Wizards see strong back court emerging to lead their roster
By Michael Lee,
A simple glance at the box score from the Washington Wizards’ 101-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers will show the influence guards Jordan Crawford and John Wall had on the outcome of the game. The back-court duo combined to score 55 points — or more than half the team’s total — represented two of three Wizards to reach double-figures and carried the team offensively in the final seven minutes.
But Crawford and Wall may not have been in position to lead their team to a much-needed victory if not for a six-minute stretch in the first half, in which the two players were on the bench.
Crawford and Wall could hardly sit down, though, as Roger Mason Jr. buried a string of long jumpers, Jan Vesely soared for a dunk, Maurice Evans had a steal and three-pointer and Shelvin Mack set up all of them with good looks. The Wizards’ second unit went on a 19-9 run that turned a nine-point deficit into a 41-40 lead and Crawford and Wall picked it up from there.
“They helped me see what was open on the floor,” said Crawford, who scored 24 of his game-high 31 points after reentering the game. “Mason did a good job knocking down shots, Shelvin was looking for him, finding him, so they really opened up the game for us.”
Mason scored 10 of his 11 points during the run, knocking down two three-pointers and converting one of them into a four-point play. With Nick Young missing his first game because of a bruised right knee, the Wizards needed offensive production from somewhere.
Since returning to the regular rotation at the end of the Wizards’ recent five-game road trip, the eight-year veteran guard, back for his second stint with the Wizards, has responded by averaging 9.4 points on 54.8 percent shooting and connected on 11 of 19 three-point attempts (57.9 percent).
“I’ve been getting some minutes, and when that happens, I definitely feel good with what I can bring to the table,” Mason said.
Coach Randy Wittman has relied more on Mason and veteran Maurice Evans since the all-star break. After the Wizards suffered a disappointing road loss last week in Milwaukee, where they fell behind by 22 points in the first half, Wittman said he was tired of using “young guys” as an excuse. He especially needed more from Evans with Rashard Lewis missing the past three games with a sore left knee.
Evans scored seven points and played the entire fourth quarter against Cleveland. He has played 90 minutes in the past three games — after playing a total of 77 minutes in the first 33 — and averaged 9.7 points in that span.
The nine-year veteran Evans was brought back this season to offer leadership, but he hadn’t been able to back up most of his gestures — such as organizing team-only meetings and team dinners on the road — with production on the floor. After scoring a season-high 15 points and connecting on three three-pointers in Milwaukee, Evans said, “A lot of these guys, I give them advice all the time, and I know they sometimes wonder, what can he do when he gets out there. It was good to get out there and show I guys I can still play.”
As the Wizards (8-28) prepare to host the Golden State Warriors on Monday, Wittman’s rotation is hardly set, as he mixes and matches in search of an effective combination.
Vesely had nine points and five rebounds in 22 minutes, exciting the crowd with a few impressive dunks, but he was limited to totals of zero points and six rebounds in 25 minutes in the previous four games. Andray Blatche also returned after missing the previous 15 games, adding nine rebounds and five assists off the bench. And Mack was held without a field goal but matched Wall and Blatche for the team-high in assists while playing just 13 minutes.
“It was great,” Wall said. “When you get time off the court, you always want to see guys take full advantage of the opportunity, and Mason took full advantage of Nick being hurt and him getting a lot of minutes, and Jan plays with a lot of energy, Mo always brings it, and Shelvin does a great job of not turning the ball over and running the ballclub.”
Those contributions were needed to end a six-game losing streak. “We just brought energy,” Mason said of the bench. “We really wanted to pick the guys up from the first quarter, and I think we did that.”