The condensed and compressed NBA schedule hasn't afforded John Wall the opportunity to talk much with LeBron James this season. The two have been friends since they met when Wall was still in high school, but lately they've had to focus on themselves.
But James and Dwyane Wade conferred with the Wizards second-year point guard after delivering a 106-89 defeat in which Washington's emboldened effort was no match for the breadth, depth and quality of the Miami Heat.
"'Just stay strong, keep competing,'" Wall said the pair of superstars told him during a moment on the court immediately after the game. "'Times are rough right now but just keep working as a player, make sure you're getting better and make sure you keep leading these guys.'"
Wall (15 points, 10 assists, seven turnovers) had reason to keep his head high as the Wizards (5-22) refused to get down on themselves in spite of a string of effortlessly spectacular plays from Wade (26 points, five assists) and James (18 points, nine assists) that could've crushed the spirit of any team in the league.
"Me, I don't get starstruck for no one," Wall said. "We put on our clothes the same way. We put on our shoes the same way. When you step between the lines, all the friends and all that goes away."
And for a brief stretch in the first half, Washington matched the Heat (20-7) basket for basket, and the Wizards drew to within one point twice in the third quarter. But the margin of error was far too thin for a rebuilding team whose untimely mistakes were swiftly punished.
After Wade dribbled behind his back, spun 360 degrees in the lane and finished off the glass for a 36-29 lead midway through the second period, Nick Young (22 points) answered right back with a jump shot at the other end. Wade posted up Young, but Trevor Booker (13 points, 15 rebounds) tapped a layup over his head off a feed from Jordan Crawford (six points, six assists). Wade added another layup, and Wall again hit Young for a 3-pointer.
"Nobody wants to see that show going against you," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "And I thought we had a little bit of a show of our own."
But after a look-away alley oop feed from Wall led to the first of consecutive dunks for JaVale McGee (season-high 24 points, 13 rebounds) and cut Miami's lead to 40-38, Young got caught staring at his hands after an errant 3-point attempt. If he'd looked up, he would've seen James soaring in for a one-handed alley oop slam from Wade.
When Booker later lost the ball on the way up for a dunk of his own, Wade again found James cutting through the lane for another flush that inspired oohs and aahs from the first sellout crowd of the year at Verizon Center.
Asked if the Wizards got starstruck, McGee said: "Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes, they see LeBron out there. They see D-Wade out there. They say; 'Oh my God, he's going to work on them.' Sometimes the guys don't and go out there and play like they're any other player."
Wall showed he wasn't intimidated with the first six points of an 11-0 run that closed the Wizards to within one, 62-61, with 4:38 to play in the third quarter.
"John did a great job," James said. "He's going through a rough time, but he's a great player and is going to be a star in this league for a lot of years."
But right now, Wall doesn't have Chris Bosh (24 points, 11 rebounds) to rely on during a game-clinching 9-1 run when cupboard of highlight reel plays runs empty, or Shane Battier (season-high 15 points) and former Wizard Mike Miller to combine for five backbreaking 3-pointers off the bench in the second half.
"You can tell they've played together now for a little while," Wittman said. "They know each other. They find each other incredibly well, and then Bosh just kind of touches it off because he can get you points on the block if things aren't going from the perimeter. They're a good team."
On Friday, the Heat also walked away with the victory while Wall just walked away with another lesson to carry with him as the Wizards depart Washington for a five-game road trip.
"It's one superstar who won a championship and another who's trying to get one," Wall said. "It's something I want to be down the road. Those two guys you look up to, and you're happy playing against every night. You take stuff from this game that helps you get better."