Martell Webster lurked behind Bradley Beal inside the Wizards locker room, silent and stone-faced, mouthing every word Beal said and mimicking every gesture Beal did to the cameras before them. “Did you know you had an interpreter behind you?” someone soon offered to Beal, at which point Webster whipped around back to his stall and pretended nothing had ever happened.
The mood was light following Saturday night’s 94-93 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Nene had slammed down the deciding dunk with 0.3 seconds left, saving Washington from another demoralizing home loss against another lesser foe. So there were jokes. There were smiles. There was Webster, wearing a black T-shirt that read, “#DadLife,” mopping the sweat off a reporter’s head and calling for makeup.
“It was an amazing victory,” Nene said later, once most of his teammates had cleared out for the flight to Cleveland.
It should not have been, at least in theory. The Pelicans entered eight games below .500, with one all-star in forward Anthony Davis and a supporting cast of backups. Washington, meanwhile, returned home after exorcising some demons in Atlanta, but needed every bit of emotion and good fortune to summon its first two-game winning streak since topping Oklahoma City and Portland at Verizon Center earlier this month.
Back then, on Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, those games offered everything potentially dangerous about the Wizards, when they were at their best against the league’s best at home. But they have also lost here against bottom-feeders like Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland (twice) thanks to lethargy, which again threatened to capsize the ship on Saturday.
“For whatever reason, here at home, I think we think it’s automatically going to happen,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I don’t know. But you know what, you take any win in this league anyhow you can get it.”
For that, the Wizards have their big men to thank. Beal (11 points on 4 of 13 shooting and zero threes) was a non-factor. Webster, before sinking two late threes, endured similar shooting struggles and John Wall had scored just six points midway through the fourth quarter. Nene, however, was dominant. Even with the league’s best shot-blocker in Davis, New Orleans had just one competent post defender to guard two big men. Here was where Washington took advantage.
Working through Nene, who tied his career-high with 30 points, and center Marcin Gortat, (16 points, 10 rebounds), Washington helped overcome its poor outside night and traded blows with the Pelicans throughout the second half. It was tied at intermission and again at the end of three quarters, and not until Wall penetrated the lane, drew the defense’s attention and found Nene for the slam was the game firmly secure for one side or the other.
“It was definitely an ugly win,” Beal said. “Sloppy all over the place. But we did a great job of just bearing down.”
Small victories, relatively unrelated to the final score, emerged along the way too. Guard Andre Miller made his Wizards debut since being traded from Denver and played 16 relatively mistake-free minutes, scoring five points, grabbing three rebounds and handing out three assists. Forward Al Harrington played for the first time since early November, returning from knee surgery with a brief, 33-second appearance before halftime.
There was plenty to dissect and scrutinize – 17 turnovers among them, but the Wizards will carry with them to Cleveland the happiness born from an escape. If the game had ended when Nene fouled Davis and the second-year forward sank two free throws, the locker room would have contained an entirely different atmosphere. There would have been more talk about sinking further below .500, about Washington’s inability to put away bad teams, and Wittman’s suggestion that he stick the Wizards in a hotel before home games to shake up the routine might not have been taken so jokingly.
“I have no idea,” Beal said. “We’ve got to change our routine somehow, just do something different. Somehow we always find a way to just battle back and get wins, but we definitely have to get out to a better start.”
Instead, after another night had been salvaged, Webster could crouch down behind Beal, flash a toothy grin and, as the cameras rolled, keep up the world’s longest photo bomb.