Wizards vs. Hornets: John Wall leads Washington to win after trade of JaVale McGree and Nick Young
By Michael Lee,
NEW ORLEANS — Any questions about how the Washington Wizards would respond to a three-team trade that stripped nearly 28 points per game from the lineup were answered on their first possession, when John Wall ran a curl backdoor and caught a lob from Jordan Crawford for an emphatic two-handed dunk.
With JaVale McGee dealt to Denver and Nick Young shipped to the Los Angeles Clippers earlier Thursday, the Wizards knew they would have to find other contributors on both ends of the floor. Wall, who found out about the trade only minutes before boarding the team bus to New Orleans Arena, made sure there wouldn’t be any slippage. In the Wizards’ 99-89 win over the Hornets, he relentlessly — and joyfully — attacked the basket for driving layups and dunks and also set up his teammates with sweet passes, scoring a game-high 26 points and handing out 12 assists as the Wizards snapped a six-game road losing streak.
“I think it was fun,” Wall said. “You see what goes on in trades and it’s tough losing teammates, but you wish them the best of luck. We came in wanting to play for those guys, but we felt like this is a game we had to win.”
But for all of Wall’s highlight-worthy plays, the Wizards needed the veteran presence and marksmanship of Roger Mason Jr. to snap a three-game losing streak overall. Mason came off the bench to score a season-high 19 points, with 14 coming in the fourth quarter.
After the Wizards squandered a 16-point second-half lead and trailed by one point with 7 minutes 34 seconds remaining, Mason responded with two three-pointers to give his team an 86-81 lead that it never surrendered. Mason then secured the win when he stole the ball from Hornets center Chris Kaman, dribbled ahead and threw a lob to Wall, who dunked with two hands to put the Wizards ahead by 97-83.
“I was just being patient and waiting for my opportunity,” Mason said.
After the game, Andray Blatche pulled Young’s jersey from out of his locker room stall and jokingly pretended to cry as he placed it on. Blatche has been with Young and McGee for their entire time in Washington and was actually with Young when he found out he had been traded.
“They are my teammates, they are my friends. I grew up with them,” Blatche said. “It wasn’t no sadness, wasn’t no disappointment. It’s the nature of the business. I’m happy for those two guys. Hopefully, they can go over there and they can help the teams win and get better. I just wish them the best in the playoffs.”
The Wizards (10-32) are headed to the lottery for the fourth consecutive season and are in the midst of a tumultuous campaign that has seen Randy Wittman replace Flip Saunders as coach after the team got off to a 2-15 start. They have improved only slightly under Wittman and Wizards brass felt the need to move further away from an era of dysfunction while adding a veteran presence to the front court in Nene. McGee and Young both played for four coaches while in Washington, and Blatche and Mason — who is on his second stint with the team — are the only players on the roster to have played with the team before Wall arrived with the No. 1 overall pick in 2010.
“Any time trade deadline comes and you’re actively involved, it’s a chaotic day,” Wittman said. “Everyone was wondering what was going to happen. It is always tough losing teammates. But that is the nature of the business. Bottom line, somebody is going to get an opportunity that might have not had the opportunity.”
With McGee gone, Kevin Seraphin got his second start of the season and responded with 12 points. He also matched his career high with nine rebounds and blocked two shots. Trevor Booker added 14 points and two blocked shots and Crawford had 17 points.
Wittman challenged his team to play better defensively after surrendering more than 100 points in 12 of its past 13 games. The Wizards responded by limiting an opponent to fewer than 90 points for just the fifth time this season — and first since Feb. 12 against Detroit.
“We had some of the best stetches defensively that I’ve seen all year,” Mason said. “Guys were talking and our pick-and-roll defense was so much better. We played unselfishly on defense. Any time you give up your body and guys are talking on defense, it shows.”
Wall scored 18 points in the first half, giving the Wizards a 56-49 lead at the break when he stole the ball from former Maryland star Greivis Vasquez and dunked. Wall put the Wizards ahead 66-50 with eight minutes left in the third quarter when he drove inside, whirled the ball around his waist to get separation from Hornets guard Marco Belinelli, and made a nifty left-handed finger roll.
Wall admired his work as he smiled and screamed on his way back on defense. The Wizards nearly let the game go, but found a way to hold on.
“We just kept fighting and fighting,” Wall said. “I think lately, we’ve been playing as a team and playing hard. We did for the whole game for the first time. When we play hard and play as a team, we give ourselves a chance. That’s all you can ask for, is give yourselves a chance.”