Steve Nash carves up Wizards as they struggle to find some continuity
I can't even attempt to count the number of times that I've seen Steve Nash play in person, but the guy never ceases to amaze me. Over the past five years, the league has been overwhelmed with talented, fast and electrifying point guards -- Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and now John Wall.
But even at 36, after a series of injuries, thousands of miles on his wheels and the loss of Mike D'Antoni and Amare Stoudemire, it's impossible to knock Nash out of the discussion of the league's top five point guards. Try as you might, you just can't. He still has enough speed, and much more intelligence, which makes him a difficult cover. He carved up the Wizards on Sunday with the precision of a surgeon; dropping those passes that make you just shake your head in wonderment.
"He's been banged up, back, leg, ankles," Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said, "but when he's feeling good, he's played as well as any guard in the league."
Nash made one pass in the third quarter, when he split two defenders by keeping the ball about two inches above the ground -- well out of the reach of any Wizards -- but the ball landed right in the lap of Phoenix Suns center Earl Barron, who turned it into a dunk. He finished with 17 assists, but easily could've had 20 or more if his teammates, namely Barron, could've finished better.
Before the Wizards lost their 10th consecutive road game, 125-108, Saunders said the Wizards would have to "corral" Nash to keep him from being responsible for at least 50 percent of the Suns' offensive output. Nash only scored 20 points, so the Wizards met that goal -- but only because the Suns scored so much and Nash sat for all but 2 minutes 31 seconds in the fourth quarter.
"Steve's still dynamic," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said.
As Nash sliced and diced the Wizards, all I could think was, is this really the same team that held Portland to just 79 points and 33.3 percent shooting two nights ago? Then I remembered this is also the same team that gave up 127 points to Toronto in their previous road game. The Wizards have lost their past four road games by at least 10 points and have been outscored by an average of 16.8 points.
Saunders said that Wall would get "a good rookie indoctrination" against Nash and he certainly did. Nash was 8 for 8 from the floor and he wasn't making any cheap ones. His first basket was a difficult driving layup around Wall, and then he hit step-back jumpers the rest of the night.
Wall had another rough outing since returning the starting lineup, as he missed eight of his 12 field goal attempts, but he still had 12 assists. After the game, Wall said, "I was good. I just wasn't making shots. That comes with the game. Every night you're not going to make shots. I felt I was taking good shots, I just missed them."
Wall was on the floor in the fourth period, when the Wizards made a spirited 14-5 run that seemed mostly focused on making sure that Gentry would have to bring back his starters. Gilbert Arenas scored eight of his 14 points during the run, as Saunders decided to call a few isolation plays for him to get him involved. "I got it started, scored about nine points in two minutes, other players got involved. From there, they had to put the starters back in."
Arenas came off the bench for the second game in a row, and while he saying the right things publicly, it doesn't look like the best situation. But I will say that it was good to see Arenas trading some trash talk with his good friend and former Golden State Warriors teammate Jason Richardson. Arenas had a little push off to get some separation, then buried a jumper over Richardson, who dropped on his back side. "I didn't touch you," Arenas told Richardson as the Wizards got back on defense. RIchardson couldn't help but laugh as the crowd booed the non-call.
After the game, Arenas was asked about his role as a scorer, rather than a playmaker, with Wall on the floor. "I'm better with the ball," Arenas said. "I'm trying to learn to play without the ball. It's all a learning process."
Saunders had his full complement of players (aside from Josh Howard) for the first time since Yi Jianlian went down with a hyperextended right knee on Nov. 13. He used all 12 of his players on Sunday, with nine playing at least 13 minutes. "We're still searching, we've got to get some continuity. We've just got to get a rotation that's a set rotation in the next few games."
Yi was back playing with the same fervor same fervor he showed early in the preseason as matched his season with 13 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Wall found him for a dunk to get him started, and he later hit a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 10-point lead in the first half.
"My second game in like two, three weeks, playing, I feel better," Yi said. "I'm still have a slow [reaction] sometime, but I'm feeling better than last game. A couple more games, I'll feel good."
Yi got more minutes than usual, with JaVale McGee having his worst game in weeks. Gentry praised McGee before the game, and the Suns went out and attacked him as they pleased. Saunders spoke before the game about how McGee still loses focus while trying to grasp their defensive schemes, and you could see the frustration as the Suns abused the Wizards in pick-and-roll situations.
Hakim Warrick simply had to roll to the basket and he was going to get a dunk. He did a decent Stoudemire impersonation, as he scored a game-high 26 points without having to do anything creative in the low post. "I didn't think our inside presence showed any physicality," Saunders said. "We didn't give any resistance."
If there was any encouraging sign for the Wizards, it was the play of the bench, which scored a combined 60 points. Nick Young came back from his bruised right thigh to score 20 points, and Trevor Booker also had a solid outing, as he scored a career-high nine points and helped slow down the Suns with aggressive defense.
Booker also made the fans gasp two times in the fourth period, as he rebounded a Wall miss and flushed the ball over Jared Dudley in the time it takes to snap your fingers and later drove around Warrick to dunk on him. "I just tried to come in and do what they brought me in for, bring energy," Booker said. "I thought I did a decent job of it, but I had some open shots that I should've knocked down."
But after the game, Arenas still marveled about Nash. "They put the right personnel around him. Ever since he's been here, he's had the players he needs to make him look good at his age. He's looking like he hasn't slowed down any. As long as he's got shooters around him and players that can go dunk the ball from almost halfcourt, he's always going to be one of the assist leaders."
| December 6, 2010; 1:43 AM ET
Categories: Flip Saunders, Gilbert Arenas, John Wall, Trevor Booker, Yi Jianlian
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