Wizards seeing reasons for optimism

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Wall's return coincides with some better play

Put the conspiracy theories to rest. John Wall didn't time his long-awaited season debut to coincide with a struggling Wizards team suddenly playing the best it has all season.

"It wasn't anything planned or nothing like that," Wizards guard A.J. Price said. "[It's] very fortunate that everybody is coming in. We still have a lot of the season left."

And that rest of the season has become much more anticipated following consecutive victories, including a 93-83 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday that included Wall's stunning return to action with 14 points and four assists.

Up next
Magic at Wizards
When » Monday, 7 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

"All it is, we got our team now, just keep building," Wall said. "Let's see how many wins we can get and then just keep fighting hard, and that's all we can do. You don't want to give up on the season."

Stuck at the bottom of the standings, the Wizards (6-28) have spent the year battling to avoid the worst season in NBA history. With 48 contests remaining, they're 12 games behind the Boston Celtics (19-17) and Milwaukee Bucks (19-17), who are tied for the seventh and eighth playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

"Everything is at stake right now, although we have to really get this thing rolling," rookie guard Bradley Beal said. "We have All-Star coming, so it's going to be halfway point coming up. We're going to have to turn it around and keep playing the way we've been playing."

Building on a stellar January in which he has averaged 17.8 points and hit a game-winning shot against Oklahoma City, Beal was even more comfortable next to Wall in the backcourt against Atlanta.

But the rookie's breakout isn't the only bright spot. Price and Trevor Ariza look better in their returns from injury than they did before they got hurt. Nene's minutes have risen steadily, while Emeka Okafor is averaging 10.2 points and 11.1 rebounds in his last 10 games. Martell Webster had season highs in points (22) and 3-pointers (four) in the win over the Thunder.

"I really feel like we have a fighting chance to make a great impression on the league, to really show the league what we're capable of doing," Webster said. "As long as we keep the mindset and understanding that John is the maestro and we have to get out and run, I think we'll be good."

After starting the 2008-09 season 3-29, the Oklahoma City Thunder went 20-30 to finish 23-59. It was good enough for 13th in the West, and the following year they won 50 games.

The Wizards were supposed to fight for the postseason this year. They also haven't done enough to take the long view, and patience is required with Wall, who is expected to remain on limited minutes in the short term. But any optimism is more than they have had since September.

"Due to injuries and everything we've been through, we haven't had a fair shake or a fair opportunity to show what we can do as a team," Price said. "So these last 48 games, as long as we keep everybody healthy, we're going to give 110 percent every night, and we think that's good enough to be much better than we are right now."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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