The Wizards’ five-game winning streak has led some to wonder if Scott Brooks’s team might actually be better off without injured all-star point guard John Wall, even after Bradley Beal dismissed the notion as “comical.” Wall, sidelined until at least mid-March after undergoing surgery on his left knee last week, apparently finds such talk laughable, too, and he fired back at teammate Marcin Gortat for what many construed as a recent shot at Wall on social media.
“It was funny to me at first just to see some of the things that people were saying and certain type of comments, but like I said, I’ve seen these guys put in a lot of work every day,” Wall said Tuesday on ESPN’s ‘The Jump.’ “We always say the motto is ‘next man up,’ no matter what. We moved the ball well early in the season, we just couldn’t make shots and we couldn’t defend at all. I think now guys are stepping up. The first unit and the second unit are playing very well. But it was kind of shocking to hear a couple people saying the ball is moving a lot better when that’s what I pride myself off of is being happier when my teammates are scoring than I am.”
During a subsequent interview on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Michael Smith asked Wall what was up with him tweeting “lol” in response to Gortat’s tweet about the Wizards’ great “team” victory last Thursday and then deleting it.
“Nah, I didn’t delete it,” Wall said. “Somebody else deleted it for me. I stand by what I say. It was funny when I put ‘laugh out loud’ because … it was just the way he put the ‘team’ in the little [quotation] marks, and I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ But it is what it is, everybody has their own opinions, they say what they say. I know what I do and what I bring to a team. I know I’m a team player, I average almost 10 assists a game, I’m very prideful in finding my teammates and getting these guys easy shots. It was more just shocking to hear it from [Gortat] and understanding that he gets the most assists from me and the most spoon-fed baskets ever.”
Wall was in a less feisty mood during his interview on “The Jump,” when ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who reported Tuesday that the Wizards are exploring trades for Gortat, asked Wall for his thoughts on the Polish Machine.
“March has been a great teammate, no matter if he gets traded or stays with the team,” Wall said. “He’s always been a great teammate. He’s been a great professional. He makes my job a lot easier. We have one of the best pick-and-roll tandems in the last couple of years. He sets screens to get me open. He definitely catches the ball and finishes plays. It’s all up to the front office to make those decisions. Me as a franchise player and a leader, I just try to do my best to prepare myself and prepare my team to go out there and play. I think they know what’s best for us to add a piece or not.”
The Wizards have averaged 32 assists per game — eight more than their season average — during their five-game winning streak and have placed eight players in double figures in two of their last three games. One of the team’s internal mantras might be “next man up,” but Beal and his teammates have adopted “everybody eats,” a line from the 2002 movie “Paid in Full,” as the team’s new catchphrase.
“Everybody eats,” Beal said after a win over the Raptors last Friday. “That’s our motto when we move the ball.”
“Everybody can share the wealth,” forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said after Washington had 29 assists in Monday’s 111-102 win at Indiana on Monday. “Everybody eats, you know.”
The Jump’s Rachel Nichols asked Wall if he has talked to any of his teammates amid the speculation, primarily on social media, that their recent comments about how well the Wizards have been moving the ball are veiled shots at him.
“No,” Wall said. “I just think if you have a problem with anybody as a man and the principles I stand on is you talk to them face to face. They have my number or they can see me in person and if we have any discomforts we can talk.”
Wall, who is averaging 19.4 points and 9.3 assists per game, said he doesn’t plan to change his style of play when he returns to the court.
“I think the most important thing for me is I want to be able to play defense the way I’m capable of and I think that’s what was hurting our team, me just not being able to guard a person the way I wanted to, and then I just couldn’t create as much,” Wall said. “I think this is showing me a little bit more that other guys can create off pick and rolls, other guys can make plays, and I think that’s going to make my job a lot easier.”
Wall’s knee had been bothering him since the 10th game of the season, when he had a knee-to-knee collision with a Dallas Mavericks player. Wall played in Washington’s next eight games but sat out nine games from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12, with the Wizards going 4-5 during that span. Wall returned to play in 21 straight games before sitting out Washington’s 129-104 win over the Hawks on Jan. 27. Three days later, the Wizards confirmed that Wall would undergo an arthroscopic debridement procedure and be sidelined six to eight weeks.
The Wizards’ winning streak has them a season-high nine games over .500 and percentage points behind the Cavaliers for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia.
“Watching is definitely tough, but like I said, I’m always prideful when my team is winning and guys [are] playing well,” said Wall, who is still on crutches and waiting to get his stitches out. “That’s the most exciting thing is to see somebody else do a great job. I’m at home watching every game, hoping those guys do well and we can keep the winning streak going.”
This post has been updated.
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