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'Never unlace your shoes': The Wizards' starters bail out the bench against 76ers

The starters built a 20-point cushion and an opportunity to rest during garbage time, but the bench let the lead fritter away. So, the starters had to come back in and take care of business.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON- - After the game, John Wall told reporters that he was ready to check back into the game late in the fourth quarter if he was needed.

"That's one thing my coach always told me," he said. "'Never unlace your shoes.'"

With Trevor Booker out with an injury yesterday, Randy Wittman used a combination of both Jan Vesely (for defense and transition) and Kevin Seraphin (for post-up offense). It had been a while since the Wizards had successfully employed a rotation of more than eight players, but they needed something to replace Booker's energy off the bench.

There were seven minutes to go in regulation, and the Wizards were sitting on a 20-point cushion, so it looked as though the experiment worked well. Wittman pulled his last starter, Bradley Beal -- who put up a LeBron-esque 22-9-8 -- for rookie Otto Porter. Two minutes of missed shots and miscues later (but the lead somehow intact), Chris Singleton checked in for Vesely, officially signaling "garbage time."

"I think they thought when they were up 21, the game was over," Wittman sighed. "Even the guys that come in the game, we're throwing half court alley-oop passes, going in the upper deck, turning and throwing the ball to the other team, you never know. Plus 30, minus 30, tie game, and you're called upon, that's an audition each and every time for them... You think a game is over, but it's not over."

You think a game is over, but it's not over.   -Randy Wittman

It's a shame, though, that two substitutions of former first-rounders for others can signify garbage time, but such is the reality in Washington. Singleton, Vesely, and Porter have all spent large portions of this season and last out of the rotation. Some of that was because of injury; most of it was not.

After the game, Wall expressed empathy for the bench players.

"I know it's tough sometimes with guys not getting a lot of minutes and worrying about playing times who are used to playing a lot," he said.

While he could certainly relate to giving up a big lead in the game ("There's something about those first five minutes of the 3rd quarter we got to figure out."), Wall agreed with Wittman that comfortable margins present a "great opportunity for our second group to contribute and do a great job of trying to keep the lead, trying to build their confidence, and play the right way."

It's become kind-of-funny-kind-of-not that there are three certainties during every Wizards game: the Wizards will let their opponents dictate the tempo and style of the game, they will struggle in the first half of the 3rd quarter, and the bench won't let the starters rest enough.

The game was sloppy and fast (hello Philly!), the Wizards' 10-point halftime lead was cut to four, and Porter's half-court alley-oop pass attempt cried, "Wall, Beal, and Ariza: please report to the scorer's table."

While letting the other team dictate the pace is not ideal, the Wizards seem to be able to still win games while playing on other teams' terms. And as we've discussed before, while they still allow huge runs in the third quarter, they've figured out how not to panic and let their post-halftime lethargy derail their entire game.

But the quality of bench play has been something that has plagued this team for some time, and we are officially deep within a vicious spiral. An 8-man rotation gives bench players fewer opportunities for in-game minutes; fewer opportunities for minutes stunt the development of each player's rhythm and confidence. No rhythm and confidence begets poor play on the court during these opportunities; poor play begets fewer opportunities. And so on.

With Vesely and Seraphin aptly replacing Booker in the lineup, as well as Glen Rice Jr.'s upcoming rehab stint in the D-League, we may finally see a break in this spiral. More in-game minutes for these three will help their rhythm and confidence, and hopefully when Wittman needs to go deeper on the bench, he can do so without a fear of squandered opportunities.

But for now, even in garbage time, the Beal and Wall will just have to make sure their shoes are still laced up.