Think the game earlier in the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers looked unusual for the Wizards, with 6-7 Jared Dudley playing center to take advantage of Kevin Love? It grew more strange Friday when Otto Porter played there in the second half, Garrett Temple logged time as a power forward while John Wall shifted to small forward.
Both games produced victories, with the Wizards (8-9) even more depleted by injuries to frontline players Nene (calf), Drew Gooden (calf), Kris Humphries (ankle) and Marcin Gortat not available (personal leave).
"I told them at a 6-foot-5 and under league we’d be pretty good," coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to edge the Suns 109-106. "Even with that, that’s the most points we’ve had in the paint all year. Fifty."
A frequent, and fair, criticism of Wittman is that he can be stubborn. That's probably true of anyone who played for the legendary Bobby Knight.
"Witt’s old school. He rarely ever changes anything. He’s more of a two big offense guy, go in then post, having points in the paint, that’s what he’s all about, and shooting threes," said Bradley Beal, who exploded in the second half of 24 of his 34 points. "This is the total opposite but that’s just the way the game’s transforming and that’s the makeup of our team, too. It just shows how disciplined we can be, how versatile we can be as well."
Dudley started at power forward but when the third quarter tipped he was on the bench while Temple took his spot. Wittman felt like Dudley was overextended playing 17 minutes in the first half and wanted him fresh for the fourth.
"I pride myself in my versatility. Jared Dudley made a comment after shootaround, ‘Temp, man , get ready to play some four tonight,'" said Temple, who rattled Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter in the first half and clashed with Markieff Morris on the low block in the fourth. "We were laughing about it but it actually came to fruition. The small lineup worked out for us. We did a good job of playing hard and talking, boxing out. We outrebounded (them) even though we had such a small lineup on there."
Wall gave way to Ramon Sessions as the primary ball-handler.
"I wouldn’t have believed I’d be playing the three position," Wall said. "It’s an opportunity to get in there and rebound more. When you get the opportunity to rebound you just push it. Certain teams want to have certain players matched up against a certain person. When they’re missing shots and you pushing the pace its hard to find (him)."
What makes these lineups so successful? In Cleveland, the Wizards stretched a three-point lead in the second quarter to 10 in 2:34. They played a seven-minute stretch of the fourth of that game with the same lineup, with Dudley in the middle, to compensate for Gortat being saddle with foul trouble. They make up for their lack of size with quickness and recovering to help. It puts pressure on the offense to make the right reads. They front the post and bring help from the weakside. It becomes a matter of who blinks first.
"When we had that five out there that’s a great group of defensive guys that knows how to communicate and talk," Wall said of Sessions, Beal, Temple and Porter. "It’s kind of easy when you know you’re talking early. We’re switching this. We already talked about it so you know when the pick-and-roll coming you don’t have to worry about a certain call being called or you getting beat off the dribble. You already know what we want to do."
When injuries aren't an issue and Wittman's team is struggling, will he remember these times and junk up his rotation?
"I loved it. Sometimes I think we get caught up into adjusting to other teams," Beal said. "We need to make them adjust to us. I think we did that."