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Nick Young hoping for another big game against the Lakers

Washington's Nick Young, left, drives past Los Angeles's Lamar Odom to score two of his season-high 30 points last week against the Lakers.
Washington's Nick Young, left, drives past Los Angeles's Lamar Odom to score two of his season-high 30 points last week against the Lakers. (Jae C. Hong/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 1:06 AM

Nick Young's pirouette layup against the Los Angeles Lakers last week made his hometown fans gasp in awe and dominated postgame highlight shows. The beautiful, acrobatic play could've easily been dismissed as luck or a testament to his athletic gifts, but in many ways, it also symbolized Young's turnaround in his fourth season with the Washington Wizards.

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Before he made a 360-degree shot around Lamar Odom, Young had to determine that the best way to split Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol was to first use a Hilton Armstrong screen, then his speed. When he spotted Odom alone under the basket, he quickly decided that a spin move was the best way to avoid him. And, finally, Young needed deep concentration to softly bank the shot off the glass.

"I've been practicing that for a while," the usually playful Young said with a grin after scoring a season-high 30 points at Staples Center. He added that he "had that game that you practice by yourself, in the gym, with nobody around."

The Wizards (6-16) will likely need more of that spectacular version of Young as they host the two-time defending champion Lakers on Tuesday at Verizon Center. They could possibly be without their three top scorers, with Andray Blatche out because of swelling in his left knee, John Wall "very questionable" with soreness in his right knee and Gilbert Arenas probable after missing practice on Monday with what the team has referred to as "general soreness."

This is not an ideal situation for a team that is on a season-high four-game losing streak. "You think?" Coach Flip Saunders said, half-jokingly, about the injuries. "I guess that's been more the norm this season than it's been abnormal. You go with what you have. It gives guys opportunities to step up and show what they have, show what they can do."

Blatche missed the Wizards' 115-108 loss to the Lakers and Young filled in with his best performance of a season that has already seen him score at least 20 points six times off the bench and nail a game-winning three-pointer in overtime against Philadelphia.

Young's outburst against the Lakers wasn't simply another big game against the team for which he grew up cheering - the one his family continues to support whenever it doesn't play the Wizards.

It was yet another example of what has helped Young maintain his longest stretch of consistent play in his career: He is more decisive and more attentive. And thus, more reliable. "I'm just going all out, by any means necessary," said Young, who is averaging a career-high 12.8 points and has scored in double figures in 11 of the past 14 games. "I want to be a great player. You just got to have faith."

Young's faith was a little shaken this summer when the Wizards drafted Wall with the No. 1 overall pick and traded for Kirk Hinrich. The moves meant that Gilbert Arenas would move over to shooting guard and that there would likely be fewer minutes available in the back court. Young was thrilled about being surrounded by better talent but was worried that he'd be placed in a similar situation as the year before, when the Wizards traded for Randy Foye and Mike Miller and pushed him further back in the rotation.

"It was repeating, continuing to happen," Young said. "It was tough."

Instead of sulking, Young leaned on his older brother, Terrell, a former professional basketball player who has become more of a mentor for him. "You're always happy when you get good additions, but you have personal feelings, because you're going to be down at your position," Terrell Young said in a telephone interview. "I just told him, 'Work on things you can control. You can't dwell on things you can't control. You can't focus on who they can bring in, but you can determine how you play and get minutes.' That was really the focus. It's paying off so far."

Young added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason, in preparation of possibly getting some time at small forward, and Terrell was constantly in his ear, reminding him not to slack on his workouts since his peers are putting in extra time to get better.

"You've got to keep playing hard. Stay hungry. Everybody knows you're still talented, just haven't had the chance to really show it and blossom," Young said Terrell repeatedly told him. "So, I worked hard. I knew something was going to happen. I'm glad to see the change."

Saunders said recently about Young, "I'm probably as proud of him as anybody we've had. I was on him a lot last year. There were times he was inactive because there was a way I wanted him to play and a way he felt he needed to play, as far as being more efficient. In the past, he would pound the ball trying to get his shots. Now he's coming off, making a quick decision, shooting it, or getting rid of it and he's having a lot of more success doing that. And defensively, he's showing more concentration."

The Wizards' expectations for Young have also changed, as evidenced by his dreadful performance the day after his big night in Los Angeles, as he scored just three points in a 25-point loss to Sacramento. Saunders expressed his disappointment in Young immediately after the game and Young said the conversation served as a reminder that the Wizards are depending on him. "It's still a learning process," said Young, who responded with 17 points the next game against New York. "Now that I know, I don't want to have any slip-ups like that. To go from 30 to three, the way I've been playing. I don't want to take no steps back. I don't want to go back, I want to go forward and I feel I let myself down and my team down."

With the team likely short-handed against the Lakers, Young will have to deal more with Bryant, who guarded him and goaded him in the fourth quarter of their last game. "He was talking trash to me, just doing little things, holding me, saying 'I ain't going to be able to get off no more,' " Young said. "You've got to be able to step up to the challenge. I'm going to step up to it. Just for him to guard me and really compete and try to hold me down, says a lot. I'm going to go back at him.

"It's a great team," Young said of the Lakers. "You're supposed to get up for teams like this."


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