WASHINGTON -- Last night, the Wizards finally got just their fourth win of the season against a slipping Magic squad. You could put the win on any one factor -- Jordan Crawford's efficient shooting, Garrett Temple's defense, the Magic falling back to Earth -- or combination of factors. But last night it was clear that one thing finally worked exactly as everyone had hoped it would since the offseason: the front-court rotation.
This is not to say there wasn't an all around great effort from the team (well, at least after Jameer Nelson torched the backcourt in the first six minutes of the game). Everyone did their jobs and knew their roles. It's just that it was most noticeable in solid play of the big men. Emeka Okafor, Kevin Seraphin, sweet sweet Nene, and even all four minutes of Jan Vesely proved instrumental in getting a big win last night.
The Wizards out-rebounded the Magic last night 47-41 (11-9 on the offensive glass). The four Wizards bigs corralled 30 of those 47 (and seven of the 11 offensive rebounds), compared to five Magic bigs getting 26 (and seven). Seraphin and Okafor also accounted for seven of the Wizards' eight blocked shots; the Magic only had two. Oh, and the Wizards outscored the Magic by eight points in the paint, 46 to 38. They also happened to win the game by eight points. Funny how that works out.
Of the Four Factors, the Wizards won in three categories, losing only effective field goal percentage. They kept their turnover percentage significantly lower than Orlando's (9.5 to 12.5), their free-throw-to-field-goal attempt rate was higher (.170 to .105), and their offensive rebound rate was higher (25.6 to 20.0) -- all resulting in an offensive rating of 113.2 (to Orlando's 104.6).
Remember when Earl Barron had a breakout game against the Hawks because Randy Wittman wasn't seeing enough "activity" from the Center position? Well, Okafor definitely looked active last night. In addition to his 11 rebounds, Okafor swatted three shots. And these aren't the crowd-pleasing Dwight Howard blocks that just get smacked into the ninth row in the stands. These were -- dare I say -- Bill Russell-esque blocks, the kind that go back into the hands of your teammates to keep the momentum flowing on your side. Okafor's blocks resulted in a coast-to-coast layup by Garrett Temple, a mid-range jumper by Garrett Temple (jeez, he was freakin' everywhere), and a Martell Webster transition three.
He remembered Wittman's "activity" message, too. On top of that, Nene gives him feedback every game to make sure he's making the FIBA to NBA transition properly. Taking Wittman's and Nene's advice, Seraphin played hard to try to take all his shots in the paint. Instead of moving away from the rim, Wittman's been imploring Seraphin to take a "power move" to get to the foul line by banging into defenders.
Wittman acknowledged that "it's a process, a step that we'll keep working [on]" to get rid of his old habits (while he makes shots inside, he is extremely averse to contact; he'd rather go up-and-under three defenders in Redick, Smith, and Vucevic than bust through anyone's arms for a potential trip to the free throw line), but Wittman has seen growth in Seraphin over the last few weeks.
Of his 18 shots, five were outside the paint, and two of them went in. It wasn't his most efficient night, but his 17 points (even his 1/2 Free Throw shooting) were much needed in this one. Not only did Seraphin chip in 17 points -- his fourth-most points on the year -- but he tallied four blocked shots. One resulted in him nailing a hookshot in the post, and one spawned a 24-second violation for the Magic during the Wizards' second-quarter rally.
Minutes restriction shminutes shmestriction. Nene played 29 minutes last night. No one said if that was over or under his allotted time for the night, but one thing is for certain: he was needed on the floor every second he was out there. 23 points on 11 shots (9-10 from the line), with 11 rebounds and four assists to boot. THIS was a peak back at what we saw Nene after he was traded to D.C. last season. THIS is what this team needs from Nene every night. THIS is what firing on all cylinders means. THIS performance by Nene not only made the fans swoon, but him doing what he needs to do (and being on the floor more minutes than *not* on the floor) makes everyone else's job that much easier.
Wittman said as much himself:
"His presence on the floor kind of gives the guys with him a comfort level," he said
So Vesely only played four minutes last night (he's played an average of about 20 the previous four games), and it was only at the end of the second quarter. But even in those 4 minutes, Vesely did exactly what he was supposed to do. He didn't take any shots. He didn't foul anyone. He didn't turn the ball over. He just placed himself around the basket and jumped over Gustavo Ayon, Andrew Nicholson, J.J. Redick, and Ish Smith to get an offensive rebound. Actually, he did it twice in the same possession. And that possession ended in Jordan Crawford nailing a three to bring the Wizards within two against the Magic.
Even though the Wizards are now on their 47,000th point guard of the season, it seems like nothing is quite as effective for the team as being able to rely on consistent, active play from the bigs. Points in the paint, defensive rebounds, offensive rebounds, getting to the free throw line, turning blocked shots into fast breaks -- that's what this team has really been missing all season, and that's what this team needs to continue to build for the rest of the season. Hopefully, this rotation can stick around for a while.