Jan Vesely grabs one of his two rebounds in nearly four minutes on the court… (Chris Graythen/Getty Images )
NEW ORLEANS — With John Wall and A.J. Price both back in Washington recovering from various ailments, Wizards Coach Randy Wittman was forced to begin an experiment of using the backup shooting guard as starting point guard until the team settles on another alternative — or some players get healthy.
Jordan Crawford has played well at point guard in spurts, but the first play against the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday started the game in ominous fashion as Crawford made a poor post-entry pass to center Emeka Okafor and had it stolen by Hornets point guard and former Maryland standout Greivis Vasquez. The offense continued to sputter, as the Wizards tallied a season-low 11 points in the first quarter and a season-low 36 at halftime.
“That first quarter, I thought I was getting my teeth pulled at the dentist without any novocaine,” Wittman said. “It was pretty painful.”
But in a game that set back offensive basketball a few decades, the Wizards prevailed, 77-70, and claimed their first road win in nine tries this season. Crawford led the way, scoring 12 of his season-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, when the Wizards returned the favor with a solid defensive effort and limited the Hornets to just 10 points.
Neither team made at least one-third of its field goal attempts as the Wizards shot a season-low 32.9 percent and held the Hornets to a season-low 32.5 percent. Aesthetics are inconsequential, however, for a team that started the season with 12 consecutive losses.
“Just came to do what needed to be done to get the win,” said Okafor, who was back in New Orleans for the first time since getting dealt along with Trevor Ariza for Rashard Lewis last June.
Okafor spent the past three seasons and made his lone playoff appearance as a member of the Hornets. He finished with just six points and four rebounds, but blocked two shots and Crawford called him “the anchor on the defensive end for us.” Afterward, he said there was no added emotion about playing in New Orleans Arena once again. “Just business. Trying to get a win.”
Ariza, the team’s best perimeter defender, also stayed behind in Washington to nurse a strained left calf and failed to go on a tour of his past two NBA stops — New Orleans and Houston, the Wizards’ opponent on Wednesday at Toyota Center.
The Wizards managed to claw back from an early 12-point deficit to take their first lead of the game when Crawford made a driving layup to put his team ahead, 63-62, in the fourth quarter. Okafor tied the score at 65 when he caught a pass from Crawford and made a hook shot. Crawford then made a three-pointer, got fouled on a jumper and made a free throw to put the Wizards ahead, 71-65.
“It was a fight all game long,” Crawford said. “Kept going back down, we was missing, they was missing. I just wanted to hit that shot to break the ice.”
He nodded approvingly as he walked to the foul line. After the Hornets got within three points on a three-point play from No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, Crawford responded with a fadeaway jumper that gave the Wizards a 75-70 lead with 47.1 seconds remaining — practically insurmountable on a night with offense was at a premium.
“This game was kind of indicative of kind of how our team is, through injuries, bad starts. We were digging a hole of staying in the game, not giving up,” Wittman said. “We just kept our heads in. We kept fighting, keeping it close. I thought that was the key.”
Nene was an example of that grit. He missed his first five shots, but he finally got on the board when he made a jump hook, then caught a pass from Kevin Seraphin and dunked. He finished with his first double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 20 minutes off the bench.
“I don’t care about that,” Nene said. “I care about wins. I care about seeing my teammates back. That’s what I care about. I just try to play hard and be positive. It’s crazy, you know, the situation.”
New Orleans (5-15) lost its fourth consecutive game, despite the return of Davis, who had missed the past 11 games with a stress reaction in his left ankle. Davis came off the bench and finished with 13 points and seven rebounds in just 25 minutes.
Hornets power forward Ryan Anderson scored 17 in the first half, but missed his eight field goal attempts in the second half — all from beyond the three-point line. Anderson made a three-pointer that put his team ahead 38-26 with 4 minutes 47 seconds left in the second period. But the Wizards scored the final six points of the half, with Crawford converting a three-point play and rookie Bradley Beal adding a steal and a three-point play to bring the Wizards within 42-36.
“Worst start we had, probably ever. But we stuck with it,” Beal said after scoring 15 points with seven rebounds and four assists. “We didn’t get down on ourselves. We got a lot of stops in the second half and that’s what won us the game.”