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Wizards Guard John Wall Delivering Breakout Effort

April 28, 2014
The Washington Wizards waited four years after winning the draft lottery for a game when guard John Wall would deliver a staggering playoff performance and validate his first overall selection. 

No more racing downcourt without sense. No more injuries to hobble his performance. No more immaturity leading him to do too much on the court during losses.

Wall has played well since 2010 and even made the All-Star Game this season, but it wasn't yet his best basketball -- until now. 

Wizards 2013: John Wall
Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox
Wall has emerged during a first-round playoff series as a pivotal figure helping Washington take a 3-1 lead against the Chicago Bulls. Wall moved the ball so fluidly between the frontcourt and outside shooters that the Bulls' defense was helpless during the Wizards' 14-0 opening run April 17. 

Wall has become the Wizards' magician. 

"I think this series, he's managed the game," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "He understands who needs the ball, where they need it, who has got it going, where to attack and be aggressive himself -- and then the most important thing for us, against this team, is taking care of the ball." 

The series has been a revolving showcase. If it's not forward Nene dominating Game 1, before he was suspended for Game 4 after fighting during Game 3, it's forward Trevor Ariza hitting impossible outside shots or guard Bradley Beal draining 20 points. Wall runs the offense while scoring, too. The balance has proven shocking for a team that largely relied on its backcourt much of the season. 

During Game 4, which really felt like a Game 7 given that the series likely hinged on its outcome, Washington opened with owner Ted Leonsis wearing Nene's jersey and the Wizards showing they wouldn't be intimidated during a physical series.

"I saw our guys bond together like, 'That's OK, big fella's not going to be here, but that's OK,' " Wittman said. "We were in tune right from the start -- extra passes and simple plays. Make the simple play."

The Wizards' defense has been impressive, too, whether it was Wall racing downcourt to slap away a Bulls breakaway, or Nene besting Bulls center Joakim Noah underneath. Washington has improved its defense during the postseason. 

"They're trying to deny wings, pressure, deny elbow catches, and you got to give them credit," Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich said. "We know they're a steals team. They got a lot of guys with athleticism, and we just got to do a better job."

Instead of the series being 2-2 through four games with two of the three potential games being played in Chicago, Washington can close out the series April 29. But Wittman said Chicago's best game might be yet to come. 

"Each game is harder and harder," Wittman said. "Our young guys, I told them, the hardest game, you have yet to play. Closing out a series is hard. It's hard, and you've got to understand that. You've got to play harder than you've had to up to this point. I think if we can take that attitude, we are going to have an opportunity."

Ariza agreed.

"I think that's the toughest game to play in the series is the close-out game," Ariza said. "You have a desperate team fighting for their playoff life, and you have a team that's trying to take it from them. I expect a lot of intensity, a lot of scrappy play. [We've] just got to continue to fight, continue to play the way that we've been playing and try to get a win."

If Wall continues his long-awaited spark, Washington will head to the second round.

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