Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat is expected to miss at least two games to be with his mother, who has been hospitalized in his native Poland, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The Wizards host the Phoenix Suns on Friday and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday before facing the Miami Heat in South Florida on Monday.
Gortat, who is traveling to Poland on Thursday, was informed of his mother’s condition on Tuesday before the Wizards’ win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He stayed with the team to play in Cleveland and filed perhaps his best all-around game of the season, totaling 15 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks. He also suited up Wednesday in Washington’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers and scored a season-high 18 points to go with 10 rebounds.
The 7-footer got off to a slow start this season, but his play has improved in recent games. He has posted double-doubles in four of Washington’s last five contests and is averaging 13.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in the nine games since Coach Randy Wittman criticized his rebounding effort in a lopsided loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is averaging 12 points and 8.7 rebounds in 28.9 minutes on the season.
Gortat, 31, has missed just one game since joining the Wizards on the eve of the 2013-14 campaign and his absence is particularly untimely for a front court that already depleted without Nene and Drew Gooden III. Both big men are nursing left calf injuries. Nene, Gortat’s backup, has missed Washington’s last three games after exiting in the first quarter of Washington’s loss to the Boston Celtics last Friday. A timetable for his return has not been announced. Gooden has been unavailable the last seven games, but was a game-time scratch Wednesday and is close to returning.
The two injuries prompted Washington to waive Martell Webster in order to sign center Ryan Hollins on Monday. Hollins, 31, made his Wizards debut against the Lakers. He recorded one rebound in 11 minutes.
“They’re not asking me to do something I can’t do or be someone that I’m not,” Hollins said Monday. “Just come in and be myself and give myself to the team.”
DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries are other options at center. Blair, however, has appeared in just six games this season and hasn’t played in the last three. Humphries started Washington’s first 13 games at power forward, becoming a three-point-shooting stretch-four for the first time in his career, but Jared Dudley has replaced him in the starting lineup in each of the last three games.
The 6-foot-9 Humphries had trouble adapting to the center position in Washington’s new offensive system during the preseason, according to Coach Randy Wittman, but has been used at center off the bench since his demotion. Humphries has played just under 34 of his 281 minutes on the floor as a center this season, according to basketball-reference.com.
“We’re trying, we’re trying,” Wittman said. “Last night that’s what he basically played.”
The Wizards could also occasionally utilize the ultra-small-ball lineup, featuring the 6-7 Dudley at center, that they successfully debuted Tuesday against the Cavaliers. Washington used two variations of the configuration for nine minutes and produced a plus-three. On Wednesday, Wittman indicated he won’t rely on it regularly, though that could change during Gortat’s departure.
“You probably won’t see Jared at the five very often if you’re planning on that,” Wittman said. “But versatility’s a big key. You hear me say it all the time: If you’re versatile enough to be able to play multiple positions, that makes you that much more effective. He can play the three, four. Last night the five. I’m not going to count on that a whole lot but we went to it last night. It helped us because they kind of went small and matched down to us and that’s not something they usually like to do.”