough. It’s a good thing we have a few days to work on some things. I’m positive the bench will get it together.”
But until Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (right hip) and Al Harrington (right knee) return from their respective injuries – or someone in the second unit steps up – Wittman said he probably won’t change much from what he’s been doing, especially given the playoffs-or-else edict from owner Ted Leonsis.
“I’m trying to do the best I can from the standpoint of getting smarter with a sub before a timeout, and let them get the timeout,” Wittman said. “Some of these guys are reaching into 40-plus, which I don’t like to do, but you know what, if we have to go out and win a game, we’re going to go out and win a game.”
Gortat suggested that exhaustion played a role in the Wizards’ inability to hold on to an 18-point lead against the Hawks. Atlanta chopped the lead to two before the Wizards regained control.
“It was a really tough game, because a lot of people was really tired and we hit a lot of fatigue in the end of the third and fourth quarter, but we ended up getting a win,” Gortat said. “We definitely felt that stretch in the past few weeks, we definitely felt in the last minute, a lot of people tired, barely moving. A lot of mistakes came from being fatigued.”
In his third game since returning from a broken left foot, Singleton got his most extended playing time and had four points, five rebounds and two steals. Vesely had four points, including two huge free throws. And Eric Maynor also had four points, but he had another poor performance backing up Wall. Kevin Seraphin had two points but Trevor Booker and Glen Rice Jr. didn’t play.
“Once in a blue moon they have a good game. They just got to be comfortable. It’s tough trying to find a rotation with certain guys being injured especially like Chris, he just got back,” Wall said. “Otto is coming back soon. You don’t know what you want to do, where you’re putting certain guys. I tell Glen Rice and all those young guys just keep working, putting in your time. … We’ll figure out what our bench should be like. We don’t even know who we’re going to play certain nights.”
In nine minutes, Maynor had a plus-minus of negative-nine. In one forgettable sequence, he lost his dribble out of bounds without getting any pressure from the defense and then shot an air ball three-pointer well over the rim. Maynor has the lowest total plus-minus of any Wizard this season at negative-97. Wittman said Maynor has to play more aggressively.
“Sometimes when you get into not playing confidently, you regress and instead of aggressive and overly aggressive, you tend to be too safe and you can’t do that,” Wittman said. “It makes things worse.”
Since moving into the starting lineup, Webster has been averaging 40.7 minutes, which would be the most in the NBA. He believes the intense workload will make the Wizards better in the long run.
“Trying to build a callus. We have to continue to play that way, next thing you know, you’ll be immune to that. It’ll be instinct. That’s the identity we want to have, of a grinding team that does all the dirty things and the little things,” Webster said. “It’s all we have. We’ve got to perform. The people that we have coming off the bench, even when I was on the second unit, you’ve got to perform. The guys that we have are capable of doing it, we just got to perform. We’re winning these games and hopefully we’re taking something from it, understanding that the second unit has to pick up where the first unit left off. It’s something we can do and we will.”