By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 12:33 AM
New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul started with some trickery, sending John Wall to the bench with his second foul in the first three minutes. Paul used some savvy to grab Wall's shorts, then pulled himself to ground. Wall raised his arms, patted his thighs and walked away upset.
Then Paul repeatedly stripped the ball from the No. 1 overall pick, leaving Wall confused and apprehensive. And after setting up his teammates, Paul knocked down an impossible-to-defend, high-arching floater that ensured the Washington Wizards would start the new year with a 92-81 loss Saturday night at Verizon Center.
Wall said he learned a lot in his first matchup against all-star and fellow North Carolina native Paul, who showed the young guard there is more to running a team than just collecting assists and scoring the occasional basket; protecting the ball is paramount to secure wins.
Wall and Paul had similar stat lines, with Wall finishing with 12 points and 10 assists, and Paul having 13 points and 11 assists. But the differences were glaring, as Wall committed eight turnovers, compared to one for Paul, and Paul had seven steals.
"You could see the difference between an established point guard and a young one," Coach Flip Saunders said. "When things got a little haywire for them, [Paul] took control of it. When things got haywire for us, we tried to speed up things."
The Wizards have played better at home this season, but they have yet to defeat a team who entered with a winning record in their building. They had another opportunity Saturday, as Wall helped build a 13-point lead during an electrifying seven-minute, second-quarter run. But with the Hornets trapping Wall on pick-and-rolls and forcing him to pick up his dribble, and Paul anticipating what the rookie would do, the Wizards let the game slip away through some forced and, at times, careless turnovers that led to fast-break opportunities.
Hornets forward Trevor Ariza benefited the most, as he scored 13 of his team-high 22 points in the third quarter, when the Wizards were outscored 26-15.
"They ran us. Instead of hitting them, they hit us," Nick Young said after scoring a game-high 24 points. "We've got to get over that hump. Stop just settling for playing hard and start playing to win."
Young brought the Wizards (8-24) within 80-74 with 4 minutes 48 seconds remaining when he caught a pass from Wall and buried a corner three-pointer. But the Hornets put the Wizards away in a six-second-sequence, as Ariza got the ball near the three-point line, drove inside, cocked the ball behind his head and jack-hammered a dunk right over JaVale McGee (12 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots). Wall tried a quick strike and appeared to travel as he pushed the ball up the floor. But Paul poked the ball away from him, then scooted up the floor for a layup that gave the Hornets a 10-point lead.
"He's a smarter player, a better player right now," Wall said of Paul. "He knows the game. He knows when to pick his spots, when he wants to score and when he wants to find his teammates. He does a great job and there's so much you can learn from him. That's all I can do, take what I learned from this game and use it in the future."
The matchup between Paul and Wall was interrupted by Wall's early foul trouble. Point guard Kirk Hinrich missed his second consecutive game with a left thigh contusion and emergency point guard Josh Howard sat after developing some soreness in his surgically repaired left knee Friday in Indiana, creating more pressure for Wall to remain on the floor.
Wall returned in the second period and had five points and six assists within the first seven minutes. Wall fed Al Thornton along the baseline for a jumper that gave the Wizards a 43-30 lead, but the Hornets went on a 20-4 run over the next eight minutes, taking advantage of some sloppy ball handling and poor shots. The Wizards' only points came after Wall stole the ball from David West, sprinted past Paul and dunked, and later when he found Andray Blatche for a layup. Paul hit Emeka Okafor (17 points, 15 rebounds) for a dunk that brought the Hornets within 47-42 at the break.
The Hornets continued to apply pressure on the Wizards, opening the second half by scoring the first eight points, a run that was aided by three Wall turnovers. Ariza stole the ball from Wall twice, leading to two fast-break layups, with Wall fouling him and setting up a three-point play that gave the Hornets a 50-47 lead.
"I thought we turned the ball over too many times. When you give a team easy baskets, it's going to be hard to win," Rashard Lewis (14 points) said. "We've got to learn from our mistakes. We've got to play for 48 minutes. We can't play one half or play three quarters to win a ball game."
The Wizards regained control briefly when Wall buried a three-pointer for a 60-56 lead, but the Hornets ended the third period on a 12-2 run, taking a 68-62 lead when Jarrett Jack made a long jumper.
"He is a really talented player and he's got a great future ahead of him," Paul said of Wall. "For now he just needs to get healthy, and that's what I told him. You can tell his foot is still a little off, and once he gets back to a hundred percent we can all only expect great things."