By John Powell
A new year can give hope for a new beginning. The first day of a new year can set the tone for the next 364 days.
So when the Wizards took to the court of the Verizon center, they wanted to make an impact. They cannot do anything about their woeful 0-16 road record just yet, but they had a chance to get off on the right foot Saturday night.
Through three quarters, even getting a double-digit lead, it looked possible. That was until a fourth-quarter defensive meltdown gave the New Orleans Hornets a 92-81 victory.
Washington came out strong in the first half, coming out the first quarter with a 1-point deficit before running to a 13-point lead. The run, a perfect example of the team clicking, was fueled by the Wizards future stars: John Wall, who had seven first half assists, JaVale McGee, who had nine first half rebounds, and Nick Young, who led the team with nine first-half points.
Wall was playing in his fifth game coming back from a leg injury and worked well on the offensive side, to finish with 12 points and 10 assists for a double-double.
It was on defense that he made his costly miscues. He went to the bench only minutes into the game after receiving two personal fouls. Without them, his impressive offensive numbers could have grown even quicker. But he is young and has a lot to learn, and took the opportunity to learn from Chris Paul, one of the more renowned point guards in the league.
“I learned a whole lot,” Wall said. “Especially on the offensive end, how he was pacing everything and finding his teammates. He does a great job of stealing the ball.”
Most of the steals came against Wall, who had eight turnovers on the night. On paper, Wall has statistically good nights, but turning the ball over, a problem he had before joining the team, is a killer.
“You see the difference between a veteran point guard and a young one,” said head coach Flip Saunders. “John (Wall) is going through growing pains. Paul is an established guy that has the ability to dominate a game with maybe not scoring a lot of points, maybe not being as fast as he has to be, but controlling the whole tempo of the game. When things got a little bit haywire, [Paul] took control of it.”
McGee seems to have responded well to the retooled, due to trades and injuries, lineups. He is having a career-best year in many statistical categories and his stat sheet from Saturday night gives insight into his season, barring the one-game suspension from the incident with Andray Blatche. He finished with 13 rebounds, 6 blocked shots and 12 points for his ninth double-double of the season.
Andray Blatche brought a 16.7 scoring average into the game to McGee’s 9.1, but McGee’s rebounding average and blocks are the strongest on the team. It would seem that better scoring numbers from McGee, would make him a very valuable commodity.
Nick Young has thrived since the trade to bring in Rashard Lewis gave him the chance to start. Since then, he has started every game and only once has he scored less than ten points. He has become the team’s starting shooting guard and does not hesitate if he has a close-to-open view But he is frustrated with how the team has been playing as a whole.
“You have got to really get over that hump,” said Young after Saturday’s loss. “You have got to stop just playing hard and start winning. Start winning, start playing hard and playing to win.”
Here is the possible problem: when the stats are concentrated between so few players in these categories, the team generally does not do well. But when production is dispersed, as it was in the Miami and Charlotte games when five players scored in double figures, the Wizards do well. They may not come away with a win, but games are closer and they have a more viable opportunity to win.
The Wizards need the bench to step up and become an impact in the game. While Kirk Hinrich can look good statistically if he plays all but six seconds of a game, as he did against Miami, it is not by anyone’s choice that he gets those minutes. It is only by necessity.
The team needs to play as a unit. They should have a few go-to players, but putting pressure to perform on someone young, like Wall, may not be the best for a team who wants to win games in the short term.
Everyone will grow into their shoes and feel more comfortable in their roles with time. The 8-24 record may look dismal now, but the experience it gives will make the team better in the future. There’s no fix for this season any more, the campaign is a lost cause. For Wall and the Wizards, it is all about preparing for the future.