The Wizards could barely hide their apathy on the court. Minutes would go by without any semblance of effective communication from players. Double-digit leads would vanish, and fans, especially those accustomed to the misery, would sit back and wait for the wheels to fall off—if they weren’t busy booing the team. “We’ve got to just play with more enthusiasm, more effort, more energy,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters after another dispiriting loss earlier this month. “It’s embarrassing.”
Something had to change. On Nov. 20 against the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooks tweaked the starting lineup, promoting Kelly Oubre Jr. and center Thomas Bryant and benching Markieff Morris. The Wizards would go on to the win that game 125-118, and three of the next four contests, including a thrilling 135-131 overtime victory over the James Harden-led Houston Rockets on Monday night.
The new lineup has brought a renewed and desperately needed energy for the 8-12 Wizards, who were spiraling toward the bottom of the league standings amid reports of internal dysfunction. But for the past week and a half, the Wizards have been winning. Players are hustling up and down the court. And each night, a different bench player has provided a spark.
“Since we’ve made the lineup change, everybody’s just accepting their role,” John Wall said after the win against Houston. “No one’s worried about who’s getting the ball, we’re just focused on the defensive end. Even in the first quarter when [the Rockets] were getting easy shots, there was never one time we talked about offense in the huddle. In the past that’s all we were worried about, ‘I’m not getting shots’ or ‘I’m not making shots.’ We were just trying to focus on defense and how we can help one another. Glad we came away with a win.”
In the past four games coming off the bench, Morris is averaging 16.3 points per game, more than five points higher than his current season average of 11.1.
Against Houston, he scored 22 points and collected 10 rebounds in nearly 41 minutes of play. Both Morris and Tomas Satoransky, who had seven assists in just over 19 minutes, finished with a plus-minus rating of +21.
“He’s finding his rhythm, he’s getting touches and playing his hardest like he always does,” Oubre said after the Pelicans game.”Kieff is a very tough soldier, so whenever he’s not playing at his best it might mean something, but he’s one of the toughest people I’ve ever played with and against. So, I’m just happy he’s on my side.”
Down by two against New Orleans on Saturday, Wizards guard Austin Rivers drove down the lane and scored on a lay up to tie the game 94-all. On the next play, Rivers grabbed a defensive rebound before making another lay up and drawing a foul. He would make the free throw to give the Wizards a lead they would not relinquish in their 124-114 victory.
In all, Rivers scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting in one of his most efficient games of the season.
“It was good to see [Kieff] get his rhythm back, and the same with Austin, to get him going, too,” Bradley Beal said after the game. “We’re definitely going to need them going forward.”
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.