CHARLOTTE — If the Washington Wizards were going to finally join the rest of the teams in the NBA and record a road win, they were going to need a few things to work in their favor.
That included John Wall making his first three-pointer of the season, Trevor Booker saving his best game of the season for his homecoming, Nick Young burying a string of clutch baskets, and JaVale McGee getting an opponent to goaltend a seemingly off-target shot in the closing seconds.
But more importantly, they would need an opponent so weak and wounded that it wouldn’t matter that the Wizards had more than their share of mishaps. It all converged on Saturday at Time Warner Cable Arena, as the Wizards claimed their first road win in nine tries, eking out a 102-99 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. The Wizards stumbled in the fourth quarter and squandered a 12-point second-half lead, but no matter the circumstances, they’ll take it.
“First win on the road. Ha, ha, ha, hey!” said interim coach Randy Wittman, who has already matched the win total of his predecessor, Flip Saunders, in just three games. “I’m really happy. This is a growing experience for our young guys, a taste of winning down the stretch when we really maybe didn’t play the way we’d like to down the stretch. But we gutted it out.”
McGee scored a team-high 22 points and was credited with a critical basket with 41.2 seconds remaining. After rookie Kemba Walker hit a three-pointer to bring the Bobcats — who were playing without three starters — within 100-99, McGee took a jump-hook that appeared to be short, but Byron Mullins slapped it on the way down, picking up a goaltending call. McGee leaned over and clapped as he ran down the floor.
“It was two points and we needed two points, so I was excited about it,” McGee said after also grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking five shots. We just been in situations where we always lose it. But Witt’s really been on us about being patient and staying poised. So, we was able to do that.”
Needing a stop on the next possession, the Wizards had a great defensive stance in which Mullens missed a three-pointer and grabbed a rebound. Several Bobcats players caught the ball at the three-point line, but were unable to get a good look as Wizards defenders closed in on shooters. Bobcats forward Boris Diaw eventually drove inside and missed a layup and McGee was fouled as he grabbed the rebound.
McGee kept the Bobcats alive by missing both free throws with 5.2 seconds left, but Wall wisely fouled with one to give, and Matt Carroll had little time to take an errant three-pointer as time expired.
“I thought that might go in. That’s just our luck, but I see we turned a corner,” Young said after scoring 21 points, including eight in the fourth quarter to ensure the Wizards wouldn’t have a repeat of their historic road losing streak of last season, when they set the franchise record with 25 consecutive losses away from home. “It feels good to get this first one earlier than we did last year. It took us what, 32 games? It’s a big improvement right now for us. We didn’t give up. Normally, that pressure get on us and we just fold up, but we kept fighting.”
The Wizards (4-16) now have the third-worst record in the NBA, ahead of Detroit and the Bobcats (3-18), the same team that Washington handled rather easily by 17 points just three days before. Walker recorded his first career triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists and Mullens had a career-high 23 points for the Bobcats, who have lost eight consecutive games.
After committing 47 turnovers in their previous two games — including a season-high 24 the night before in Houston— the Wizards were much more disciplined with the ball on Saturday, recording just 14 miscues, which the Bobcats converted into just 12 points. Washington also shot a season-high 52.6 percent, had 26 assists – two shy of the season-high — and had six players score in double figures.
“We had great balance. Nobody really cared. The thing tonight, nobody really cared about who scored,” said Wall, the Raleigh, N.C., native, who had 13 points but matched his season high with 10 assists. “Some nights, it’s going to be different people leading you in scoring, you just got to live with it. We just got to play the same way.”
Rookie Jan Vesely got his second straight start at power forward in place of Andray Blatche. Vesely finished with only two points and Blatche was limited to four points in eight laborious first-half minutes before he sat the entire second half with soreness in his left calf. But it didn’t matter who started, because Booker, a former Clemson standout playing in front of family members and friends, came off the bench to score 16 points.
“It might’ve been a little bit more motivation. It’s always good playing in front of the family. But either way, I’m going to give all my effort,” Booker said. “It felt pretty good, getting our first road win and it felt good being at home. That’s two great feelings right there.”
Wall also had plenty of supporters in the building, including his mother and grandmother, and he was elated to end the road-win watch. “We didn’t want to go through what we went through last year. We got it out of the way,” he said. “It was a great game.”