Supporting and shepherding John Wall was a key part of the job description when Randy Wittman took over for fired Flip Saunders 14 months ago and when the Wizards decided to keep him on board for another two years last June.
Wittman embraced the job from the start, and there may be no one in the organization reaping the benefits more from Wall's resurgence over the last three weeks. Likewise, the franchise point guard appears in lock step with the coach as the Wizards (26-44) finish out the season's final dozen games.
"You guys are probably sick and tired of hearing me talk about pace," Wittman said after the Wizards' 107-94 win over Memphis on Monday. The operative word used around Verizon Center, pace is both a description of how Wittman wants the Wizards to play -- they're 14th in the NBA in possessions per 48 minutes -- and a symbol of how much he and Wall are on the same page.
"I think it's just finally sitting down with Coach Witt and really finding out what pace meant for him," Wall said recently of his improvement. "I thought pace was just trying to push it every time. But pace is getting the ball up to your other teammates and throwing it ahead and throwing it to the post. Just playing at a different pace throughout the game to keep us going so we don't really have to get into too many offensive sets, it makes it easy for me and my teammates."
|Wizards at Thunder|
|When » Wednesday, 8 p.m.|
|Where » Chesapeake Energy|
|Arena, Oklahoma City|
|TV » CSN|
The chemistry grew enough last season that Wall endorsed Wittman being retained. But their progress together was stalled when Wall missed the first 33 games of the season because of injury. Wittman's defense of Wall's struggles before turning the corner this month was almost an apology for not being able to work him back more judiciously.
"Everybody goes, 'Why is he up and down?' It's hard," Wittman said. "That was the main thing. I had to be patient, too. I had to make sure he was patient. 'Work, John, just keep working.' And he'd put his head down, and there were a lot of things written about him, a lot of question marks. There were a lot of people on the outside saying things. And I give the kid a lot of credit. He took it like a duck with water going down his back."
While the Wizards are 21-16 since Wall's return, the true measure of whether he can lead them to the playoffs comes next season. For his part, Wittman hasn't yet been able to instill a consistent road mentality. The Wizards own the fourth-worst record away from home (7-27). Wednesday they visit Oklahoma City (52-19), which owns the NBA's fourth-best home record (31-5). At the very least, Wall is on board for the challenge.
"This is the part of the season where coach told us whenever you want to be a playoff team, you've got to be going up the ladder in this type of mode," Wall said recently. "That's what we're trying to do, just get our focus on keep getting better and closing out the season on a high note."