INDIANAPOLIS — Flip Saunders is going with Nick Young as his starting shooting guard since Mike Miller will be out of the lineup for roughly seven to 10 days with that sprained left shoulder.
It’s a big turnaround for Young, who had been seldom used and didn’t play at all in the Wizards’ last game. A few days before the season opener, Flip Saunders said that Young needed to learn to play with a stronger mental focus and help his team in ways other than scoring “or he’s going to sit, and he’ll learn.”
Now it’s Nick’s turn to show that he has learned and is ready to help this team.
“I think for him, it’s a good opportunity to do some things against a team that has a lot of good perimeter players,” Flip said just a bit ago. “So it will be a challenge for him defensively to do that and with his size, hopefully, be able to help us offensively in the backcourt.
“He’s learning that 1, he’s got to play hard and consistently,” Flip added. “He’s got to let the game come to him at the offensive end and can’t just go search out things. He’s worked really hard recently in practice so I’m looking forward to seeing how he’s going to play. It’s a good opportunity, so hopefully he plays well, and earns himself some time.”
Saunders could have gone with Randy Foye, who started one game last week while Caron Butler was out. But instead, he decided to go with Young, because he values Foye’s veteran play off the bench.
“I know what Randy can give us coming off the bench, so you put him out there with the other group and you know what you’re going to get, not only with scoring, but help lead us a little bit,” Saunders said. “I just didn’t feel as comfortable putting all those young guys on the floor at the same time.”
Flip said he is hoping to make a serious effort to get Caron Butler more touches tonight after he has been pretty quiet this season. Part of that has been Butler trying to balance focusing on becoming the defensive stopper Saunders has challenged him to be, the coach said. And part of it is circumstances causing him to become a forgotten man.
“I think what’s happened too is, if you look at the situations, in Cleveland, he was matched up against the best player in the league, so offense became his second focus,” Flip said. “The last game, it’s one of those games where you fall behind by 19 and it’s like a running team in football, now all of a sudden you’ve got to start passing, and so you go to quick hitters, and Gil tried to take over the game and we almost kind of forgot about him at times.
“So we need to make more of a concerted effort to get him into our offense, get him touches, and not only scoring-wise, but also as a playmaker,” said Flip. “And he can do that. He averaged almost four assists last year, so those are things he can do too.”
Indiana will start T.J. Ford, Brandon Rush, Danny Granger, Dahantay Jones and Roy Hibbert opposite Arenas, Young, Butler, Oberto and Haywood for Washington.
On another note, the NBA did upgrade Shaquille O’Neal’s foul on DeShawn Stevenson on Tuesday night to a flagrant foul. Stevenson was driving the lane when the Big Fella swatted him with two hands to the ground like a grizzly bear knocking down a bird. Stevenson landed on his back and was sore the next day. O’Neal did come up to Stevenson just before the third quarter and tell the Wizards’ guard he was sorry. And Stevenson said just before tonight’s game that he harbors no ill will toward that member of the Cleveland Cavaliers team.
“I wasn’t really worry about it,” Stevenson said. “I’ve known Shaq since the summer time and we hung out a lot. I just think it was a big dude and the small dude got fouled. He apologized at halftime, so it’s just part of basketball. … It’s alright Shaq’s like that. If he like you, he apologize. If not, he’ll probably say something smart. But, he apologized, so I know it’s nothing serious”