Wall, Wizards hitting their stride
In John Wall's first start of the season, the Wizards shot and passed their way to victory over the Timberwolves- and out of the NBA's basement.
Washington's decisive 114-101 victory over Minnesota on Friday night offered similar themes to the team's recent winning stretch: ball movement, balanced scoring, solid defense.
The differences on this case came in the starting lineup and where the team ended the night in the standings. The Wizards (10-31) passed idle Charlotte (10-32), not only in the overall position, but within the Southeast division. Combined with the improved play - Washington has won six of nine games - fewer mocking jabs are being thrown the Wizards' way.
"We're just trying to close out the season the right way," said Wall, who had 14 points and five assists in 21 minutes. "You're not going to hear any good thing about your team or organization when you're not winning games. That's all we're trying to do, just win. You don't want to end up as the last team."
Wall joined the first team unit after coming off the bench for seven games, giving Washington its 15th different starting lineup of the season.
"It feels good to be there, with the starters," said Wall following the Wizards' fourth straight home win. "I just tried to do the same: dictate the game, try to get everybody involved, take my opportunities to get open shots. Just try to lead my team. That's what I did and got us to a big lead."
Asked during his pregame media session why he made the change, Wizards coach Randy Wittman simply stated, "It's time."
The electric point guard set the pass-happy tone immediately by assisting on Washington's first two baskets. The Wizards finished with 29 assists and shot a season-high 57.8 percent from the field. Jordan Crawford paced six players scores with 19 points.
“He is great. It’s a blessing to have him back," said Nene, who scored 14 points. He can do so many things on the court out there. John is able to control the tempo and distribute the ball to the players who are in the best position to score.”
When his own perimeter shots were available, Wall took them and made them, nearly all of them in fact. Overall he finished 6 of 10 from the field.
When the Timberwolves (17-23) lacked defensive awareness, Wall took advantage. The electric playmaker capped the first half scoring with a length of the court drive at breakneck speed, finishing with an acrobatic layup. The Wizards matched their season-high scoring total for a first half and entered the locker room up 60-46, their largest halftime lead of the season.
"Obviously he’s a huge difference," Minnesota's acting coach and former NBA point guard Terry Porter said of Wall. "He’s a game changer when it comes to his ability to go coast to coast, his ability to get into the paint."
Ironically, as a starter Wall played fewer minutes than in any of the games coming off the bench. With Washington ahead by 91-73 after three quarters, none of the starters played in the fourth, a nice bonus with a game on tap Saturday night against Chicago.
Wittman said Wall's minute's restriction remained intact, but that after the five-game road trip he wanted to play his point guard more with the other starters.
“I think another couple of weeks of conditioning to get his legs back, but I thought it was time to play with that unit," Wittman said. "He hasn’t played a lot with those guys, but overall I think he did fine. He directed the offense very well and distributed a lot. It’s time for John to be back in the starting lineup; he’s the point guard of our team.”
The funny thing is this team is almost unrecognizable from the one that started the season 0-12 or did not claim its first winning streak until earlier this month.
Now the Wizards have their first four-game home winning streak since April 2011. Now they have three straight home wins by 10 or more points for the first time since 2008. Now having reached the official halfway point of the season, they will see where the season takes them from here.
“You just have to let the season come to you," Wall said. "We’re not going to give up, we’re going to keep trying to learn each day and get better. Keep getting our chemistry better and see how many games we can win.”