PHOENIX — As Bojan Bogdanovic described the 48 minutes of lunacy masked as a basketball game on Tuesday night, he kept using the same word: “Strange.”
“Maybe it’s fun for the fans or the guys in front of the TV,” Bogdanovic said after the Washington Wizards outlasted the Phoenix Suns, 131-127. “But it was a strange game for us.”
In this pick-up game on steroids, there were two ejections, five long scoring runs that included a 20-2 jaunt by the Suns after halftime which was immediately outdone by Washington’s 22-4 rush and an NBA-season high 53 free throw attempts for Washington. All peculiar events — and we haven’t yet addressed how a man dressed in a gorilla suit lunged onto the floor near Bogdanovic’s feet during game action.
“I’ve played in strange games in Europe,” Bogdanovic said, “but this game was strange. Too many ups and downs from our side.”
The night was strange, for sure. But nothing can quite match the oddity of witnessing the consistent production from the Wizards’ bench.
As Bogdanovic led his team with 29 points on only nine shots — the third time he’s scored 27 or more points in the last four games — he also set a Washington franchise record by making the most free throws without a miss (16 of 16). Center Ian Mahinmi, his knees improving game by game, produced a stunning plus-38 in 26 minutes of action and set a career mark with seven steals and season highs in scoring (15) and rebounds (nine).
Along with Bogdanovic and Mahinmi, Jason Smith continued displaying his understated veteran poise by dusting himself off from a recent DNP and connecting on 6 of 7 shots for 17 points. Buoyed by these efforts, the Wizards’ bench scored 65 points, the reserves’ highest mark in the season.
Strange but true, the sight of Wizards bench players on the court should no longer induce dry heaves. Washington (38-24), finally, has the depth fitting for a team that can compete deep into the playoffs.
“I give our guys credit off the bench. They came in and played really well,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s an understatement.”
Smith kept his cool after getting dinged with a head butt by Suns forward Jared Dudley in the second quarter. He also remained effective despite picking up three fouls in the first half. On the Wizards’ first possession of the fourth quarter, Smith stepped out and drilled a three-pointer to extend the lead to five points.
The team has cemented Mahinmi in the backup center role and since the all-star break, Smith has only played important minutes on March 1 against Toronto and Tuesday in Phoenix. But in those two games, Smith has made a combined 10 of 11 shots from the floor.
“I’m proud of the way he’s handled not playing consistently but he’s won us two games by being a pro and you can’t put a price on that,” Brooks said. “He was a big part of our win tonight.”
For another night, Mahinmi stepped on the floor earlier than expected due to Marcin Gortat’s foul trouble in the first quarter. Mahinmi far exceeded his minutes limit — he was supposed to play 16 but logged nearly 26 — but showed continued progress despite carrying the heavier load.
“I feel like my knees are feeling better,” Mahinmi said. “I’m moving better and I’m spending some time with my teammates, finally, on the court. I feel like the chemistry is much better now.”
This chemistry received its biggest jolt with the addition of Bogdanovic. He can mix in with starters as the sixth man, or carry the reserves through the opening minutes of the second quarter.
On Tuesday, Bogdanovic wasn’t thrown off when the Suns’ Gorilla mascot dived on the court to retrieve an object inches away from his feet.
“That’s probably going to be on ‘Shaqtin’-A-Fool.’ He scared me a little bit,” Bogdanovic said, laughing. “I thought it was a ballboy.”
Later, Bogdanovic wasn’t scared off from late-game pressure. Although Bogdanovic scored his first six points without registering an official shot attempt, he remained clutch in the fourth quarter by calmly making all seven free throw attempts.
“I’m always happy to have another guy who can help us,” John Wall said. “One thing Bogey does, he cuts to the basket. He can put the ball on the floor. That gives us another weapon that can create for us. He’s just coming in playing his role, being aggressive.
“You get to the free throw line 16 times, that’s big.”