Wizards cannot keep in step with the Suns

WASHINGTON DC -JANUARY 21 : Wizards Kevin Seraphin, left, is knocked out of the way by Suns Marcin Gortat, right, on a dunk as the Phoenix Suns defeat the Washington Wizards 109 - 91 in NBA basketball at the Verizon Center in Washington DC , photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON DC -JANUARY 21 : Wizards Kevin Seraphin, left, is knocked out of the way by Suns Marcin Gortat, right, on a dunk as the Phoenix Suns defeat the Washington Wizards 109 - 91 in NBA basketball at the Verizon Center in Washington DC , photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post) (John Mcdonnell)
  Enlarge Photo    
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 22, 2011

After Steve Nash schooled him in Phoenix a month ago, John Wall came out determined to out-Nash Nash and the Suns in the first quarter of their rematch Friday night. Wall was running his team like a maestro, finding Nick Young in the corner for three-pointers, Andray Blatche cutting inside for layups or stepping out for jumpers, and he assisted on nine of the Washington Wizards' first 11 field goals.

The Wizards were playing at the frantic pace the Suns have made famous the past seven seasons, and they built an early 11-point lead at Verizon Center. Problem was, with all of that running and gunning, the Wizards were the ones who couldn't keep up, as Wall, Rashard Lewis and JaVale McGee all asked to check out before the end of the first period.

"First time ever, I had three guys, with four minutes left in the first quarter, asked to come out, because they [were] so tired," Coach Flip Saunders said.

The Wizards never seemed to regain their energy after the first period, as the more veteran-laden Suns took a more measured approach, spreading out their energy over a full four quarters to pull out a 109-91 win before an announced crowd of 15,716. The ball movement, pressure defense and inspired play that helped the Wizards score 33 points was suddenly replaced by isolation offense, defensive breakdowns and slouched shoulders.

Wall finished with the same number of assists as Nash (14), but the former two-time league MVP delivered the bulk of his during the decisive stretch between the second and third quarters, when the Suns outscored the Wizards, 61-38, and crushed the spirits of their opponents.

"It felt like a road game," Wall said, mentioning the Wizards' 0-20 mark away from home. "We didn't have no heart. We didn't have no fight. We just gave up pretty quickly."

Channing Frye finished with 25 points and made four of his seven three-pointers in the third period, when Nash took advantage of the Wizards' zone defense, dismantled them in the pick-and-roll, leaving Blatche and later Trevor Booker a few steps behind in their chase of Frye. Nash ended the game with 17 points.

Young led the Wizards with 25 points but only had five points and five field goal attempts in the second half, when the Suns placed Grant Hill on him. Hill said the Wizards "ran the same old play for Nick" and the Suns snuffed him out. Late in the game, Young had grown visibly frustrated and shouted for his teammates to give him the ball.

"Basically, they didn't really do nothing," Young said of the adjustments the Suns made. "We've just got to find ways to get people open and just play how we played the first quarter and the second quarter. We gotta take care of home in games like this. We felt we could've won going into the game, and we let Phoenix play how Phoenix going to be playing in the third quarter, the third and fourth, and they killed us. We got to learn to stay in the fight, stay in the game."

With the Suns focused on Young, the Wizards' offense got sloppy and players lowered their heads and took ineffective drives to nowhere. "Everybody tried to put the team on their shoulders, and that's not the kind of team we are," Blatche said after scoring 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting. "We have no person on this team, including myself, that's a Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade, that can demand the ball in [isolation] and carry the team. We have to continue to swing the ball and work as a team, as a unit. That's how we always get the lead in the first quarter. We came in at halftime and just forget what works for us."

In addition to losing at home for the first time in five games, the Wizards (12-29) also may have lost reserve Kirk Hinrich for an extended amount of time. Hinrich is listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against Boston with a strained right shoulder. He left for the locker room in the fourth quarter after a troubling sequence in which he was unable to lift his arm. In the locker room after the game, Hinrich was picking up his belongings with his left arm.

The Wizards don't have another backup point guard, which should place a lot more pressure on Wall against the Celtics. Wall was able to set up teammates, but the Suns (20-21) decided to force him to beat them with his jumper. They left Wall open, but he was reluctant to shoot, passing up several layup attempts. And when he did, the results weren't pretty, as Wall finished with just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

"I think we had open shots, it's just in the third quarter we don't play as a team, really," Wall said. "Everybody gets selfish. We had open shots, we just wasn't making them, and we were missing, and a great team like that, they a first- and third-quarter team, and they came out making shots while we was missing and expanded the lead big on us."

Lewis had 16 points and a team-high 12 rebounds, but McGee had just four points and three rebounds and was benched for the final 16 minutes 41 seconds of the game.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company