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Wizards fall short against Knicks

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 2:08 AM

NEW YORK - John Wall was a blur, moving so fast that he barely gave the New York Knicks time to blink before he was blowing by them.

After former Washington Wizard Roger Mason Jr. made a long jumper with about four seconds left in the first quarter, Wall didn't give his opponents a chance to get comfortable before he took an inbounds pass and darted the full length of the court. Anthony Randolph finally reacted, but when he was called for goaltending on Wall's shot attempt off the glass, Wall had gone from one end of the floor to the other in 3.9 seconds.

Coach Flip Saunders has watched the No. 1 overall pick play six preseason games, enough time for him to determine that there probably isn't a faster player with the ball in the league. "I don't think so," Saunders said. "No."

In the second-to-last preseason game for the Wizards, Wall flashed his blazing speed, JaVale McGee was an intimidating presence on defense with six blocked shots and Kirk Hinrich displayed his surprising rebounding prowess with a team-high nine rebounds.

Al Thornton also returned to action after missing the previous two games with a sprained left ankle and scored 12 points in about 26 minutes. But when Saunders saw Andray Blatche hobbling around the floor after tweaking his right foot early in the fourth quarter, he decided he had seen enough of the players he expects to be among the core contributors this season. Saunders called on reserves, but they were unable to maintain the lead, and Washington lost, 92-90, at Madison Square Garden.

"I thought our main guys played good together at times, so that was positive. I thought the defense was solid," Saunders said. "Disappointing thing was, guys that came off the bench, we didn't have the offensive execution or defensive execution that we needed."

Gilbert Arenas arrived at the arena with his hair closely cropped and that scraggly beard sheared down to a faint goatee, evidence that he has put aside the distant, sullen persona he brought to training camp. But the new look also represented something else for the Wizards as they prepared to play their penultimate game: The fun-and-games portion of the exhibition schedule is over.

With a young and relatively inexperienced team, the Wizards certainly took their first five games seriously, but Saunders needed to use Sunday's game against the Knicks - and Tuesday's finale against Detroit - as an opportunity to make a more discerning evaluation of players he expects to be a part of the regular rotation, and possibly those who will make the opening day roster.

"These games are huge games to make sure we make the right decisions on what players we keep and what players we have to release," Saunders said. "There were some good things, some bad things, some good learning experience. We had some guys that played, fighting for playing time, some hurt, some helped."

Arenas was sidelined with a mild groin strain suffered in the Wizards' loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, opening up an opportunity for Cartier Martin to get his first start of the preseason in place of Nick Young, who had started the previous two games. Martin, who is trying to make the team on a non-guaranteed contract, finished with just four points and got a lesson in the NBA's new technical foul rules, as he was called for a foul and hit with a technical while trying to explain that Knicks forward Danilo Gallinari had thrown an elbow in his direction. Martin has been in an intense battle for minutes at backup small forward with Adam Morrison, who didn't play on Sunday.

McGee started at center after coming off the bench the previous two games. His initial stint was uneven, as he blocked two shots but also picked up two quick fouls and headed to the bench after less than two minutes. When he came back, the Wizards trailed by one point, but McGee helped turn around the game by becoming a menace on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards closed the first half on a 11-0 run, with Hinrich and Blatche connecting on three-pointers, Wall converting a three-point play and McGee catching a pass from Blatche and dunking with two hands. He had another impressive highlight in the third period, when he blocked a shot by Knicks guard Raymond Felton, then sprinted down the floor to catch a lob from Hinrich and dunk.

"We got to see how we're going to mesh when the regular season comes and the games count, and I feel like we're doing real well," McGee said.

Blatche finished with 11 points and seven rebounds but admitted that he twisted his foot in the fourth quarter. "It's a little sore, but I'll be all right."

Saunders said he was pleased with some things that Blatche and McGee were able to do, but he was disappointed that the duo, along with Thornton, combined for nine of the Wizards' 22 turnovers. He's willing to be patient but only for so long.

"You have patience in the preseason," he said. "You don't have patience in the regular season."

Wall led the Wizards with 19 points and six assists and dazzled fans at the arena with his explosiveness. "I love playing in Madison Square Garden," he said. "The lights is bright, you've got to perform. It's the mecca of basketball, why wouldn't you want to play here?"

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