WASHINGTON— On the outside looking in at the playoff picture, the Washington Wizards shook up their roster last week and bought in Markieff Morris, a talented but troubled forward from Phoenix.
Morris’ eventful tenure in Phoenix included throwing a towel at his former head coach Jeff Hornacek during a game and shoving teammate Archie Goodwin on the bench during another game.
“I had a couple great years in Phoenix,” Morris said after being traded on Feb. 19. “Just ready to move on. My time here was great and I thank the organization for giving me a chance to play here and drafting me. I’m just ready for this new environment.”
Ten days later, on Monday, Morris was inserted into the Wizards starting lineup for the first time against the Philadelphia 76ers and didn’t disappoint.
Morris finished with 16 points, 13 rebounds and five assists on Monday night in 37 minutes of action.
“I thought (Morris) handled it well,” head coach Randy Wittman said. “He rebounded the ball well for us. He’s getting comfortable. He understands what we’re trying to do and how we are doing it.”
Wittman said initially Morris was tabbed as the starting power forward to match up with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor. But after Okafor was ruled out with a bruised shin, Wittman decided to stick with Morris.
“It was cool, it was normal,” Morris said after his first start as a Wizard. “I just wanted to bring my energy, play hard and get a win.”
Morris missed on both of his three point attempts but, as he showed on a clutch basket late in the game, he has the ability to stretch the floor with his jumpshot and provide frontcourt depth for Marcin Gortat and Nene.
The additional scoring threat is a welcome addition for all-star point guard John Wall.
“He can make the three, but he wants to be midrange,” Wall said. “The good thing is when teams want to get like this, switching pick and rolls, you can post him up and throw it to him. And he’s a willing passer and great enough passer for us to make shots and finish plays in the post.”
Gortat and Morris, former teammates in Phoenix from 2011-2013, said they felt the chemistry return instantly as they combined for 34 points and 33 rebounds. The 76ers had 32 rebounds total.
Gortat said it was “super sweet” to get back out on the court alongside Morris.
“The feeling came back from Phoenix, we were rolling.” Gortat said. “The difference was back in Phoenix we were 20-60.”
“It was just like old days,” Morris said. “As long as I’m passing to (Gortat), he’s cool.”
The Wizards hope to keep the good vibes going as they sit 1.5 games back of the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Washington, a game under .500, has won six of its last eight games and will travel to Minnesota on Wednesday to take on the Timberwolves, who are 22 games under .500.