Somehow, John Wall was able to fly to Dallas to watch Kentucky lose to Connecticut in Monday’s NCAA title game, fly back home to Washington by 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, catch some sleep, wake up and go through practice in preparation for the most important game of the season.
“It was easy,” Wall said. “Slept all the way here. Got a nap when I got home and then came to practice. I’m a night owl, man. So it don’t bother me.”
Wall was able to quickly shift his focus to Wednesday’s matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats, a clash which could likely determine the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Fully aware of the stakes, Wall didn’t have to tap into his energy reserves to get ready.
“We know we’re fighting for a seed and it’s basically a playoff game and we’ve got to come out with more effort and fight from the beginning,” Wall said. “We’re one game ahead, so we know it’s the biggest game of the season for us, no matter what we did in the pastwiza. This is the biggest game and we’ve got to come out fully focused from the start to the finish. It’s the biggest game if you want to stay in the three through six range, or you want to fall down.”
The Wizards (40-37) could’ve made it easier on themselves by defeating Charlotte last week at Time Warner Cable Arena. Washington blew a double-digit lead for the 11th time this season in that defeat, allowing the Bobcats to rally from a 16-point second half deficit to prevail, 100-94. Had they won that previous meeting, the Wizards would have a three-game lead and own the tiebreaker against the Bobcats (39-38) heading into Wednesday’s matchup.
“We know we gave a game away against them in Charlotte,” Wall said. “And that’s something we did in the past, that we have to learn, when we have big leads, keep it.”
But the Wizards can’t go back in time and get a do-over. Otherwise, there are several other games that they’d like to have back.
With Brooklyn taking a three-game lead for the fifth spot on Tuesday after an 89-88 victory over the Miami Heat, the Wizards are likely to finish either finish sixth or seventh. And that spot will be determined against the Bobcats. If the Wizards win, they would have a two-game lead and claim the tiebreaker with four games remaining because of a superior conference record. If Charlotte wins, they will have the tiebreaker after winning the season series, 3-1.
The Wizards are expected to welcome back Nene for the first time since he sprained his left knee on Feb. 23 and Trevor Ariza should also be available after going through a light workout during Tuesday’s practice. Ariza was sidelined on Monday after battling with the flu.
“They’re in the playoffs, we’re in the playoffs. I would be shocked if it wasn’t a high intensity game. We’ve seen those. I think that’s good. The more we can [experience] that type of intensity, the better,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “You can’t go into a game against a team that’s one game behind you and not think it’s a big game.”
Wall is perhaps due for a big game against the Bobcats, who have brought out the worst in him this season. In three games against Charlotte, Wall is averaging just 16.7 points (third-worst against Eastern Conference opponents), shooting just 37.3 percent (third-worst) and handing out just six assists (tied for worst).
He has gone scoreless in the fourth quarter of the past two games against the Bobcats, including the Wizards’ 98-85 loss at Verizon Center in which Wall scored a team-high 23 points.
That loss also proved costly for Wall’s wallet because he got fined $15,000 for making inappropriate comments to the referees afterward. Upset over several non-calls that went against him and being assessed a personal foul as Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker attempted a three-pointer, Wall lashed out. Wall wasn’t able to use that frustration as motivation when the teams met last week in Charlotte and he had his worst outing in his past 15 games, scoring just 10 points on 4 of 16 shooting.
After an embarrassing home loss to the Chicago Bulls, Wall believes that the Wizards will be better prepared to match the physicality of the Bobcats. “If we don’t come out with that mindset, it’ll be a long night, you could probably lose the game. You’ve got to play like you did against the Heat, OKC, all those, that doesn’t matter what you’ve accomplished so far.”
As for the national title game, Wall conceded that the better team won, with Connecticut’s backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright proving to be the difference. Wall added that he believes Napier should be the first point guard taken in the 2014 NBA draft. “Those two guards controlled the game, just basically like they did most of the tournament. Did whatever they wanted. They had a great game plan,” he said. “Kentucky had their chances to take the lead but they didn’t make shots or go up with the opportunity when Shabazz was out. But they made big shots. That’s what you’ve got to do. They had the right game plan.”
Wall laughed when asked if he would be fired up to avenge the Wildcats’ loss since he will be matched up with Connecticut alum Walker. “Nah, nah. I know he’s going to have his jokes,” he said of Walker. “But nah, it’s the Washington Wizards versus the Charlotte Bobcats to me.”