- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fundamentals were the topic of the day Thursday after Wizards practice. On the Wizards’ practice court was a group of high school students from Sri Lanka and the Republic of the Maldives working basics of the game as part of the NBA Cares program. Coaches covered jump stops. There were layup lines. It was a beginner’s class of basketball.

The boys and girls worked through the drills, laughing when they botched something. Only occasionally did they catch a glance from John Wall. He was on the other end of the floor in shorts and a tank top with one of his personal trainers, Rob McClanaghan.

Wall worked floaters, free throws and pull-up jumpers — his own fundamentals. The league fears his speed and dares him to shoot. He knows this. They know it. The approach stifled him Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks when he was 5-for-17 from the floor a game after going 6-for-17.

“Just getting back to the basics of it,” Wall said of the work.

The extra effort helped Wall’s pull-up jumper bloom Friday night. He scored 17 points in the third quarter, nodding and pounding his chest along the way, in large part on pull-up jumpers the Cleveland Cavaliers wanted him to take. The Wizards won, 91-78, despite an abominable 11-point fourth quarter. Washington is 8-3 and progressing. Cleveland is a 5-6 mess.

Supplementing Wall’s 28 points was the Wizards’ on-point defense. A loaded back line faced LeBron James. The Wizards’ majestic rotations covered up shooters. Paul Pierce used his strength and stored knowledge to angle off drives from James. The Wizards talked against picks and passed off rolling big men. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving helped them by choosing producing 14 more shot attempts (16) than assists (2). He and James finished with 22 points each.

“If we didn’t talk and communicate with each other what we were doing with each individual, whether it was in pick-and-rolls or isolations, then we were going to be in trouble,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We were really locked in with five guys for the most part.”

Cleveland’s offseason star boost was not evident Friday. James, a perpetual sharer of the ball despite his individual force, uncharacteristically took 10 of Cleveland’s first 20 shots. Irving dribbled the ball so often, he appeared to have just discovered the tactic. The disparity in the teams’ offensive mechanics was exemplified by James entering halftime with 14 points and Wizards backup post player Kevin Seraphin having 12 though he played 7:40 fewer than James.

Seraphin’s success came because the Wizards hunted and found Kevin Love when he was on defense. Seraphin sprang over Love time and again, dropping jump hooks into the basket. One of the game’s most skilled players was being picked apart by someone still considered a project.

“I thought Kevin gave us a huge lift off the bench,” Wittman said. “I mean huge.”

Wall’s push pivoted the third quarter from becoming a repeat of Wednesday. The Wizards needed a timeout early in the quarter against the Mavericks to quell Dallas’ stampede. When Wittman called timeout 2:15 into the third quarter Friday, he didn’t speak to the players. He let them have a 20-second discussion which was followed by Wall’s burst. His 17 third-quarter points were nine more than Love, who appears the Cavalier the most lost in the wilderness, had all night.

“He’s our leader,” Paul Pierce said. “He’s asked to carry a big load for this ballclub. He’s going to do the scoring, he’s going to do the assists, he’s going to be the defender. That’s why he get paid the way he get paid. He’s going to be asked to deliver and that’s what he did tonight.”

The Wizards boarded the flight to Milwaukee satisfied and cautious. A win on national television against the most scrutinized team in the league will help their notoriety. Thumping Cleveland will also reduce the concerns about who the Wizards have beaten, and who they have lost to. The Bucks are the only team with a better than .500 record that the Wizards have defeated during their 8-3 start.

A win in Wisconsin solidifies the week. The Wizards left Wednesday night’s loss against the Mavericks feeling they should have won. Beating Cleveland will have little value if they lose in Milwaukee on Saturday night.

“It’s a long year,” Pierce said. “Every time you have big emotional wins, you come into the next game, those are trap games. That’s what I tried to tell the guys. Those are the games that great teams win.”

Even high school kids can see the importance of that.

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