During a pregame spectacle Monday night, John Wall stood next to the smiling team owner and cheerleaders shaking their pom-poms. Wall proudly held an NBA player’s most-sought-after piece of clothing, a gray and blue 2017 all-star jersey. This was the fourth jersey for Wall’s trophy room, and maybe the one that matters the most.
His Washington Wizards have become the latest thing in the NBA, for the third straight home game inviting a prime-time television audience into Verizon Center to witness their nightly show. Wall himself has redefined his status in this career season, from starting the year on training wheels after surgery on both knees to soaring among the A-list of point guards.
And on this night, while the Wizards continued their ascension by dominating in a 120-98 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Wall gave the home fans an all-star prelude by thoroughly outplaying MVP-hopeful Russell Westbrook.
“I’m happy with the way we played,” Coach Scott Brooks said after the Wizards pasted his former team.
The Wizards (33-21), winners of 14 of their past 16, added a 24th home win — the most in franchise history before the all-star break.
They needed just 36 minutes to dispatch Oklahoma City (31-25). In the first quarter, the Wizards matched a season high with 38 points, and then they blew the game open with a potent offensive attack that totaled 101 points before the fourth quarter began.
All five starters reached double digits in scoring before the third quarter ended, and Wall captained the attack by assisting on six consecutive field goals. He then led the cheers by bounding to the baseline and raising his hands to the sellout crowd of 20,356.
“We don’t worry about offense,” said Bradley Beal, who scored 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting. “We know we can score. It is just a matter of us getting stops. When we get stops, our transition game gets going and then once it gets going, that makes it difficult for them to stop us.”
Although Wall never found his shooting rhythm, finishing 4 for 10 overall, his play as the floor general smoothly guided the Wizards through their breakout third quarter.
On one play, he sent a left-handed bounce pass between his legs — the only person to nutmeg John Wall is John Wall — to find Otto Porter Jr. cutting for the slam dunk.
The last time Wall remembers making a glitzy pass like that?
“All-Star Game to LeBron,” Wall said, smiling.
Westbrook could not carry the load as usual for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City lost control over a spell that stretched from the first half into the third quarter by missing 24 straight shots. Westbrook, who only connected on 5 of 19 attempts, finished with 17 points, four assists and four rebounds. For the game, Washington held the Thunder to 35.4 percent shooting.
Now that Wall’s team is gliding at 33 wins, and now that he is dropping nightly double-doubles as easily as one of his flashy dimes — he finished with 15 points and 14 assists Monday for his 34th double-double of the season — he can look back at the sluggish beginning and see where the team has taken off.
“I knew we had a great starting five because we all kind of knew each other. We just had to get accustomed to the new system,” Wall said. “I knew we added a lot of new pieces to our team that we felt could help us. We dealt with a couple injures early on that hurt us. Other than that, I think we’re starting to figure it out. We still got a lot of room for improvement but just got to keep playing the right way and trusting each other.”