Jodie Meeks remained on the bench until the Washington Wizards pulled safely into the closing two minutes of their 107-93 win against the Charlotte Hornets. Marcin Gortat spent plenty of time on the sidelines as well, logging the fewest minutes of the four healthy starters.
On Saturday, John Wall played for the first time in two months. His reappearance in the lineup caused a shake-up in how the Wizards play — and, who plays. Since only six games remain until the postseason begins, Coach Scott Brooks tested his most preferred rotation and utilized just nine players for the majority of the game.
Ahead of the matchup, Brooks revealed how the Wizards can now play a smaller lineup with Wall, Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter Jr. and Markieff Morris, with reserve Kelly Oubre Jr. also getting into the mix. With this comes a warning: players must spend their time on the floor wisely.
“Now you’re going to have to fight for minutes and not make mistakes,” Brooks said.
Brooks opted for a super-small lineup when Hornets center Dwight Howard checked out of the game. He stuck to this plan even after Morris left the game with flulike symptoms having played only 9 minutes 33 seconds. Instead of relying on backup center Ian Mahinmi, who played under 18 minutes, Brooks called on 6-foot-9 Mike Scott to take over the five-spot. Then with 5:32 remaining in the second quarter, Gortat stripped off his warm-ups to check back in only after Howard (22 points, 10 rebounds) got up from the Hornets’ bench.
Although Gortat remains on track to play all 82 games for the second consecutive season, he just concluded a month in which he has averaged 22.3 minutes per game — his lowest since December 2010, the same month when he missed two games after being dealt from the Orlando Magic to the Phoenix Suns.
Earlier this week, Brooks provided two important reasons behind Gortat’s dwindling minutes in March. Brooks has tried to match up with opponents, but he has also searched for better production.
“We got to try and find good minutes at all our of guys,” Brooks explained. “There’s nights that it is matchups. There’s nights that he hasn’t played well. And then there’s nights that Ian has played well. There’s nights that we’re going small with Keef, so it’s just a bunch of different things we look at as a staff and I look at throughout the game. To me, it’s all about playing your minutes hard and playing them well. It’s not about how many minutes and if you focus on your minutes, you’re probably not focusing on the right things. And from what I gather, he’s focused on the right things. So hopefully that the 21 minutes doesn’t affect him to play ’em well.”
On Saturday night, Brooks stayed true to his words. Players can “not make mistakes.” So, near the midway point of the fourth quarter when Mahinmi could not convert a layup, Brooks looked down the sideline and called in Gortat. Brooks turned that way again with 1:44 remaining to send in Meeks, who has played as Beal’s regular backup for 26 of the last 27 games. Wall has returned, but with his addition comes a subtraction in the rotation.
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