February 22, 2020

OPINION: Wizards need Wall to elevate his game to go to next level

The Washington Wizards held a 19-point lead in the third quarter of their 95-92 Game 4 loss to the Indiana Pacers. Like Oklahoma City found out earlier in the day, no lead is safe in the NBA Playoffs. Unlike the Thunder, though, the Wizards are still waiting for their young superstars to really, finally and assuredly, lead this team to victory.

When the Wizards needed it most Sunday evening, head coach Randy Wittman turned to veterans Andre Miller, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington, with Bradley Beal reduced to more of a support role and John Wall — this team’s All-Star — planted firmly on the bench.

Miller, Gooden and Harrington combined for 28 points and twice led the Wizards to double-digit leads, only to see the starters hand that lead back over time. Gooden was +5 in 27 minutes, Harrington was +8 in 22 minutes and Miller, playing just under 16 minutes, was a whopping +18, while Wall, in 32 minutes, was -21 on the night.

You’ve got to give the Pacers credit. They realized what was working and kept feeding it, as Paul George showed why he was an early MVP candidate as he shot 12-for-20, including 7-for-10 from beyond the arc to finish with 39 points and 12 boards. Roy Hibbert had another solid performance late, with 17 and 9, and the admiration of those wearing stripes and doling out free throws.

The Pacers — the road team and No. 1 seed in the conference — went to the line 29 times in total, 10 more than the homestanding Wizards.

It’s hard to focus too much on Beal. He contributed 20 points, had five boards and five assists on the night.

Wall, on the other hand, was fairly ineffective. He finished with 12 points and seven assists, but on multiple occasions was reckless with the ball, seemingly afraid to drive to the bucket, and deferential when confronted with defensive pressure.

That he avoided taking a wide open 3-point shot with less than a minute left in the game trailing by three, instead dishing to a more covered Beal for the pressure shot, spoke volumes about where his confidence must be at this point.

The bottom line from Game 4 is when the head coach is relying on veterans like Gooden, Harrington and Miller in a must-win game, your young superstars aren’t quite ready for the next level.

If someone has said at the beginning of the season that the Wizards would give the No. 1 seed in the conference a headache in the second round, with a double-digit leads in all the games they lost, you’d have happily taken it.

Why, then, does it seem to be a huge letdown now as we’re experiencing it?

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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