Tuesday, October 12, 2010 9:28 p.m.
By Dave Johnson
CSNwashington.comWASHINGTON -- Welcome back. Eager to shake off a lethargic loss on Friday in Chicago, the Washington Wizards returned to Verizon Center for their first home pre-season game and responded with a crowd-pleasing 107-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
For the Wizards the game had it all and it fit in with their "Back to the Basics" pledge. The Wizards were aggressive on the boards, made the extra pass on offense, and were tenacious on defense even though the Hawks shot the ball well.
Wizards head coach Flip Saunders was hopeful that his team would turn two days of intense practices following that loss to the Bulls into a solid performance. With Saunders still in the player evaluation and experimental stage of pre-season, he adjusted the starting lineup to include Yi Jianlian and Nick Young.
Gilbert Arenas, nursing a sore left knee that is not serious, was given the night off to allow John Wall to start in the back court with Kirk Hinrich. Yi started at center while Young joined Andray Blatche at forward. Young had added weight in the off season to be ready for small forward match-ups.
For the second straight game Young led the Wizards in scoring with 24 points on an impressive 10 of 14 shooting from the field. Young was the beneficiary of a Wizards offense that flowed in both the half-court and in transition. The Wizards finished with 27 assists on 42 made field goals.
"I think we came out more aggressively, "Wall said. "We have a lot of people that can score on this team and I try to keep feeding them the ball to make everyone happy. We did a good job of keeping the momentum going."
Wall finished with 19 points and 7 assists, but did have 5 turnovers Wall's turnover number was deceiving. He had two turnovers in succession late in the first half as the Wizards were pulling away from the Hawks and there were others time when Wall's speed worked against him and he would have been better served by slowing the pace down.
"He was being aggressive, and he had the ball in his hands a lot," noted Hawks guard Mike Bobby. "It looks like his confidence is high. You know I've seen a lot of fast guys in my time, and I'd have to put him up there as one of the fastest."
As Wall was leading the show the Wizards big men turned in their best game of the pre-season. As a team the Wizards out-rebounded the Hawks 39-31 and JaVale McGee led the way with 11 rebounds to with 16 points. McGee also had two steals including one that led to a demonstrative slam dunk that had him slapping hands with fans in the front row on the way back up the court.
"Those guys are really playing well; really getting up and down the floor well," Hawks center Al Horford noted. "They're long, so they've been doing a good job. (John Wall) was great, very poised for such a young guy. He really got guys in transition, pushed it when he needed to, pulled it back when he did, and he seemed like he had control of that offense, so that was something that I was most impressed with."
Jordan Crawford led the Hawks with 30 points and Joe Johnson had 14 points in his 24 minutes on the court. Turnovers were a problem as the Wizards enjoyed 28 points off 16 Hawks miscues including five turnovers in the first 4 minutes of the second half.
With the pre-season just past the half-way point, it was an important game for players like Cartier Martin and Adam Morrison to make their case. Martin finished with 11 points and Morrison had five points.
"We want to make sure all these guys get an opportunity to play really well," Saunders said. "This team is more trusting with each other, and we have a lot of young guys that are committed to learning. I also think our defense is pretty solid."
On Thursday the Wizards will host the Bucks and Saunders again will have a chance to look at players and try different combinations. The final two games of pre-season then will be a chance to get a dress rehearsal in before it all starts for real on October 28 in Orlando.