By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 12:25 AM
Coach Flip Saunders tried to remind his players that they have been showing signs of improvement, but while the words were sincere they lacked much substance, with the Washington Wizards on a season-high eight-game losing streak. They argued, talked trash, battled and took out their frustrations on each other through some heated practices as they prepared for the Milwaukee Bucks the previous two days.
But if there were any doubt that the Wizards were ready to put a halt to their slide, and receive a reward for their labor, they revealed it with some rarely seen occurrences at Verizon Center. JaVale McGee outplayed a quality opposing big man, Nick Young unleashed three highlight slams, Andray Blatche made Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova fall on his backside with a crossover dribble, Kirk Hinrich blocked a shot into the front row and seldom-used Cartier Martin knocked down a career-high five three-pointers. And, when John Wall stepped to the foul line in the closing seconds, the remaining fans from an announced crowd of 16,108 stood and applauded a 100-85 win.
"You keep on saying, we're getting better and we can say that, but sometimes, you've got to have wins to show it," Saunders said. "That's something that is optical, that you can see. Players need to get those. That's something where you can say . . . 'Here's what we did.' "
Young led six Wizards in double figures with a game-high 26 points - all of them coming in the first three quarters - but McGee and Martin were the difference against Milwaukee. McGee had 16 points and 17 rebounds - one shy of his career-high - and won his individual matchup against Bucks center Andrew Bogut.
Martin made four three pointers in the fourth-quarter, including back-to-back shots from the beyond the arc that caused Wall to excitedly pump his fist and kick out his leg. Saunders gave Martin his theoretical game ball.
"We can't afford to give out those nice balls every game," Saunders said. "I told him, he'd get the game ball if we gave them away."
McGee has been lacking his usual energy of late, but he broke out of a slump with some spirited play on both ends of the floor as he recorded a double-double before halftime.
"I definitely was yelling at my teammates, 'Don't take my rebounds,' " said McGee, who added three blocked shots and nearly matched his combined total of 19 rebounds in his previous five games. "I was just trying to be aggressive and keep everybody else off the boards."
Bogut (12 points, 11 rebounds) scored eight of the first 10 points for Milwaukee but McGee helped keep him scoreless until late in fourth quarter, when he rebounded a Brandon Jennings air ball and made a layup, and got a fast-break dunk. Even when he didn't have McGee hounding him, Bogut struggled, as he also missed all three of his free throw attempts.
The Wizards were able to avenge a 100-87 loss in Milwaukee on Jan. 19, when Keyon Dooling and former Wizard Earl Boykins combined to score 42 points, and Young had predicted the win, simply because the venue had changed. After missing his first two shots, Young found a rhythm in the second and third quarters, as he scored 24 points. He caught a pass along the sideline, drove inside and dunked on Ilyasova, drove baseline and dunked again over Ilyasova and also caught a lob pass from Wall for an alley-oop dunk. "I think that's a first," Young, a high flyer who usually keeps his dunking to a minimum, said of his three slams in one game. "I'm feeling good. We stayed with it, stayed consistent, played hard."
Wall arrived late Tuesday night after returning from Lexington, Ky., where he attended the Kentucky-Tennessee basketball game and formed the "Y" in the second half.
Seemingly inspired after a short reprieve at the place that helped propel him to the No. 1 overall pick, Wall had 15 points and six assists. He had an exciting two-handed dunk on a fastbreak, but was more impressive on the defensive end, as he forced Bucks guard Brandon Jennings into taking 24 shots to get 20 points.
"It was great," Wall said of his visit to Kentucky. "Seeing them play hard and seeing them win might've brought some excitement for me for the game. I know some people were probably concerned saying I might be tired and I shouldn't have went to the game. I got back in a reasonable time. I took a nap today, did my usual and prepared myself for the game."
With Rashard Lewis limited to just three points on 1 of 5 shooting because of stiffness in his right knee, Martin got a long-awaited opportunity to contribute and he delivered his highest-scoring game since the season opener in Orlando.
"That's what I do, I go out and shoot them," Martin said. "Just staying ready, being professional and when you're called on, be ready to go in and make an impact. It feels good to get another win under our belt."