- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

LAS VEGAS | The Washington Wizards can thank JaVale McGee for making their flight home a lot more enjoyable.

As Washington struggled to fend off a surging New York squad in the final minutes Sunday, McGee stepped up with a play that sealed an 89-84 victory and a winning summer league record (3-2).

With New York trailing by three and 1:13 remaining, Knicks guard Joe Crawford drove to the basket, only to have his layup swatted away by McGee for his fourth block of the night.

Tyrese Rice scooped up the loose ball and sprinted down the court for an uncontested dunk to extend the Wizards’ lead to five. In addition to his defensive mastery, McGee scored a game-high 31 points and pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.

“That’s it right there: McGee had one solid game,” said assistant Sam Cassell, who coached the Wizards on Sunday. “Defensively, rebounding and his decision-making got better today, and that’s what we are looking for.”

McGee’s grand finale to summer league almost certainly will boost his stock in the Wizards’ frontcourt. The 7-foot center averaged 17.3 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 54.2 percent in four appearances.

“I feel like I did what I had to do here,” McGee said. “I played hard, and I didn’t play selfish. It feels good to finish up strong. Now I’m just ready for the season to start.”

Even though the Wizards are still shopping for a veteran center, McGee and Andray Blatche posted solid numbers this summer. Blatche averaged 19.7 points and 11 rebounds in three appearances.

Although he’s not a big man, second-year guard Nick Young dominated summer league competition and could see increased playing time this season. Young led the Wizards at 23.8 points a game in four appearances - third best in the league.

“[Young is] a prolific scorer without a doubt,” Cassell said. “If we get him the ball in scoring opportunities, he will score. He’s proven that reliability this summer.”

Fellow guard Jason Rich might have quietly earned an invitation to training camp. Rich, a rookie from Florida State, does not shoot much, but he could serve as a backup point guard. Rich started Sunday and finished with eight points and seven rebounds.

“He had a good week of basketball,” Cassell said. “He was always in the right position. It’s hard when you only have three days of practice, but he picked up everything. We will take a look to see what we need, but he has a chance. He will be high on our list.”

One player who probably isn’t high on anyone’s list is former Gonzaga star Josh Heytvelt.

Despite garnering swarms of fans seeking autographs and photos, Heytvelt barely played and was underwhelming when he did leave the bench. Averaging 6.6 minutes a game, Heytvelt shot 3-for-9 in five appearances and only averaged 1.6 rebounds.

“I think I can still add something to an NBA team, but I’m really not sure what is next for me,” Heytvelt said.

And though the team that will open the season will look much different from the one that left Las Vegas, the Wizards have something to build on after last season’s brutal record.

“We have so many talents and so many guys who really understand the game of basketball, so it’s going to be fun for us,” Cassell said. “All of our guys played well once they played together. Not one of our guys played bad when we played together.”

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