One good thing to say about the Wizards is that they are competitive.
Well, for stretches.
They hung with the high-flying Heat a couple weeks ago before blowing it at the end. They gave the Bulls a good game a couple of days later prompting Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau to praise the young team. Against the Hornets on Saturday, at one point they held a 13-point second quarter lead. Then Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor asserted their will in the second half of the contest to claim a New Orleans victory, 92-81 at Verizon Center.
The Wizards should be able to look at this game and feel that they learned a few things. What the Hornets did well is the direct inverse of the problems that plague the Wizards. New Orleans is great on defense, forces a lot of turnovers and does a good job both executing the pick-and-roll and defending it. The microcosm of how the Hornets play and how the Wizards go about things can be seen directly in the play of their respective point guards — Chris Paul and John Wall.
Paul led the Hornets’ second half charge and finished the game with 13 points, 11 assists, seven steals and five rebounds to go against only one turnover in 33:11 of playing time. Wall was on the floor two seconds longer — 33:13 — and had 12 points, 10 assists, two steals, two rebounds and … eight turnovers. That is pretty much the difference in the game.
“You see the difference between a veteran point guard and a young one,” Wizards’ head coach Flip Saunders said. “John 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, with maybe not being as fast as he has to be, but just controlling the whole tempo of the game. When things got a little bit haywire he took control, while on the other end when it got haywire for us we tried to speed up things instead of getting into execution.”
Wall has so much talent and is so quick that the big thing for him as he grows in the NBA is to learn how to play in control. That was the starkest difference between Paul and Wall on Saturday; where Paul was able to slow the game down and let things come to him, Wall was at full tilt.
There was a shining example in the fourth quarter. Washington was attempting to climb back into the game when Ariza (22 points, six rebounds, five steals) went to the sky over JaVale McGee for a “you’ve just been poster-ized” dunk. McGee played well, banging up against the extremely tough Okafor and holding his own but it was a very up and down night for the Wizards’ center and that play was the exclamation. On the ensuing inbounds pass Wall received the ball, turned up floor and was stripped by Paul for an easy layup.
“Anticipation,” Paul said of the steal. “I watch a lot of basketball, a lot of basketball. I just sort of know what is going to happen sometimes before it does.”
That is where Wall could learn a few things. Paul is a student of the game. At this point in his life, Wall is still learning about himself.
“He’s a smart player, better player right now. He knows the game. He knows when to pick his parts, when you want to score and when you want to find his teammates. He does a great job and there is so much you can learn from him,” Wall said. “It wasn’t really going to be a big matchup. Everybody is going to make it into a big matchup when you go up against a top point guard.”
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams said that he was impressed by Wall but that he definitely could take a few pointers from a guy like Paul.
“I see a lot of positives in him having eight turnovers. He will be able to take a look at the film and see how Chris does it and what he does and try to learn something, ” Williams said. “Most young guys when they play against a prime time guy like Chris, I am pretty sure that he was thinking about it all of yesterday … But, it happens to rookies, make no mistake about it, that guy is going to be really, really good some day. He will be an All-Star soon.”
Paul’s lesson to Wall was just to know that he is the leader on the court, on both ends of the floor. The Wizards are a decent defensive team, but as Paul said after the game, the Hornets are one of the best defensive teams in the league. New Orleans won because they created 17 turnovers and had 15 steals and Washington just could not keep the pressure on all night.
“We are in a situation where we are giving up 20-something points on turnovers, another 15 points on free throws,” Saunders said. “They get 95, 90 points or whatever it is and 40 percent of them are coming from our offense or the free throw line, that is putting too much pressure on our defense as far as having to defend them.”
— Ariza took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 of his 22 points as the Hornets took control.
— Okafor was just too much for Andray Blatche and McGee to handle. The former UConn big man finished the night with 17 points and 15 rebounds.
— McGee was probably the player of the game for the Wizards with 12 points and 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was McGee’s ninth double-double of the year.
— Nick Young led all scorers with 24 points. He also had five rebounds and three assists.
— Kirk Hinrich (left thigh contusion) and Josh Howard (sore left knee) did not play for Washington.