CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- There’s no secret to the Wizards’ success and struggles this season. When John Wall makes passion plays as he did throughout Sunday’s 128-110 rout over the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington competes. When his energy wavers, the team wobbles.
There’s no denying the direct correlation. Any seasoned basketball observer recognizes the link. Good to great things happen when the Wall Star shines. Wall went beyond good to great against Los Angeles as Washington snapped a four-game winning streak.
He shredded defenders in the open court from the jump as Washington delivered its best start to a game this season. Wall bullied Lance Stephenson for a driving layup and went between the legs for a pinpoint pass to a dunking Sam Dekker. He singular performance included two blocked shots, three steals, four 3-pointers and nearly matched the offensive production for the Lakers’ starting five with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists.
The numbers are cool. The oomph was the wow.
“He's obviously the key,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the five-time All-Star. “Him and Brad [Beal] are the key, they are the best players, they are All-Star players, but they need to bring that energy every night.”
Wall’s up-tempo style makes the Wizards go. The offense appears stuck in first gear when he’s slow out of the blocks. Washington labored in first quarters throughout the season, ranking 28th with 30.3 points allowed per game.
The starters worked the Lakers immediately.
Wall dazzled with 12 points and three assists just seven minutes into the game as the Wizards led 26-8.
Their collective foot remained on the gas. With Wall in attack mode on both ends, the margin never dipped below six. Wall wouldn’t allow it.
“He dictated the game,” Lakers star and traditional Wizards nemesis LeBron James said. “He had energy and we did not. He kept us on our heels all night. John that is what he is, one-man fast break. … He had us on our heels and he saw a few layups go in transition, then his jump shot started going and you are not going to stop him when he does that.”
Wall sank 16 of 27 shots from the field. The Lakers’ starting five made 21 shots combined and only had 10 assists.
“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Wall said. “We did a great job on both ends of the court – knocking down shots and being aggressive defensively.”
He didn’t mean it this way, but there’s a royal we aspect to Wall’s statement. The Wizards came out and remained energized because the role players take their cue from the five-time All-Star along with Beal.
“It goes on them and then our roles players need to be stars in their roles. That's what makes good teams go,” Brooks said. “We have been banged up, we are playing different lineups but that is no excuse to play hard. That's your job, you have to do that. Hopefully this type of game can get us to do that consistently.”
The Wizards played a third consecutive game without starting forward Otto Porter (right knee contusion). This was their first game since Saturday’s trade that shipped out Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers for ex-Wizard Trevor Ariza. One of the league’s top 3-and-D performers, Ariza’s veteran presence ideally helps Washington find a consistent performance level.
The Wizards (12-18) didn’t enter this season aiming for a .500 record. If that’s their mark now, it’s unlikely the organization executes the Ariza trade. Some spark was required. The roster pieces largely made sense but simply didn’t click.
They are ways of sending a message without trading players. Whether that was part of the organization ploy or not, Wall didn’t believe the team revved up against the popular Lakers because of the deal.
“Everybody out there just played with a lot of energy probably because we were shorthanded and knowing we could get embarrassed playing against LeBron,” Wall said. “Knowing it’s going to be a lot of Lakers fans (in the arena). I think we got up for the game."
“I think we have to find a way to get up for those teams that are not the Lakers or the Warriors, those dominant teams in the East and the West. When we figure it out then we’ll be one of those teams that people start taking seriously and start being consistent.”
Ariza should join the group Monday when the trade becomes official. His debut Tuesday when Washington visits the 6-23 Atlanta Hawks, also known as not the Lakers or Warriors. Ariza's arrival alone won’t help the team author a comeback. It’s not solely on Wall either.
He’s just the player the others feed off. When he figures out how to keep the energy consistent, good bet the Wizards would as well.
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