The contingency plan was already well in place before the Wizards determined Markieff Morris would not be available on Wednesday night due to a sore left foot. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who has emerged lately as the Wizards' best bench player, would start in Morris' place and was told so at morning shootaround. The Wizards would go small and roll with a lineup that has served them well in recent weeks.
Though they were prepared, however, that did not make it any easier going up against a Charlotte Hornets team that won 48 games last season and currently sits sixth in the Eastern Conference at 14-12. They are tall - with four 7-footers in their regular rotation - and deep. Missing one big man could spell trouble and Morris' absence was on top of Ian Mahinmi already being out.
The Wizards were able to overcome all that and beat the Hornets 109-106 in large part due to Oubre's play, as well as the best game of the season so far for reserve big man Jason Smith. With Morris out, Smith got meaningful minutes and he came through when needed.
Oubre finished with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, six rebounds and two steals in 40 minutes. Oubre scored nine in the second half, including a big three-pointer with 6:31 left in the third that came in the middle of a game-changing 21-11 run to close the quarter.
"Kelly's been on a nice run as of late. He's doing something that I've expected him to do," guard Bradley Beal said. "He's grown into a great player who can shoot the ball well and put it on the floor. He's a lot more relaxed and the game is slowing down for him. It's great to have him emerge as the player that we need him to be."
Oubre said being in the starting lineup didn't change his mindset. He wanted to continue to focus on defense and play within the system on offense.
The two work hand-in-hand. With 1:10 left in the first quarter, Oubre picked off a steal and finished on the other end with a towering slam. It was the fourth straight game he turned a steal into two points on the other end all by himself.
"Just letting my defense lead to offense. That kind of gets me going. It kind of is a confidence booster for me. Just being aggressive, being in the passing lane, being one step ahead of the offense and it's been successful so I'm going to keep staying aggressive," he said.
Oubre has put up consistent numbers over the last nine games, beginning with a breakthrough performance against the Kings on Nov. 28. For Smith, that breakthrough may have occurred on Wednesday night.
The eight-year veteran scored a season-high 12 points to go along with seven rebounds, three steals and two assists in 18 minutes. It was the first time he's reached double-figures as a member of the Wizards since signing with Washington this past summer as a free agent.
"I thought that Jason was a big part of our win tonight," Brooks said. "He didn't make his shots earlier in the season and that's what he's been able to do for a lot of years in this league. You knew it would come sooner or later. Unfortunately he had a mini-slump to start the season. Everyone goes through it, whether it's starting out or in the middle of the season. Some players have a couple of them. But I think he has a nice rhythm. He's one of the best midrange shooting bigs in the league. That's what we have him for."
Three of Smith's rebounds came on the offensive end and on two of them he promptly scored. They were "energy plays," as Smith described them, and the veteran hopes to make many more as this season goes on.
"I think for me it's really about making things second nature. In the beginning of the season it was about figuring out the plays. I was thinking a little bit too much out there. That's normal. Coming to a new team, you want to make sure that you know things. Once you know things and they become second nature, it all becomes easier," Smith said.