Wittman's encouragment helps Wizards hang on vs. Timberwolves
By Benjamin Standig, The Sports Xchange
Timberwolves 100 Wizards 104
WASHINGTON -- Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman channeled Stuart Smalley late in his skidding team's must-win game.
Former actor Al Franken brought the fictional Smalley and his daily affirmations to life on Saturday Night Live. Based on the outcome, Franken, now Minnesota's U.S Senator, probably did not appreciate Wittman's homage.
Guard Bradley Beal scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half and point guard John Wall matched his career-high with 16 assists as the rallying Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak with a 104-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.
Wizards small forward Martell Webster scored 17 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 42.9 seconds remaining. Brazilian big man Nene scored 20 points and Wall had 14 for Washington (3-7).
Wittman said he spent the closing minutes reminding his players they were good enough to win. Unlike most of this season, the Wizards made decisive plays late.
"It's just belief and faith. That's all I kept telling them in the huddle," Wittman said. "You got to believe you're going to make a play. You got a shot, you're going to make it. You get free throws you're going to make it. We're going to get a defensive stop. You got to believe that. If you believe it then a lot of times good things are going to happen."
Power forward Kevin Love scored 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who led 63-51 at halftime behind seven 3-pointers.
Wittman and players held a team meeting during the midst of their losing skid. After the Timberwolves scored more first-half points than any one of Washington's opponents this season, the coach joked he was prepared to let the players have their own summit.
"After halftime I was going to have another one. I wasn't going to go in there," Wittman said. "I'll do whatever it takes for a win, trust me."
One of the league's top defensive teams last season, Washington returned to its guarding roots in the second half, holding Minnesota to 18 points in the third quarter and 19 in the fourth.
Wall's jumper with 1:26 remaining broke a 95-95 tie, but the Timberwolves (7-5) regained the lead as guard Kevin Martin countered with a 3-pointer on Minnesota's next possession. Washington didn't trail for long, as Webster followed with his fifth 3-pointer for a 100-98 lead.
Washington made all 15 of its 15 free-throw attempts, including two each from Beal and Nene inside the final 13 seconds.
Love has at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in 10 of Minnesota's 12 games this season, but he scored only one point in the fourth quarter, missing all four of his field-goal attempts.
"In the second half they just played with more energy, more excitement than us," Love said. "You got a sense that it was a do-or-die game for them. That's how it needs to be for us every night."
Wall posted his own double-double midway through the third quarter, and he doled out seven assists in the period. Washington had 31 assists on 41 baskets.
The Wizards took their first lead since the opening quarter at 75-74 late in the third on Beal's three-point play.
"First half we played horrible, we weren't there defensively," Beal said. "We had no energy. I think the second half we did a great job coming up more energetic and more focused on the defensive end. ...This is big for us."
Forward Corey Brewer scored 16 points, center Nikola Pekovic had 13 and Martin 11 for the Timberwolves, who lost for the second time in three games.
"We didn't play very well in the second half at all," Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. "We turned it over, stopped moving the ball, gave them life."
Love started his NBA career in Minnesota under Wittman, who dissuaded the rookie power forward from taking 3-pointers. Now a proficient and prolific long-range threat, Love sank three 3's in the first quarter.
"I thought he was going for 70 after the first eight minutes," Wittman cracked.
Minnesota shot 60 percent from the field in the opening period and led by 16 points in the first half. Robbie Hummel's shot from beyond the arc gave the visitors a 53-37 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Timberwolves missed 10 of 13 3-point attempts after halftime, and they wound up shooting 43.5 percent from the floor. Washington hit 48.2 percent of its shots.
NOTES: F Trevor Ariza, Washington's third-leading scorer, missed his second consecutive game with a strained right hamstring. Wizards F Al Harrington (sore right knee) sat for a third consecutive game. ... Timberwolves G Ricky Rubio entered Tuesday leading the NBA in steals (3.09) and ranking second in assists (9.6), one spot ahead of Wizards G John Wall (9.1) ... Former Wizards head coach Flip Saunders, now the Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations, attended the game. ... Minnesota returns home to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, the same day Washington plays at the Cleveland Cavaliers.