Balance key as Wizards win
He may be only three regular-season games into his tenure as coach of the Washington Wizards, but Flip Saunders already is having to familiarize himself with an all-too-common Wizards tradition: reshuffling his lineup and rotation because of injuries.
He already was without Antawn Jamison when Caron Butler bruised his left knee in Friday’s loss at Atlanta. So Saunders had to adjust yet again.
With Butler out, Saunders moved Mike Miller from starting shooting guard to small forward. And he inserted usual backup combo-guard Randy Foye into the lineup at shooting guard. In starting Foye, Miller, Gilbert Arenas, Fabricio Oberto and Brendan Haywood, Washington trotted out a lineup of players who were not on the team’s active roster this time last year.
But unlike in past years, the injuries didn’t leave the Wizards void of veteran talent. Washington rolled to a 123-104 victory over the New Jersey Nets at Verizon Center.
“What you do is you fight through injuries,” Saunders said. “And that’s why [team president Ernie Grunfeld] and the front office did what we did [this summer]. That’s why we picked up Mike Miller and Randy Foye - so when things went out, we didn’t have to rely on throwing a young player out there.”
A healthy Arenas doesn’t hurt either. Arenas fueled Washington (2-1) with 32 points and seven assists; Foye added 17 points and eight assists. Haywood tallied 10 points and seven rebounds, and Miller posted nine points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Further spurring on the Wizards was backup forward-center Andray Blatche, who racked up a career-high 30 points while pulling down six rebounds.
“We have a lot of depth,” Arenas said. “Everybody can contribute. We get everybody back, we can be even deadlier. Right now, we just have to maintain until Antawn and Caron get back.”
The Wizards shot 61.5 percent, their best performance since Dec. 18, 2002, against Memphis. The Wizards, who also boasted a .643 clip from 3-point range (9-for-14), left the court to a standing ovation from the fans who last season suffered through a 19-63 campaign.
It was quite a different scene from last season, when the Wizards opened the season with a 95-85 loss to the Nets on the same court. As they trudged off the floor - minus Arenas and Haywood, who both were recovering from surgery - the fans booed. But this team appears well on its way to erasing those memories.
“That was a bad night, but we can’t think about the past. It was a real bad last year,” said DeShawn Stevenson, who Saturday came off the bench to score 10 points and grab six rebounds. “But it’s a different story this year. We’ve got weapons, people off the bench, people starting - so it’s a real good thing.”
The Wizards, despite sporting a lineup they didn’t use during the preseason, got off to a solid start, but the Nets responded with a 10-3 run, taking a 16-13 lead with five minutes left in the quarter.
Washington then orchestrated a 15-8 run that was capped by Arenas, who crossed halfcourt with time running out and launched a shot that swished through the cylinder just before the horn sounded, giving the Wizards a 28-24 lead entering the second quarter.
Arenas’ big shot brought the fans to their feet, but the guard simply turned emotionless and walked to the bench.
Blatche, for the third time this season, provided an early spark off the bench. After entering the game with 5 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter, Blatche proceeded to go 4-for-4 from the field - all of them midrange jumpers. He didn’t cool in the second quarter, knocking down two of his next three shots, grabbing four rebounds and handing out two assists in a six-minute span.