Wake-up call: Wittman pushing right buttons with John Wall

Wake-up call: Wittman pushing right buttons with John Wall
March 1, 2014, 6:00 am
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Highlights: Wizards 134, Raptors 129 (3 OT)

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Remember those early-season criticisms, and borderline meltdowns, from coach Randy Wittman when he addressed the Wizards' head-scratching letdowns? Or what about when he called out, though not by name, his All-Star point guard John Wall for lack of focus on defense and getting carried away with one-on-one matchups? Then what about when Wittman actually did call him out by name? Well, it appears to have worked. Wall has accepted and responded as the Wizards are on the verge of a six-game winning streak going into Saturday's game at the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Wall made two steals late in Thursday's 134-129 triple-overtime victory at the Toronto Raptors to break a tie score. Both steals led to breakaway buckets for Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. Wall fought over the screen on the pick-and-roll to stay with Greivis Vasquez and stole the entry pass to the post. He then stripped Vasquez, off the pick-and-roll again, on a drive into the lane. The Wizards (30-28) scored 80 points inside compared with 46 for the Raptors, who'd shredded them with pick-and-rolls in three previous meetings. 

Sustaining defensive effort for four quarters hasn't always been easy for Wall, who has had a tendency to play hard according to the name on the back of the opposing player's jersey, and gamble too much which would allow guards in the lane to compromise the Wizards' bigs.

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"Just extra effort," Wall said in explaining what inspired him to make the late steals to give the Wizards their first victory vs. Toronto in four tries. "Pick-and-rolls are a tough thing to guard in this league. Basically, that's how they handled us the last three games. We wanted to do a better job. Guys stepped up in their situations. That's a play they could've won the game on …  make that one lasting play that can help you win the game." 

Go back to Jan. 22, when the Wizards squandered what should've been a blowout victory of the Boston Celtics at Verizon Center. Boston didn't have its starting backcourt, and Phil Pressey torched them for a career-high 20 points to pull out an inexplicable win in overtime. Wall registered his first career triple-double since his rookie season in 2010, but it was an empty one. He took 29 shots -- 21 more than Ariza and Marcin Gortat, 14 more than Nene and 13 more than Bradley Beal. 

"The one thing I think I've improved and learned is you don't have to do it all by just scoring," Wall said before playing Toronto. "You do it with different things, playing better defense, getting your teammates involved and just having energy that I have when I play against those other good point guards. Do it on a consistent basis and that's just something I have to step up to a different level with Nene being out."

And as much criticism that gets heaped at Wittman, who is in the final year of his contract, credit him for not being afraid to put his star player on the spot and getting him to respond.