CHARLOTTE — Cartier Martin and James Singleton were both in China when the NBA’s lockout-shortened season began. They are back on 10-day contracts, hanging around until some team — most likely the Washington Wizards — tells them they can stick around for good. The non-guaranteed, make-good lifestyle of basketball vagabonds isn’t attractive or desirable, but desperation can at times fuel inspired play.
And against a Charlotte team littered with fringe NBA players, that hungry duo came off the bench to outscore the Bobcats’ starters, 27-21, in the first half and helped the Wizards build a 20-point lead from which they never looked back. Martin finished with 19 points and Singleton, still somewhat jet-lagged after being back in the country just one week, had 18 points and a game-high 12 rebounds as the Wizards romped past the beyond-expansion-bad Bobcats, 113-85, at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“They’re fighting for their careers, and that’s an approach that all of us need to have,” Roger Mason Jr. said. “Every game, you want to play it like it’s your last and those guys on 10-days, James and Cartier, they did a great job.”
In a matchup of the NBA’s two worst teams — their combined win total of 20 is worse than 24 NBA teams — the Wizards again established their dominance against the one NBA team that has consistently been looking up at them in the standings. All three wins over Charlotte have come since Coach Randy Wittman replaced Flip Saunders back in January. They have proven that the Wizards aren’t overly concerned about claiming the most Ping-Pong balls in the upcoming NBA draft lottery.
With a rare two-day reprieve between games, the Wizards (13-44) came out energized and determined to snap a five-game losing streak. They scored the first eight points of the game on Monday and led by at least 11 points for the final 32 minutes 53 seconds.
“That was a true team effort,” Wittman said. “These guys were focused. This has been a trying season for a lot of different reasons. You are seeing their feet get wet, but getting used to the temperature of the water a bit. That’s also good to see. The guys are happy, absolutely, and they should be.”
The Wizards were missing two starters in Nene and Trevor Booker, but they didn’t have to concern themselves with who didn’t play. John Wall also didn’t have to feel poorly about finishing with just two points, because he also had 12 assists and spent the entire fourth quarter waving a towel and rooting on his teammates.
“I like to see my teammates score. A nice pass gets me more excited than myself scoring,” Wall said.
Jordan Crawford led seven Wizards in double figures with 20 points, and Mason connected on a season-high five three-pointers and finished with 17 points off the bench. Jan Vesely had his first career double-double with 11 points, a career-high-tying 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. Martin, signed to his second 10-day contract on Sunday, matched his season-high with four three-pointers and scored in double figures for the third time in eight games.
“It’s stressful. You feel like you have a lot of pressure on you at times, but when you’re on the floor, you don’t think about being on a 10-day,” said Martin, who didn’t even get a training camp invite after a short stint with Charlotte in 2008-09. “With this being one of the first teams that I ever played for coming into the NBA, I felt relaxed being here and comfortable shooting on the rims.”
With 5.9 seconds left in the third period, Vesely came up about a foot short on an eight-foot jumper, but Bobcats forward Derrick Brown grabbed the air ball, shuffled his feet and was called for traveling. The Wizards got the ball back and Shelvin Mack (11 points) made a jumper that hit the back of the rim and splashed through the net. Mack’s teammates gleefully celebrated as he headed back to the bench because they realized that while this has been a taxing season, there is another team that has had it considerably worse.
“I was not aware. I looked at the board and saw 7-47 and I was like, ‘Errrr,’ ” Singleton said, when asked if he knew about the Bobcats struggles’ while he played for the Guandong Southern Tigers in China. “It was a must-win for us. This is a game that you’re supposed to win. Like every game is a playoff for us. You’ve got to finish the season strong. Even if you’re not in the playoffs, you still have to play like you are.”
Any combination of six Wizards victories and Bobcats losses guarantees that Charlotte will secure the most chances to win the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
The Bobcats (7-48) lost their 12th game in a row overall and are on track to have the second-worst point-differential since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 (minus-13.1). The Wizards barely edged the Bobcats, 102-99, in their last meeting in Charlotte, but they have won the other two games by an average of 22.5 points.
They will meet again in two weeks at Verizon Center and Wall already knows that he would like to have Martin and Singleton around for that contest. “I would like for those two guys to be on the team next year,” Wall said, “and I wish we would have had them at the beginning.”