A.J. Price making case for starting point guard spot

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October 22, 2012

And what?! (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

A.J. Price is used to being prepared for any situation in Washington, as he vies for the Wizards’ starting point guard spot while John Wall is sidelined. Price has started four of the first six preseason games, played sparingly in two others, and doesn’t always know if he will be with the first, second or third unit in practice.

“I was out there with the blue jerseys” on Sunday Price said, tugging at his practice jersey, in the color reserved for reserves.

The uncertainty certainly keeps Price and his teammates on their toes, with several starting positions and rotation spots up for grabs before the season opener on Oct. 30 in Cleveland.

“It is tough, I must admit, but it is all part of being professional,” said Price, whose backup practice attire came a day after he started and scored 17 points with 11 assists, four rebounds and just two turnovers in a 102-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Coach Randy Wittman continues to experiment with his lineups in the preseason and only has two exhibition games remaining to make a final decision. Though Price has begun to separate himself from Shelvin Mack and Jannero Pargo – Price also had eight points and eight assists in a loss to Toronto – Wittman isn’t ready make any declarations about his starting point guard.

Wittman did acknowledge that Price has had “probably his two best performances these last two games.”

Price was at his best in Milwaukee, where he shot 6 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from beyond the three-point line, and appeared more comfortable running the team and taking his advantage of his scoring opportunities.

“I feel good,” Price said. “Confidence is growing each game, more as a unit than me personally. We’re gaining confidence the more we play with each other, the more we get to know each other. It feels good to get out there and put a performance together where you play well and finish up with the win.”

After struggling to produce offense in the first four games, the Wizards have topped 100 points in the past two games and Price believes the players are finally starting to understand what teammates are capable of doing.

“More continuity comes when we play more, the more minutes we play together,” Price said. “I think we have a feel for each other between those games, the practices, gaining more of a confidence in each other, learning what guys want to do. [In Milwaukee], those first five guys I came out with, I pretty much know what those guys want to do offensively and defensively. As a unit, we looked pretty good.”

Price closed out the game with a huge three-pointer that put the Wizards up seven points with 30.3 seconds remaining and he strutted to the bench, taking on leaping chest bumps and shouting, “And what?! And what?!”

“A.J. was big,” Trevor Ariza said. “He controlled the game. Getting the ball in the right places. Getting us in positions where we can score and be effective.”

Wittman also noted how Price stepped up defensively and guarded both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. “Those are two hard covers in our league, Jennings and Ellis,” he said. “I thought he battled those guys good.”

Price signed with the Wizards last summer for the veteran minimum after three years in Indiana, with the Wizards looking for a more experienced backup point guard than Mack. Wall went down before training camp and is out for another six weeks and the team then added Pargo. Mack and Pargo have also had some good moments, but Price has started to distinguish himself.

“He’s a big part of this team,” Trevor Booker said. “With John hurt, he’s going to have to step in and do big things for us. He showed he can do that” in Milwaukee.

Wittman will likely continue to give Mack and Pargo opportunities over the final two games, leaving Price unsure about how he will be used. But he certainly isn’t complaining about Wittman giving him a fair shot to earn his spot.

“You have to be ready at any moment,” Price said. “Especially in this league, you never know when you’re number is going to be called. You got to be ready to play at every time.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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