MIAMI — Good times have been scarce during the first month of the Washington Wizards' season. But after defeating the Miami Heat Saturday night for the third win in 12 games, Washington avoided again tumbling into the national news cycle as the NBA’s most dysfunctional team.
The newest Wizards could also breathe without scrutiny questioning whether they even fit on this roster.
“Dwight [Howard] had 16 boards. Jeff Green and Austin [Rivers] came in and did a big job,” Coach Scott Brooks said, highlighting last summer’s pickups. “They were a big part of this win.”
The new guys were more than suitable during the second meeting against the Heat, the team that spoiled Washington’s season opener at home.
On Oct. 18, Miami crushed the Wizards under the glass and won the game after a late offensive rebound and put back by Kelly Olynyk. Washington reversed that trend in the rematch. Howard had missed the first game while recovering from a piriformis muscle injury, and though on Saturday he rued the fact that his conditioning caused him to miss out on an even bigger haul of rebounds, he was the primary reason the Wizards were plus-10 on the boards.
“I think we got to continue to do that and I got to get my wind up,” Howard said. “Maybe I’ll get some more rebounds.”
In the previous Heat matchup, no bench player finished with a plus-minus number above zero, but this time Green led a productive unit that included Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ian Mahinmi. Green played starter’s minutes in place of a foul-plagued Markieff Morris and did not miss a field goal attempt until the fourth quarter. He finished a team-best plus-14, dunked a couple of alley-oop finishes and tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“When you do it together,” said Green, who signed a one-year deal with Washington, “when you play well together and you play for each other, any time you win, it feels good.”
Rivers took it upon himself to perform as the player the Wizards traded for in the summer.
Since his Wizards' debut a month ago against the Heat, Rivers has struggled with being the new guy who stays in his lane vs. being his true self, an aggressive playmaker who, as he has previously described, “attacks peoples' throats.” Last year, Rivers was a starter and averaged 15.1 points for the Los Angeles Clippers. When the Wizards made the Marcin Gortat-Rivers swap, the idea was for Rivers to bring this instant offense off the bench and to also form a potentially dangerous trio with John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Although Brooks has used that three-man lineup in all 12 games, the group has produced only a slight point differential (plus-1.2) per 36 minutes and Rivers has been largely relegated to a defensive role. On Friday night when the Wizards lost to the Orlando Magic, Rivers finished with only one shot attempt.
Against the Heat, however, Rivers found his rhythm by first playing with an all-bench lineup. He looked to attack whenever possible, scoring his first four field goals at the rim. Rivers remained on the prowl for “peoples' throats” while finishing the game with starters and taking a season-high 12 shots for 18 points.
“ ‘Finally, welcome to the team.’ That’s what I told him,” said Wall, relaying his message to Rivers. “Just be aggressive. That’s the game you know how to play and when you go out there thinking and trying to do different things, it doesn’t work.
“That’s his game. His game has always been getting downhill, get to the basket, get the free throw line,” Wall continued. “And after that, he made a couple shots. He started making threes and [got] confidence.”