MILWAUKEE John Wall is back after doing his part to represent the Wizards at the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend. Now for Wall and the rest of the Wizards, the business of working to become a team on the rise continues tonight here against the Bucks.
At 13-20, the Bucks have designs on the playoffs and open the second half of the season only 2.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Boston. The Wizards' goals are more modest. Two wins to start a recent West Coast road trip fueled hope that the Wizards were on the verge of some consistency, but the first half of the season ended with three clunkers in a span of four losses.
We are starting to realize that when we play as a unit and dont play selfishly, we have a chance against anybody," said Wizards guard Roger Mason. I tell the guys it is one word sacrifice. I think we all have to sacrifice, whether that is offensively making the next pass or whether that is defensively sacrificing our bodies for each other. If we start sacrificing for each other, we will have more success.
Mason speaks from experience. He played a significant role on the Wizards' last two playoff teams before moving on to San Antonio and New York. Mason understands that with the commitment to youth, his playing time will be inconsistent, but his leadership role for the Wizards remains consistent.
There are some encouraging signs from the Wizards individually. Over the last 10 games, Wall is averaging 20 points, 8.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Jordan Crawford scored in double figures in the final five games before the All-Star break and averaged 21.2 points per contest. Trevor Booker averaged close to eight rebounds per game over the final seven games before the break.
Beyond the Wizards' second-year players, center JaVale McGee has shown the most improvement. Make no mistake, McGee still struggles in pick-and-roll situations on defense. In addition, McGee has had moments that warranted criticism - from passing to himself for a dunk to a volleyball-like spike that led to a goaltending call last week against the Kings.
McGee has also thrilled with his dunks. The key for McGee is to become more than just about highlight plays. He has proven he has the athleticism and skill to make the cut on every highlight show in the country. Now McGee needs to show more. McGee is known as a hard worker who puts in extra time and he has been developing several low post moves, most notably a jump-hook.
JaVale McGee is only in his fourth year, noted Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld. I think he has improved from year-to-year. He is leading the league in block shots, his rebounding has gotten better, and his low post moves have improved. He still has improving to do, but thats how it goes when you have a young team.
As is the case with every Wizards game, McGee is going to have to help the team compete on the boards if they want to be competitive against the Bucks. In a 102-81 loss here in late December, the Wizards were outrebounded 50-35. Andrew Bogut had 15 of those rebounds for Milwaukee, but he is out with a fractured left ankle.
Drew Gooden might return to the Bucks lineup after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Ersan Ilyasova stepped up in Goodens absence to average 18.5 points and 13.5 rebounds including a spectacular 29-point and 25-rebound performance against the Nets. Ilyasova has now joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Swen Nater as the only players in Bucks history to score at least 25 points and grab at least 25 rebounds in a game.