- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

With five minutes left in the game, John Wall drove to the basket and connected on a reverse layup. It put the Wizards up by 18 points, and slowly, a hint of a smile crossed Wall’s face. He could sense a win, a badly needed win, for the only team in the NBA that didn’t yet have one.

They do now.

The Washington Wizards defeated the Toronto Raptors 93-78 on Tuesday night at Verizon Center to get their first win of the year. As the team left the court, there were cheers and a standing ovation from the same home crowd that booed them just two days earlier in a loss to Minnesota.

“I think this is the first time,” Wall said, referring to the Wizards actually playing as a team. “I think against the Celtics and the Knicks we did it a little bit, but defensive wise, we didn’t really help each other. But today, we put a full game together, and we came out with a win.”

Wall’s assessment was correct; the Wizards finally showed effort as a team, instead of playing as individuals who just happened to be on the court at the same time, as evidenced by their season-high 20 assists.

Perhaps it was the change in the starting lineup, with Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis coming off the bench in favor of Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.

Lewis and Nick Young led the Wizards with 15 points each.

Whatever helped lead to the win, Blatche says it’s okay with him.

“I don’t have no problem doing that role,” Blatche said of coming off the bench. “It’s all about winning and making steps, and tonight we made some steps. We did a lot of great things on defense and we also shot the ball pretty well. We had a great night.”

Blatche was a game time decision because of a sore right shoulder, although he played 24:55, and pulled down a one-armed rebound with his right arm.

“That was pretty good right,” Blatche said with a laugh, before admitting that his shoulder felt worse than it did before the game. “I’ll get some treatment and hopefully go tomorrow [against Chicago].”

It was also a good night for Jan Vesely, who missed the first seven games with a hip injury, and played sparingly against the Timberwolves on Sunday. Vesely played more than 16 minutes, scored four points, had two rebounds, and five steals.

“I’m happy that I get a chance to show what I can do and how I like [to] play. I’m happy that we won,” Vesely said. “I think we played team defense and we support each other and we didn’t play selfish so it was team win and teamwork.”

As for coach Flip Saunders, the relief of getting that first win was evident.

“We played as a team, and we didn’t try to do too many individual things tonight,” Saunders said. “We had a good, solid performance from a lot of players. The thing that I liked most is the amount of players we played, and basically not a lot of falloff, and we actually played better when we went to our bench.

But Saunders wouldn’t say whether or not the lineup change was a permanent one

“I’m not going to do that and give my scouting report to Chicago,” Saunders said with a rarely seen smile. “I want to give them something to think about.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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