Wizards sharing, taking care of ball in February


I see you over there. (EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS)

John Wall pushed the ball up the floor — on one of those one-man fast breaks when he has to slow down and wait for his teammates to catch up – and Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo slid over to cut off his path to the basket. Wall whirled the ball behind his back, left to right, to coerce Oladipo and Tobias Harris into leaving their feet as he got to the rim.

With the defense committed to him, Wall whipped the ball over his head to a wide-open Trevor Booker, who buried a jumper to give the Wizards a 17-point lead in the third quarter of their 115-106 win over the Orlando Magic. After such a sweet pass, Booker said he knew he couldn’t let down Wall by shooting a brick. Wall concurred.

“I know he had to hit that J,” Wall said, loud enough for Booker to hear him on the other side of the locker room. “I thought I was going to see the old Book. The old Book would’ve dove in there with me and got a dunk right there. But you know, things ain’t going right over there. I had faith in him, though.”

Wall started chuckling and Booker laughed as well. The mood is generally upbeat after wins, but even better when players are more engaged. And in their first game since Nene sprained a ligament in his left knee, the Wizards won with a formula that they will have to maintain if they want to have any success in his absence. They had four 20-point scorers for the first time in nearly four years and had 24 assists to just 12 turnovers.

“We all were feeling it,” Bradley Beal said after scoring 21 points. “We did a great job of just moving the ball together. We were making shots. We were having fun out there.”

Though the month of February, the Wizards have done their best to focus on ball movement and management, resulting in the second winning month of the season – no matter what happens when the team travels to Toronto on Thursday to take on a Raptors team that has owned them through the first three meetings.

The Wizards (29-28) have the league’s second-best assist-to-turnover ratio this month – 1.98-to-1 — trailing only the Charlotte Bobcats, and it has contributed to the team going 7-5 and posting a differential of 4.3. This season, the Wizards rank ninth in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.65-to-1.

The current four-game winning streak began with the Wizards having 30 assists and just 10 turnovers in a victory over Atlanta, but they have had other several impressive performances in February. They had 28 assists and 11 turnovers against Atlanta, 28 assists and 10 turnovers in a loss to Houston and 26 assists and five turnovers in a win over Cleveland.

“We’ve really solidified this month. It’s not so much the four games, but the whole month,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We’re [second] in the league in assist/turnover ratio for the month of February so far.  I think we’ve really been solid from an offensive standpoint and our defense has been for the most part. Those two things together, put us where we are.”

In addition to having four players score at least 20 points for the first time since the quartet of Nick Young, JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche and Shaun Livingston on April 6, 2010, the Wizards also had four players hand out at least three assists against the Magic. Wall dished out a game-high seven and Beal and Trevor Ariza had four apiece. Beal is having the best assist month of his career, averaging 4.3 per game and having less than three assists just once. In December, Beal averaged 1.7 assists.

Wall has been much more careful with the ball this month, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.34-to-1 – a marked improvement from his season average of 2.54-to-1. In February, Wall has had two games without any turnovers, two games with just one turnover and two others with just two. In the first 45 games this season, Wall had one game with no turnovers, four games with only one and seven with just two. He has also recorded five of his 17 double-digit assist games.

“Just shows how we can play when we move the ball and we share and you’ve got different guys you’ve got to worry about,” Wall said. “Just pace and playing as a team. Everybody is getting touches and getting shots.”

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