- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Warmed up after halftime, Kris Humphries sat down. Humphries knew where his seat was. Though he started Tuesday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers, Humphries had not been off the bench since being removed from the game less than five minutes into it.

The Washington Wizards’ trek into small-ball life is still meandering. The Wizards need to figure out if Humphries can stay as the “stretch four” against exceptionally small teams like the Pacers. Washington coach Randy Wittman is still deciphering how to use his guard-loaded bench. Jared Dudley is floating between units. A four-game run this week, which started Tuesday against Indiana, will allow the Wizards to dig in against similarly structured teams. They visited the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, will face the Boston Celtics on Friday and return Saturday to host the Toronto Raptors, who they faced in the opening round of the playoffs last spring and were the cause of all this reshuffling.

The Pacers use an oddball setup. Listed with a wink as the “power forward” was C.J. Miles, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, or, at most, a small forward. Humphries and his burly shoulders were assigned to oppose Miles. It did not go well. Miles scored a career-high 22 points by halftime. For more than 10 minutes of the half, that was not Humphries’ fault, since he had been replaced. But, he was responsible for the initial outburst on a night that Miles made eight of nine 3-pointers. His only miss was a fallaway heave caused by the shot clock running out.

Dudley entered after 4:55 had elapsed. He had a hard time slowing Miles because Humphries had allowed the early shotmaking. In the second half, when Dudley started in place of Humphries, the defense against Miles improved. He only scored 10 more points. Dudley reached back to the main resource of the defensively desperate: Don’t allow your man to catch the ball. Using this approach caused Dudley to slight some of his help defense duties, he didn’t slough off as much on screens, but appeared the right choice against a player already on such a role.

The Pacers’ choice to play with such a diminutive unit presented new Washington with fresh problems.

“This is the first time we actually played a team who is similar to us, who plays small and fast and who defends well just like us,” guard Bradley Beal said. “It [was] a good test for us and we’ve just got to continue to be ready.”

Before the season began, Wittman suggested the Wizards could use multiple lineups. He said Tuesday night Dudley opening halves in place of Humphries could occur again.

“It was a better matchup, I felt,” Wittman said. “Nothing more than that. He was leading them in scoring at half. Just a gut feel to try to get a different look.”

Dudley appears en route to the starting lineup. His playing time increased for five consecutive games entering Wednesday. His statistics are not overwhelming, nor have they been in his previous stops. He’s averaging 5.7 points per game and 3.7 rebounds. His player efficiency rating is just 10.58, with the league average at 15. It’s a steadiness that Dudley brings. He has ambition to move the ball and be in the right place on defense. Humphries missed all eight of his combined shots against the Pacers and the Detroit Pistons. He did not score in either game.

If Dudley is pulled off the second unit and predominantly plays with the first, Wittman will have to remix what has been a solid bench. Garrett Temple was first put on track when filling in with Beal injured. Backup point guard Ramon Sessions has a 20.08 efficiency rating. Gary Neal scored a team-high 23 points against the Pacers. Nene carried the Wizards in a road win against the Pistons last weekend. Fitting Humphries into that group will be a chore. It should provide better rebounding. But, the continuity might be challenged.

Neal has been trying to figure out a proper level of shot-taking with the group. He was signed to a one-year deal in order to provide more bench scoring.

“I think the biggest thing with me is the balance of trying to be aggressive and not force anything,” Neal said. “I think some nights, the way defenses are defending me, I might get two shots. Another night I might get 15 or 14. That’s just something I have to deal with and I have to balance it and hopefully, I’ll be able to be hot and make the shots I do get.”

After seeing the new version of Indiana, a similar stance from Charlotte, a rematch with a Celtics team that scored 72 first-half points the last time they played, and the first game of the season against Toronto, Wittman will finish the opening 14 games having faced a blend of teams. The latest run will help him figure out how best to play small with this roster for a season, not just two playoff series. He could well conclude that the optimum way is with Humphries coming off the bench.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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