Wizards' Wall struggles to regain his explosiveness

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010

John Wall's frustration was palpable as he sat in front of his locker tugging at an elastic band. Rather than thinking about the player he can be, he just wants to be the player he once was.

And he doesn't see that player right now.

"At times, I can't really blow past people like I want to, or finish at the basket, or do certain things that I'm used to doing," Wall said after scoring a season-low eight points in Friday's 101-95 home loss to the New York Knicks. "It's tough because. . . I have the same ability to do certain things, but not all the stuff I was doing before.

"I'm not fully healthy, but I think I'm good enough to help the team out."

After missing the final leg of the Washington Wizards' three-game western road trip with a sore left foot, Wall and the team decided shortly before Friday's tipoff that he was ready to rejoin the lineup.

Though the 20-year-old rookie showed some explosiveness in spurts - including a breakaway one-handed jam late in the second quarter - he couldn't sustain it.

Wall played nearly 37 minutes and committed just one turnover. It became apparent early on, however, that he could not accelerate normally, and the Knicks challenged him to beat them from the outside. He finished 4 for 14 from the field.

"He lost his energy when he didn't make shots and he became frustrated," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said. "Right now, they're going to give him all the 19-footers he wants."

Wall dismissed the notion that the team may have rushed him back into the lineup.

"They went to me and [asked me] if I feel like I'm healthy enough to play," Wall said. "They're not pushing me to get back, but they want to know if I can go or I can't go. . . . I'm not blaming it all on my health. I still have a little bit left in me."

As the Wizards (6-16), who have lost all 12 of their road games this season, play four of their next five at home - with games against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and the Miami Heat on Saturday - this might be their chance to develop the consistency they have sought all season. They showed they could compete with the better teams in the league; they had a five-point halftime lead against the Knicks, who have won seven straight and 12 of 13.

It would be tough, though, for Washington to find a rhythm - a term thrown around by Saunders and several Wizards after Friday's game - if the team's centerpiece isn't at full strength. In addition to foot and knee injuries that have kept him out of seven of the Wizards' 22 games, Wall jammed his left thumb early in the third quarter, sidelining him for eight minutes.

"It takes away my momentum and it puts my confidence down," Wall said. "When I'm not making [shots], I've still got to do the things that help the team, like bringing it on the defensive end or finding my teammates."

Wall and Gilbert Arenas each said they are still learning how to collaborate offensively. Both have shown in the past that they can be effective scorers or distributors. Wall said they are "trying to figure out what our chemistry is" as they learn how to share those duties.

"He's been looking for me down the stretch," said Arenas, who scored nine of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter. "I've . . . proven that I can score down the stretch. Other than that, he has the ball and he makes all the decisions."

Saunders said that is a lesson Wall is still learning. Prior to this season, Wall has never been in a situation where he isn't looked to for most key plays or big baskets. As far as Wall is concerned, he has always been able to equate his value on the court with an impressive stat line.

"He struggles when he misses shots," Saunders said. "As [with] most young players, they think that a lot of their game is dictated by whether they make shots or not make shots. He's one of the few players in the game - and he maybe doesn't totally understand it yet - that he can have an impact on the game by not even scoring."

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