Suns take control of Wizards in 3rd quarter
PHOENIX - When he was a rising senior at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., John Wall attended the Steve Nash Skills Academy in New Jersey. Wall met with Nash, got some lessons in making floaters and keeping his dribble alive, and he has continued to study what the two-time league's most valuable player does to remain so successful and efficient.
In his first professional matchup against Nash, Wall got schooling in abundance on how to efficiently run an offense and keep an opposing defense at your mercy. Nash ran a full clinic on Sunday, as he took advantage of the Washington Wizards' inability to defend high pick-and-rolls by throwing lob after lob to his slam-dunking Phoenix Suns teammates. And when the Wizards failed to play him honest, he sank open jumpers.
Wall finished with his fifth double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 assists, but after doing most of his damage in the first three quarters, Nash made all eight of his field goal attempts and finished 20 points and 17 assists to hand the Wizards their 10th consecutive road loss to start the season, 125-108, at US Airways Center.
"It's a whole lot you can learn from it," Wall said about Nash after the Wizards lost on the road by double-digits for the fourth game in a row. "He's a great player that knows all the tricks of the trade. He always keeps the pressure on you, keeps his dribble alive. He does a great job and their team does a great job of running their offense through him."
Andray Blatche had 24 points to lead the Wizards, who have lost eight consecutive games to Phoenix, with their last win coming on Dec. 22, 2006, when Gilbert Arenas ended the Suns' 15-game winning streak by scoring 54 points in an overtime victory.
"That was many years ago, many years ago," Arenas said, pausing to laugh and take a deep breath. He added that it is remarkable to see Nash continue to dominate at age 36. "It's great, you get the jitters in you and you start thinking about what used to be. I'm happy for him, that he's still doing it at his age."
Arenas had 14 points and six assists coming off the bench for the second game in a row, with Coach Flip Saunders again going with a starting back court of Kirk Hinrich and Wall, with Alonzo Gee playing small forward. Saunders said he would have to "wait and see" if would make any changes, but added: "I don't look at guys who start games. I look at guys who finish games. Who starts really doesn't matter."
Arenas again stated that he doesn't have a problem with a reserve role. "Thirty minutes to start or 30 minutes coming off the bench, it's still 30 minutes, no matter how you look at it. The starting five has a good nucleus and the bench has a good nucleus, no matter if you start or come off the bench you have to play."
The Wizards' bench actually carried the team against the Suns, providing 60 points. For the first time in nearly three weeks, the Wizards had their full complement of players (aside from the still-rehabbing Josh Howard), as Nick Young returned after missing one game because of a bruised right thigh he injured in Wednesday's loss in Toronto. Young scored 20 points, with Yi Jianlian matching his season-high with 13 points while playing his second game since returning from a hyperextended right knee suffered in Chicago on Nov. 13.
Young and Yi helped the Wizards shoot 54.2 percent in the first half, as they trailed just 64-61 at the break. Nash took control of the game in the third period, handing out eight assists, as the Suns outscored the Wizards 31-17. The Suns beat the Wizards by using the same play three times, with a player curling around on a back screen and Nash tossing the ball toward the rim. And by the time the Wizards adjusted, Nash and Jason Richardson (21 points) sparked a 12-2 run by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.
Coming off their best defensive performance of the season - when they held Portland to just 79 points and 33.3 percent shooting on Friday at Verizon Center - the Wizards looked lost and confused all night and never seemed to be in the right spots. The Suns shot 58 percent, with Hakim Warrick leading all scorers with 26 points off the bench.
The Wizards trailed by 21 points when Suns reserve Jared Dudley made a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter, and Suns Coach Alvin Gentry seemed content with letting his starters sit for the rest of the night. But he had to change those plans as the Wizards - with a lineup that featured Arenas, Wall, Blatche, Young and Trevor Booker - got within 107-95 with 5 minutes 13 seconds remaining as Arenas found Blatche for a short jumper. Nash quickly restored order, handing out three assists, and sat for the final 2:42 after the Suns push the lead back to 18.