Defending elite wing players has been an alarming issue for the Washington Wizards, and no player has caused more headaches than Carmelo Anthony. The New York Knicks star has recorded two of his top three scoring efforts this season at the expense of the Wizards, averaging 35 points in the two contests. Wizards Coach Randy Wittman didn’t need to be reminded of the gaudy numbers.
“I think we know that,” Wittman said with a tinge of sarcasm 90 minutes before his team attempted to reverse the trend against Anthony on Saturday night at Verizon Center.
The victory was the Wizards’ fourth straight, matching a season high. At 34-35, they remained 11/2 games behind the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls and Pistons also won Saturday.
The game started with Anthony wreaking havoc on the Wizards again with eight points in the first quarter. Then Wittman made an adjustment. After watching Otto Porter Jr. and Alan Anderson struggle to impede Ant hony, Wittman shifted Morris to Anthony.
The arrangement was vital. At 6 feet 10, Morris demonstrated the versatility that enticed the Wizards and prompted them to acquire him just before last month’s trade deadline. Morris, the team’s starting power forward, supplied a physical presence out on the perimeter while still being able to stay in front of Anthony. He was engaged 30 feet from the basket, denying Anthony the basketball and forcing him to work for his shots. Morris limited the 10-time all-star to 12 points on 3-for-14 shooting over the final three quarters.
Anthony finished with 20 points on 21 shots in 40 minutes. After the game, the Knicks, who were concluding a six-game road trip, announced that Anthony was playing through a migraine.
“He’s a great scorer,” said Morris, who added he had never been assigned to defend Anthony before Saturday. “So we wanted to get more size on him and be a little physical with him and keep him away from the basket a little more.”
Morris’s prowess was essential in Washington’s overall defensive improvement. Not having to send double-teams to hinder Anthony, the Wizards pressured the other Knicks and held New York to 18-for-57 shooting (31.5 percent) after the Knicks went a blistering 14 for 24 (58.3 percent) from the floor in the first quarter.
The change afforded Washington the chance for its offense to rebound from a tepid start. The Wizards believed they were taking quality shots, but they simply didn’t fall in the first quarter, when they went 8 for 23 from the field. The Wizards trailed 29-20 through the first period, and the troubles continued in the second period.
The Knicks hiked the margin to 46-28 with less than five minutes remaining in the half before Washington began chipping away at the deficit before halftime. The Wizards thrashed New York 33-13 in the third quarter.
“We couldn’t make a shot. We couldn’t get things going, but we just stuck with it,” Wittman said. “We were down 29-20, and believe it or not, I told them, ‘We’re all right.’ They thought I was crazy. They do anyway. But I really felt that way, that throughout our play of not being able to knock some shots down, I liked what we were doing, and I liked the shots we were taking.”
The comeback from 18 points down marked the Wizards’ biggest of the season and was their ninth win in their past 10 home games.
After getting ejected in the fourth quarter of Washington’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, Morris also displayed athleticism at the other end — an ingredient the Wizards were starving for along their front line before they acquired him — and recorded a couple of ferocious dunks as part of his 17-point night, his largest scoring output since joining the Wizards.
Wizards point guard John Wall was coming off consecutive triple-doubles, and the offensive onus fell on him early Saturday. The point guard netted 17 of Washington’s 43 first-half points on 7-for-9 shooting to keep Washington afloat. He finished with 24 points and 10 assists and just one turnover after committing 17 giveaways in the previous two games. The Wizards tallied just 10 turnovers as a team and forced 18, which they converted into 29 points.
Bradley Beal returned from a one-game absence because of a sore pelvis to start and score 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting in 33 minutes. Marcin Gortat added 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Porter netted 15 points, including a pair of crucial three-pointers late in the fourth quarter to bury the visitors.
“That was a good test for us because we missed shots and we [usually] would just give up in a game and not play defense,” Wall said. “We just kept talking and said that we had to keep competing. Shots will fall. We aren’t turning the ball over. Keep defending. And we did that.”