WASHINGTON | Flip Saunders sent John Wall a long text message on Sunday night. The Washington Wizards coach told his rookie guard that he’d exceeded expectations this season and didn’t have to score a lot to have an impact.
Wall responded with 19 points and a career-high 15 assists on Monday to lead the Wizards to their fourth straight home victory and first two-game winning streak of the season, 108-101 over the Utah Jazz.
“We’ve been on him. We’re asking a lot of him,” Saunders said.
He told Wall: “Do what you do. Play with energy. Push it up. See if people are open and get people the ball and play with enthusiasm.”
Wall did just that with 10 assists in the first 18 minutes of the game.
The Wizards took control with a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter. With 6:40 remaining, Wall passed to JaVale McGee, who made a leaping, acrobatic dunk and was fouled by Raja Bell. He converted the free throw for a 62-55 lead.
“We didn’t get him any shots,” Saunders said. “When he gets going, it opens things up for everybody else.”
The result was not only the Wizards‘ first two-game winning streak, but their first win against a team with a winning record. Utah had won three straight, and played the first of a five-game road trip. The Jazz completed the season’s first half with a 27-14 record.
Now, the Wizards are faced with a bigger challenge: winning on the road.
Though Washington is 12-8 at home, feasting on the league’s bottom-feeders, they’re a horrid 0-19 away from the Verizon Center. Instead of congratulating themselves for this mini-streak, they keep referring to the road woes.
“I think we’ve been in every game. Somehow, we don’t finish it. Just make a ton of mistakes in the fourth quarter,” Rashard Lewis said.
The Wizards will try for their first road win on Wednesday in Milwaukee, and Andray Blatche, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, is attempting to figure out a reason for their struggles.
“When we’re home, we have so much more energy and focus. When we’re away, we’re in the game into the fourth quarter and we lose that focus,” Blatche said.