In first start, John Wall helps Wizards move out of last in NBA

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

The Wizards are no longer the worst team in the NBA. With the way they're playing of late, it'd be easy to mistake them for one of the league's best.

They led from start to finish and by as many as 23 points in Friday's 114-101 victory over Minnesota, their fourth straight win at Verizon Center. They shot a season-best 57.8 percent from the field. They played the same high-quality brand of team basketball - 11 different players helped account for 29 assists - that has become the norm in the eight games since John Wall's return. In his first start of the year, there were no signs of it abating.

With their sixth win in nine games, and 10th of the season, the Wizards (10-31) moved off the bottom of the standings and ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats (10-32), at least for one night. How much further they can go is increasingly a subject of discussion. The Timberwolves (17-23) lost their sixth straight on the road for the eighth time in nine games overall.

"We got everybody," said Jordan Crawford, who had a team-high 19 points off the bench. "We got everybody that's supposed to be playing. Everybody playing with confidence, getting in the groove, and we're just clicking."

Six different players scored in double figures, including four of the Wizards' entire starting five, all of whom rested the entire fourth quarter. But after arriving home at 5 a.m. the day before from a five-game swing out West, the insertion of Wall (14 points, five assists) back into the opening lineup was the perfect remedy for jet lag and fatigue.

He needed less than 10 seconds to find Nene (14 points) for a wide open layup after the opening tip as the Wizards connected on their first six shots.

While Ricky Rubio (four points on 1-for-8 shooting, six assists, five turnovers) fought hard to chase down his own miss and find teammate Chris Johnson for second-chance points, Wall crossed over and blew by the Spanish point guard - and a stumbling Andrei Kirilenko - for an easy layup. He later converted a circus shot over his head on a foul by Greg Stiemsma and spun past Rubio in full stride as the Wizards took a 60-46 lead into halftime, matching their most points in the first half all season.

"[Wall] is going to bring it, regardless," said Martell Webster (13 points). "It doesn't matter what unit he's in, he's always going to set the tempo, establish the way that we want to play. He did that from the jump tonight. Quickness, lightning quick, it was pretty hard for Ricky to keep up with, even J.J. [Barea]."

The only disappointment was an undersized crowd of 14,095 - due to the cold and snow or perhaps the fans who haven't realized the transformation the Wizards have undergone in the last couple weeks - wasn't enough to make Wall's first pregame introduction of the season feel special. Wall didn't notice.

"I feel like it was great to do it at home instead of on the road," Wall said. "I went to the doctor and got everything examined again, and everything is going the right way it's supposed to go, no setbacks. It felt great. You just don't want to go out there and do too much right away. I just keep trying to lead my team and be the point guard I'm supposed to be."

Wall and Bradley Beal (16 points) were a plus-17 on the floor together in the first half. Beal was the only starter without an assist, but he chased down Luke Ridnour (14 points) for a seemingly automatic fast break layup in the third quarter, rejecting the shot for one of a career-high four blocks and then knocking down his own jumper at the other end.

The Wizards still have problems to solve, like too many turnovers and allowing too many offensive rebounds. But they're not lamenting what might've been had they been healthy from the outset this season, and they aren't waiting around to see who catches on to what they've become.

"The past is the past," said Nene (13 points, seven rebounds). "You're not going to change that. Hopefully we learn a lot of things from the past, and now we need to think about the present and the future. There's still a lot of games we need to win, play together, know each other more and create more chemistry."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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