Markieff Morris didn't know until just before tipoff that he'd be in the starting lineup for the first time since joining the Wizards two weeks ago, and to Marcin Gortat it felt like old times.
"I think it was super-sweet," said Gortat, who played with him when both were with the Phoenix Suns. "The feeling came back from Phoenix. The difference is back in Phoenix, we were 20-60. Here we are at least 30-30."
Well, almost. After Monday's win in which they came back in the fourth quarter for a 116-108 win vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, the Wizards are 29-30. A win at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday puts them back at .500.
"It was cool. It felt normal," said Morris, who had 16 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot in 37 minutes. "I wanted to bring energy, come in and play hard and get the win."
Morris started fast and was just two points shy of a double-double before halftime as the Wizards led by 12. Then they came to a halt, fell behind by eight to the NBA's worst team and had to rely on John Wall's 37-point outburst to secure the win.
Gortat set a career high with 20 rebounds, seven of them offensive, 18 points, five assists and three blocks.
The Wizards led 110-100 with 2:15 left in the game on a layup by Gortat but the Sixers wouldn't concede. Two turnovers later and the deficit was down to three until Wall found Morris popping to the top of the key on a pick-and-roll for a wide-open look.
The 6-10 forward, who isn't a three-point shooter, calmly drained it from 19 feet to make it a two-possession game with 51 seconds left, 112-107. Philadelphia's run was over.
"He can make the three but he wants to be more mid-range. The good thing is when teams like this get to switching pick-and-rolls you post him up, throw it to him," Wall said. "He's a willing passer and a great enough passer for us to make shots and finish plays on the post. In Phoenix they used him more in isos and post-ups."
Coach Randy Wittman started Morris expecting the Sixers to go to a lineup with Jahlil Okafor at center and Nerlens Noel at power forward. He figured reserve Jerami Grant would be a better matchup for Jared Dudley, a three-point shooter who'd started 39 games for Washington this season.
Okafor (shin) was held out so the opposite happened: Noel moved to the five spot and Grant was the starting four. Morris still did more than enough to win that matchup with Grant (14 points, six rebounds).
"It's not like I can't make the shot. I was open," Morris said of his late jumper with Grant on the court. "That's what great point guards do. They get the ball to the guy that's open and I made the shot."
Wittman said he'll determine who'll be the starter at power forward based on matchups, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which Morris shouldn't be the starter.
With rebounding being a major weakness with the Wizards before the trade (last in NBA, 30th), they're now plus-12 in eight games since the All-Star break. They've had Morris for seven of those games which puts them at plus-24.