By John Powell
Even with John Wall, Yi Jianlian and Andray Blatche back in the starting lineup, the Wizards (6-16) were unable to turn around their road woes after they returned to the Verizon Center on Friday. They dropped the match to the New York Knicks (15-9) by a 101-95 final margin.
The Wizards went winless on their 3-game road trip, falling to 12-0 on the road this year, an unfortunate franchise record. Needless to say, they needed a change of scenery. The Knicks, on the other hand, came to Washington with a 6-game winning streak and a 7-game road winning streak.
Both teams traded the lead in the first quarter, but the Wizards found their way to a 12-point lead in the second by breaking down the Knicks’ defense and getting dunks by Wall and JaVale McGee.
The third quarter was a shootout, with the lead changing nine times in the quarter alone. Hard drives, fouls and loose balls forced both sides to play with more energy just to stay in the game. Kirk Hinrich came off the bench and kept driving to the basket. He did not make a shot, but was fouled three times and went 6-6 on his free throw attempts.
“Kirk Hinrich did a great job as far as going after the ball,” Head Coach Flip Saunders said after the game, focusing more on Hinrich’s four defensive rebounds, three in the third quarter, than his 13 points.
The Knicks kept the lead at the end, 76-73 going into the fourth, but sought to extend it. And they had a little help in doing it. Blatche waved his arms at a referee and received a technical foul, before the desolated Wizards took a technical for a 3-second violation.
With only three minutes left and Amar’e Stoudemire, who finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 11 turnovers, at the free-throw line, the fans started mixing boos with chants of “M.V.P.”
“New York is not that far,” said Nick Young. “They played great and you cannot do nothing [sic]. The fans were on their side tonight.”
Wall drove to the basket in the last minute of play and, surrounded by three Knicks, put the ball up but could not find points or a foul.
It was the dagger of the game and of Wall’s night. He finished with only eight points with a 4-14 shooting mark in nearly 37 minutes.
“Number one is that he struggles,” Saunders said. “When he misses shots – this is most young players – they think a lot to their game is dictated by whether they make shots or not make shots. He is one of the few players in the game, and maybe he does not totally understand it yet, but he can have an impact on the game by not even scoring.”
Gilbert Arenas added, “Hopefully in a few days, a few weeks, he will be back to himself.”
It was Wall’s first game back from a sore left foot, the latest part of an injury-plagued season for him. However, he is convinced that the Wizards are taking care of his health adequately.
“I think they are doing a good job,” said Wall. “They leave it up to me and I feel like I am good enough to play … They are not pushing me to get back, but they want to know if I can go or I cannot go.”
Washington now has two consecutive losses at home, and five consecutive losses overall, as the Knicks extended their streak to eight wins on the road. This is certainly not the scenario the Wizards wanted to see through a quarter of the season.
“We’ll take tomorrow off, come back Sunday and Monday and have two good practices and get ready to play against the Lakers who come in with a full roster, Bynum being healthy to play,” Saunders said. “It will definitely be a challenge for us.”