John Wall allows Wizards to celebrate present and past

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

The scoreboard said "Bullets" with retro numbers for the score and the game clock.

But on a night when the Washington NBA franchise celebrated its past, John Wall reminded a nearly full Verizon Center, and yet another playoff bound opponent, that the present team isn't to be overlooked.

Wall's masterful 37 points, along with five assists, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks, propelled the Wizards (29-47) to their ninth straight victory at home, a 104-85 demolition of the Indiana Pacers (48-29).

The third-year point guard scored in any way he wanted. He also celebrated freely, high fiving fans and flexing his muscles, as if with each basket he continues to escape his own history.

"You don't want to lose when you have the only team here that won a championship," Wall said.

Wall signaled that it would be another big night by making his first three shots, but he put far more than simply his improved jumper on display.

"You know when he gets like that, when he's making shots to start the game off, it's going to be a long day for the opposing team," Wizards guard A.J. Price said. "We were on the bench just loving every moment of it."

Wall scored a runner off the wrong foot. He corralled a loose ball, eluded Roy Hibbert's futile swipe at the ball, took off down the floor then went behind his back to elude George Hill for a layup to kick off an 18-2 run. He lofted a teardrop up and over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot-2 Hibbert for a 28-20 lead. He delivered a huge block on the Pacers center, and the crowd of 19,360 was incredulous that a similar effort against Paul George was whistled for a foul.

"I think whenever you're playing good," Wall said, "you're playing your best basketball since you've been in the NBA, and after all the stuff I've been through this season with injuries and missing so many games, and having people say what they say about me, it means a lot to me."

Hibbert's latest homecoming was the only thing preventing Wall from running away with the contest in the first quarter. While Wall finished the opening period with 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting, Hibbert matched him with 14 points on a 7-for-10 performance from the field and finished with 25 points and 10 boards.

The Georgetown product followed his own three-point play by soaring to reject Emeka Okafor's attempted two-hand slam. But Wall made the block irrelevant when he poked the ball from Hibbert and powered home his own one-handed fast break dunk.

At halftime, the Bullets 1978 NBA championship team was introduced and honored, from Irene Pollin, the wife of late owner Abe Pollin, to Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and coach Dick Motta.

Hayes spoke of the years of pressure released by the final whistle in Seattle 35 years ago, but he also questioned the motives of late-season victories for the current Wizards group, which has professed its desire to aim for ninth place even though they won't make the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

"It's a great thing to have that resurgence, to win some basketball games," Hayes said as the third quarter began. "But it's a good and it's a negative because of the fact that you're not going any place. You're getting a few wins right now, but you're not going any place, and plus your losing the draft choices."

Meanwhile, the Wizards ran off 12 straight points to open the second half and led by as many as 21 down the stretch. After Wall shook Sam Young with a start-stop dribble, he unleashed a fierce bounce pass to Kevin Seraphin (15 points) for a slam dunk to put the game away.

The Wizards improved to 24-19 since Wall's return and earned a victory over the seventh out of the eight current playoff teams in the Eastern Conference. They can get the final one Sunday at Boston, and they'll play at least five more postseason-bound teams in their final six games.

"We've got a chance to really show what we've done, how far we've come since a 4-28 start," Price said. "We're definitely looking at these next four games as a big challenge for us."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner