Al Harrington went with a behind-the-back dribble to catch Utah Jazz forwards Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors off guard, then flipped a no-look pass to Drew Gooden for a reverse layup. A few minutes later, Harrington caught a pass from Gooden in the left corner, drove around Favors and threw down a vicious two-handed dunk, kicking out his legs after doing a pull-up on the rim. On the Washington Wizards’ bench, Marcin Gortat leaned back and howled.
“I got the package, man. I just got old,” Harrington said with a smile. “Every once in a while, you’ll get flashes.”
The Wizards were struggling to put away Utah until they got some much-needed assistance from their resident graybeards. Over the past few weeks, the Wizards' bench has been injected with aging veterans who have spent time on the shelf for various reasons — injury, neglect or, in Andre Miller’s case in Denver, banishment. But after needing some time to fit in, the thirty-something trio of Harrington, Gooden and Miller came up huge in a 104-91 victory over the Jazz.
“We had the AARP group in there,” Coach Randy Wittman said with a laugh.
The 34-year-old Harrington scored eight points and threw down his first dunk in more than four months. Gooden, 32, scored 12 points, marking his first time in an NBA scoring column since April and his first double-figure scoring night in nearly two years. And the soon-to-be-38-year-old Miller handed out six assists, the most he has had since December, keeping the offense from going off the rails while John Wall sat.
They combined to help the Wizards (32-29) win for the sixth time in seven games and improve to 4-1 since Nene went down with a sprained left knee. Washington avenged a Jan. 25 loss to Utah. That game ended 104-101, with Trevor Ariza air-balling a potential tying three-pointer late in the game. That has to feel like a distant memory for Ariza, who seems to make just about everything he puts up from the beyond the three-point line of late.
Ariza led all scorers with 26 points, including 4 of 6 from long range. In his past six games, Ariza has connected on 26 of 40 three-pointers.
“I got a lot of open shots,” Ariza said. “It’s just a lot of work, just trying to help this team get better. Trying to help this team get to the playoffs and make some noise. That’s it.”
Bradley Beal scored 22 and Wall had a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists. Wall had a relatively quiet night offensively aside from a two-hand reverse dunk to the end the first half. The NBA leader in total assists at 534, Wall completed his night when he made a crossover dribble, shaking two Jazz players, and fed Gortat cutting to the basket for a layup. Gortat finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, giving him 3,002 for his career.
“It was a solid game, start to finish,” Wittman said after his team shot 54.3 percent from the field, the second-highest total of the season.
The Wizards have struggled at home against weaker competition and had trouble putting away a Utah team that arrived in Washington with the worst road record in the Western Conference. Washington built a 15-point lead in the first half when Beal made a nifty reverse layup but quickly let Utah get within 50-44 when Marvin Williams made a three-pointer with 33 seconds left in the second period.
After going ahead 79-64 in the second half, the Wizards allowed the Jazz to go on a 10-run before Miller made a driving layup. Harrington followed with a short fadeaway jumper and later fed Gooden for his layup. The Jazz closed the margin to 87-81 on a free throw from Alec Burks, but Beal responded with a dunk and Harrington followed with a dunk of his own that led to a spirited reaction from his teammates on the bench.
Wittman had warned Harrington — who had missed nearly four months of action because of a troublesome right knee that eventually led to surgery — to be cautious about dunking after missing a two-hand jam last week against Orlando and had joked that his older players had developed “rubbery” legs as they were regaining their conditioning.
“I was kind of screaming at him,” Harrington joked about Wittman. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of heat here. It was a lot of emotion. I was kind of surprised I was able to get up there, so it felt good.”
Gooden had been an afterthought around the league after Milwaukee cut him by using the amnesty provision in July. The Wizards scooped him up last week, and eight days into his 10-day contract, Gooden finally scored for the Wizards — and his points came in a flurry in the first half. He hit a jumper and made a layup in the span of 19 seconds and stayed in a groove for the rest of the night, connecting on 6 of 7 from the field.
“I guess I got a little incentive to stick around. I’ve got a nameplate,” Gooden said. “What I found out away from this game is I love this game. And I knew whenever I got my opportunity again, I was going to sink my teeth in any opportunity I got.”
Miller was acquired from Denver at the trade deadline and has had his moments since joining the team. But he is also working his way back after missing nearly two months after the Nuggets kept him from the team following an altercation with Denver Coach Brian Shaw. The Wizards haven't leaned too heavily on the players but were forced to give them more time with Kevin Seraphin (knee) and and Martell Webster (back) out.
“They’ve been big for us. They just outsmart people. So they use their wisdom a lot better than a lot of us do, I said us, because I am still, you know . . . compared to them,” Ariza said, without mentioning that he’s much younger at age 28.