As Wizards ride their starters, they need Gortat to be the Polish Machine


Marcin Gortat shuffled forward, used his body as a shield and as too many eyes followed his teammate, he broke free to the rim. Another dunk for the man who calls himself the "Polish Hammer."

A play like this - the effective two-man, pick-and-roll game between point guard John Wall and Gortat - highlighted the Washington Wizards' half-court offense during the team's 112-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Verizon Center.

Wall spent Friday night in a charitable mood, doling out a season-high 18 assists. Gortat benefited, hitting all nine attempts from the floor, including seven shots directly at the rim that were gift-wrapped by Wall. Gortat finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, his 21st double-double of the season.

Although seven assists from Wall made life easier for him, Gortat's own stamina has eased the Wizards' frontcourt burden.

Wizards starters have logged 581 minutes this season, second most of any five-man unit in the NBA. Gortat, the oldest player in the Wizards' locker room, averages 35.8 minutes per game, which ranks behind only New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis among centers.

The absence of recovering backup Ian Mahinmi has cast a heavier load on to Gortat. Even so, when faced with the prospect of playing less or taking a break, Gortat, the 32-year-old from Poland, draws on another of his nicknames to remind his coach and teammates how durable he can be.

"With March, he tells me all the time that he's the Polish Machine, and I'm starting to believe that," coach Scott Brooks said. "The guy is just relentless. He just keeps coming at you and he never complains - too much. But I think he just battles and I like that about him."

It's enough for Gortat to christen himself with another moniker, according to Wizards rookie Sheldon McClellan, whose locker is next to Gortat's.

Reserve center "Jason [Smith] went to go get him and he said, 'I'm good!' He said 'I'm a bunny!' or something like that. Energizer Bunny," McClellan recalled after Friday's game. "He's very active and he wants to play almost the whole game."

As Gortat stays on the floor, he finds the most effective way to help Washington.

Last season, he attempted 136 shots between 10 and 14 feet from the basket. This year he has primarily performed as a center who runs to the rim for his offense. As one of the league's premier screen-setters, Gortat will do most of his dirty work while angling his body to get a defender away from Wall. Then, as the defense is forced to make a choice, Gortat rolls into the paint, heads up and hands ready to receive a pass from Wall.

This season, Gortat has scaled back on midrange looks (only 35 attempts from 10 to 14 feet) while getting bunny shots inside the restricted area. Gortat has already taken 190 shots within five feet; 76 of his 180 field goals have been assisted by Wall.

After the win over Minnesota, a reporter informed Wall about Gortat's perfect night from the field. Wall asked to hear the stat again - nine for nine - then without missing a beat, lobbed a question of his own.

"Did he shoot any shots outside the paint?" Wall said, enticing laughter. "Even if they were assists or not, that's what we try to play March. He did a great job setting screens for us, rolling to the basket. . . . When he's dunking the ball and finishing around the paint, he makes us a better team. We try to tell him to stay away from free throw line jump shots."

Gortat is averaging 11.7 points per game, on 58.3 percent shooting, and 11.9 rebounds, the latter two on pace for career highs. According to basketball-reference.com, Gortat has 16 dunks, which is on pace to eclipse last year's total of 48. That's good work for a hammer, a machine or even a bunny.

"I don't call him the Polish Machine unless he's dunking like he was" on Friday, Wall said. "So he got the nickname back."


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