In this space-and-pace age of modern basketball, the Washington Wizards have kept one foot cemented in the past and the other planted beyond the three-point arc. The Wizards employ three traditional centers and will just as likely hoist a long two-pointer as a corner three. But on Friday night, the Wizards mirrored their opponent, the Houston Rockets, in their 121-103 win. Against the team that leads the NBA in three-pointers made and attempted, Washington launched 36 three-pointers, a single-game franchise high, and made 18 to equal a team record.
Those numbers may seem like beginner-level stuff for some NBA teams — the Rockets average 43.1 three-pointers attempted per game — but they signify Washington’s attempt to match its peers.
On Friday night, starting center Marcin Gortat played less than 19 minutes as the Wizards continued a recent trend of relying more on a small-ball lineup. The offense opens up with Markieff Morris playing at center along with four wings, and against the wide-open Rockets, five Wizards attempted at least four shots from beyond the arc.
Although Otto Porter Jr. enjoyed a strong game in matching a career-best with seven three-pointers, the key beneficiary was Jodie Meeks. Brought in this summer as a free agent solely to boost the bench’s perimeter shooting, he looked sharp in his long-anticipated role.
Against the Rockets, Meeks made 3 of 6 three-pointers and finished with 13 points in nearly 18 minutes. The performance continued his breakthrough from Wednesday, when Meeks snapped a month-long cold streak by making 4 of 6 from the field, including his only three-point attempt.
“I thought the bright spot about last game, he was making shots,” Coach Scott Brooks said Friday, referring to the team’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. “Whether he was comfortable playing in his home town, [but] you can just see it. He was comfortable playing against them the last game and he had some carry-over here tonight.”
Before facing Atlanta, Meeks played nine consecutive games in which he shot at a 33 percent clip from the field or worse. He shot worse than 22 percent on three-pointers during that stretch, and he seemed more like a liability from beyond the arc than a specialist. Even so, Meeks maintained the steely confidence of a gunner and stayed true to his shooting routine.
“I don’t try to think about it or talk about it. Shooters shoot, they don’t think about the shot or how many shots they missed previously,” Meeks said. “You just have to live with the results. I work hard and that gives me the confidence. When things aren’t going too well, I just think back to the work I put in and eventually it’ll turn around.”
Through the cold snap, Meeks kept shooting. Before practice. After practice. Even after midnight, when he would go to the gymnasium inside his apartment building to loft “a couple hundred” until 2 a.m.
In Atlanta, in front of more than 20 family members and friends, Meeks mostly stayed within the perimeter and did not attempt a three until late in the fourth quarter. However when he entered the game Friday night, Meeks, back in rhythm and welcoming the fast pace afforded by Houston’s defense, made sure to shoot a three on his first attempt.
“Just getting him open shots. That’s the key,” said John Wall about Meeks breaking out of his slump. “I mean, a lot of times he’s been kind of trying to find his shot on his own. That’s not really Jodie’s game. Jodie’s game is spot up, be able to knock down wide open shots, guys run off the line, get to his floater, get to the foul line and that’s something he’s done the last two games. It’s good for us because we definitely need it, to help Brad [Beal] get a rest at times and just be another scorer for our team.”
During the second quarter, Meeks made all three of his shots, including a corner three that fell through the net as he absorbed a foul.
“That was nice,” Meeks said, chuckling about the four-point play. “That’s always one of those things, ‘Oh, I’m hot tonight.’ You always want to ride the momentum.”
Meeks did not shoot the most threes on the team. He didn’t even lead the Wizards’ bench in attempts — that number belonged to Kelly Oubre Jr., who shot seven. However, with Meeks beginning to return to form, the Wizards can take more bold steps into the new age.
“We need him to make shots,” Brooks said. “He’s been a 40 percent three-point shooter his entire career and we need that out of him. He’s going to get those shots and we’re going to keep working with him.”
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