By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 12:33 AM
ORLANDO - About 10 hours before he was officially about to join the NBA, John Wall walked into Amway Center, bobbing his head and rapping lyrics to a song. He grabbed a basketball and immediately raced down the floor to make a layup. As Wall kept shooting, it didn't seem to matter much to him that the equipment guys had yet to arrive and he was wearing a pair of Reebok flip-flops instead of his signature sneakers.
Wall was anxious to play.
When asked before the game if the emotional buildup for his nationally televised debut was anything like his first game as a freshman last year at Kentucky, Wall said: "I feel the same, but it's a different level. I'm just ready to see where I stand."
It didn't take long for Wall to realize that this league is on a much different level, and that the separation between the Washington Wizards and the Orlando Magic is much greater. Wall's speedy drives to the basket were greeted by a muscle-bound, 6-foot-11 wall named Dwight Howard. His open jumpers rarely fell, his teammates couldn't hit shots, either, and the Wizards were embarrassed, 112-83.
"For my first game to be a road game against a team that went to the Finals two years ago, it's pretty tough," Wall said after scoring 14 points with nine assists in 35 minutes. "We knew it was going to be a tough game and we came up pretty short. As a team, we have a lot to work on."
Wall and the new-look Wizards were supremely overmatched against a veteran Magic team that was especially amped up emotionally as it opened its spectacular new arena. Orlando looked determined to remind the rest of league that there is another elite team in Florida aside from its much-hyped neighbors in Miami. Wall's performance basically got lost in the annihilation.
"We got beat by 29, so he didn't do very good," Coach Flip Saunders said. "It was a very frustrating night for everybody."
With Gilbert Arenas away in Baltimore meeting with a foot-and-ankle specialist and Josh Howard on the inactive list while he recovers from knee surgery, the Wizards only had one player on its active roster with at least six years of experience. Orlando exploited that inexperience early and often, scoring seemingly at will and dominating the Wizards in rebounding, 53-25.
Cartier Martin came off the bench and finished with a team-high 17 points and co-captain Kirk Hinrich made three three-pointers and finished with 12 points. But the Wizards' starting front line of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Al Thornton combined for 22 points and 11 rebounds, nearly matching the output of Howard, the reigning two-time defensive player of the year, who had game highs with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
"I was really disappointed in our bigs overall. We looked like we were afraid of Dwight," Saunders said. "Just looking, I know everybody else saw it. It was pretty obvious. At times, we felt sorry for ourselves. And you cant do that. This league is not a feel sorry league."
McGee had seven points and two rebounds in just 19 minutes, as he picked up two quick fouls caught frustrating glares from Saunders after nearly every easy Magic drive to the basket. Blatche was limited to just six points on 2-for-9 shooting, with the Magic flustering him early by sending Howard to double-team with Lewis.
"I wasn't mentally prepared for the early double-team. That's something I have to adjust to and work on," Blatche said.
The Magic took advantage of one of the Wizards' glaring weaknesses - interior defense - and opened the game with consecutive, uncontested, layup-line-worthy drives to basket by Vince Carter (18 points) and Rashard Lewis (13 points). Wall missed his first two jumpers, but made a driving layup on a goaltending call by Howard, and answered a Quentin Richardson three-pointer with a long jumper to bring the Wizards within 9-5. But the game was over within a matter a minutes, as Orlando went on a 15-2 run. It led 58-34 at halftime. During that game-breaking run, Wall attempted to drive into the lane, but Howard jumped straight up and clobbered Wall, sending him crashing to the floor. No foul was called, and it got worse for Wall when teammate Hilton Armstrong tripped over him and appeared to inadvertently kick him before stumbling to the ground.With his teammates unable to get going offensively, Wall was unusually aggressive as he took 11 of the Wizards' first 24 shots. He missed eight of them. He scored six points in the first period, but missed seven shots in row before making a jumper near the end of the third quarter. He then had his one noteworthy highlight shortly thereafter, when Yi Jianlian had the ball stripped by J.J. Redick and Wall recovered, picked up the ball and dunked. Wall missed 13 of his 19 shot attempts.
"I don't ever like to shoot that many shots. I like to shoot, 10 or 12 or less, unless it's a game where I'm feeling kind of hot and coach wants me to take those shots," Wall said. "Some nights, you're going to make them, some nights you're not. Tonight, I didn't make it."
Howard, a former No. 1 overall pick, summoned Wall over to him after the game, reminding him to slow down and take his time through an 82-game season. Before the game, Howard said that Wall shouldn't worry about the expectations in his first year.
"Some people take being the No. 1 pick differently," Howard said. "When I was a rookie, I just tried to come out and just play, have fun.I didn't care about the No. 1 pick or anything like that. I just wanted to go out and play. I'm doing something I love. So just have fun doing it."
But that will come in time.