Wizards’ John Wall hoping to cut back on turnovers


Washington Wizards’ John Wall (2) tries but can’t save the ball from going out of bounds in front of Atlanta Hawks’ DeMarre Carroll (5) in the second half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 101-99 in overtime. (David Tulis / Associated Press)

John Wall glided into the lane, got near the hoop, then slipped as New York Knicks center Andrea Bargnani toward over him. Wall turned and tried to find a teammate before he fell to the ground but was surrounded by a sea of white.

After Wall landed on his backside, his pass hit Knicks guard Beno Udrih, ricocheted off Wall and rolled out of bounds.

Wall has had trouble taking care of the basketball in recent games, and his seven turnovers (tying a season high) almost came back to cost the Wizards in a 102-101 victory Monday in New York. His last turnover, in which he lost his balance in front of Bargnani, came with the Wizards trailing by one with 2 minutes 32 seconds left.

The Knicks promptly went up 98-94 on J.R. Smith’s three-pointer on the next possession before Bradley Beal saved the game by scoring Washington’s final eight points, including the winning layup with 6.9 seconds left.

“I think just reading what the defense gave me,” Wall said. “I had a couple of turnovers where they said I kicked the ball, then most of them, I hit the big man on the pocket or forced it into a window when it’s not there. Just try not to make the home-run plays and just the simple plays and I’ll be fine.”

With the ball in his hands on nearly every possession that he’s on the floor, Wall is bound to commit a few turnovers each game. He ranks fourth in the league in turnovers at 3.7 per game behind Stephen Curry, LeBron James and James Harden, and fifth in total turnovers with 86, despite playing at least one game fewer than the four players ahead of him, Curry, Evan Turner, James and Victor Oladipo.

In his past five games, Wall is averaging 5.2 turnovers and has had at least four in all of them.

All of the miscues in New York weren’t Wall’s fault. Knicks guard Iman Shumpert stuck out his foot and kicked Wall’s dribble into the backcourt and out of bounds. Somehow, officials felt that Wall could defy the laws of physics by kicking a ball backward while moving forward and rewarded the possession to Knicks.

Carmelo Anthony scored on the other end to put the Knicks up 66-64 as the Wizards went from leading by 15 points to trailing in the span of roughly six minutes. It was the second double-digit second-half lead in four games that the Wizards had wasted.

“That’s one thing we’ve got to better job of: just keeping leads. In the third quarter, we usually win or lose games,” Wall said. “We fight back, get the lead or we give it up.”

Wall called the Knicks’ game a “must-win” and had 19 points and five assists in the first half. He scored the Wizards’ last nine points of the second period, concluding the run by converting a three-point play and shouting to the crowd after putting his team ahead 53-42 at halftime.

“We been down 20 at halftime almost every game [in New York] I’ve been in, I feel like, since my rookie year, so for us to be up was big,” said Wall, who had four turnovers at the break.

Coach Randy Wittman told his team at halftime that the lead should’ve been much larger.

“As I try to get these guys to realize this, I think they think I’m crazy sometimes when we have 14 turnovers at halftime and we’re up 11,” Wittman said, without singling out Wall. “What could it be if we took care of the ball? Those things, they look at, ‘Coach, we’re up.’ But we could’ve been up 20.”

A 20-point or more cushion would’ve been beneficial in the third quarter, when the Wizards were outscored by 13 points and trailed entering the final period. “You can’t let a team go on a 12-2 run in two minutes. You work for 10 minutes to get a 15-point lead and in two minutes it’s gone,” Wittman said. “The first half, we were really careless with the ball.”

Wall had to handle almost all of the playmaking duties for the Wizards with Beal and Nene down. Beal returned against the Knicks and Nene is probable for Wednesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, which should relieve Wall from having to create for himself and others.

“Having Bradley back gives us another ball-handler, which was sorely missed,” Wittman said. “John had to do so much of that, with Bradley out. Whereas, now, John can throw the ball ahead, go to the weakside. Brad run a pick and roll, create, that’s a big plus for us. A team can’t focus in” on Wall.

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

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Michael Lee · December 17, 2013