Paul out­plays Wall in guards’ first meet­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MICHAEL LEE

New Or­leans Hor­nets point guard Chris Paul started with some trick­ery, send­ing JohnWall to the bench with his sec­ond foul in the first three min­utes. Paul used some vet­eran savvy to grab Wall’s shorts, then pulled him­self to ground. Wall raised his arms, pat­ted his thighs and walked away up­set.

Then Paul tried some thiev­ery as he re­peat­edly stripped the ball from the No. 1 over­all pick, leav­ing Wall con­fused and ap­pre­hen­sive. And af­ter set­ting up his team­mates, Paul went in for ter­mi­na­tion, knock­ing down an im­pos­si­ble-tode­fend, high-arch­ing floater that en­sured the Washington Wizards would start the new year with a 92-81 loss at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

Wall said he learned a lot in his first matchup against all-star and fel­low North Carolina na­tive Paul, who showed the young guard there is more to run­ning a team than just col­lect­ing as­sists and scor­ing the oc­ca­sional bas­ket: Pro­tect­ing the ball is para­mount to se­cure wins for your team.

Wall and Paul had sim­i­lar stat lines, with­Wall fin­ish­ing with 12 points and 10 as­sists, and Paul hav­ing 13 points and 11 as­sists. But the dif­fer­ences were glar­ing, as Wall com­mit­ted eight turnovers, com­pared to one for Paul, and Paul had seven steals.

“You could see the dif­fer­ence be­tween an es­tab­lished point guard and a young one,” Coach Flip Saun­ders said. “When things got a lit­tle hay­wire for them, [Paul] took con­trol of it. When things got hay­wire for us, we tried to speed up things.”

The Wizards have played bet­ter at home this sea­son, but they have yet to de­feat a team who en­tered with a win­ning record in their build­ing. They had an­other op­por­tu­nity Satur­day, as Wall helped build a 13-point lead dur­ing an elec­tri­fy­ing sev­en­minute, sec­ond-quar­ter run. But with the Hor­nets trap­ping Wall on pick-and-rolls and forc­ing him to pick up his drib­ble, and Paul an­tic­i­pat­ing what the rookie would do, the Wizards let the game slip away through some forced and, at times, care­less turnovers that led to fast­break op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Hor­nets for­ward Trevor Ariza ben­e­fited the most, as he scored 13 of his team-high 22 points in the third quar­ter, when the Wizards were outscored 26-15.

“ They ran us. In­stead of hit­ting them, they hit us,” Nick Young said af­ter scor­ing a game­high 24 points. “We’ve got to get over that hump. Stop just set­tling for play­ing hard and start play­ing to win.”

Young brought the Wizards (8-24) within 80-74 with 4 min­utes 48 sec­onds re­main­ing when he caught a pass from Wall and buried a corner three-pointer. But theHor­nets put the Wizards away in a six-sec­ond-se­quence, as Ariza got the ball near the three-point line, drove in­side, cocked the ball be­hind his head and jack-ham­mered a dunk right over JaVale McGee (12 points, 13 re­bounds and six blocked shots). Wall tried a quick strike, and ap­peared to travel as he pushed the ball up the floor. But Paul poked the ball away from then scooted up the floor for a layup that gave the Hor­nets a 10-point lead.

“He’s a smarter player, a bet­ter player right­now,” Wall said of Paul. “He knows the game. He knows when to pick his spots, when he wants to score and when he wants to find his team­mates. He does a great job and there so much you can learn from him. That’s all I can do. Take what I learned from this game and use it in the fu­ture.”

The matchup be­tween Paul andWall was de­layed early, with Wall get­ting into foul trou­ble. Wall had more pres­sure on him to stay on the floor, with point guard Kirk Hin­rich missing his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game with a left thigh con­tu­sion and emer­gency point guard Josh Howard forced to sit af­ter de­vel­op­ing some sore­ness in sur­gi­cally-re­paired left knee the night be­fore in In­di­ana.

Wall re­turned in the sec­ond pe­riod fired up, and quickly turned around the game as he scored five points and handed out six as­sists within the first seven min­utes. Wall fed Al Thorn­ton along the base­line for a jumper that gave the Wizards a 43-30 lead, but theHor­nets went on a 20-4 run over the next eight min­utes, tak­ing ad­van­tage of some sloppy ball han­dling and poor shots. The Wizards’ only points came af­ter Wall stole the ball from David West, sprinted past Paul and dunked, and later, when then found An­dray Blatche for a layup. Paul hit Emeka Okafor (17 points, 15 re­bounds) with a dunk that brought the Hor­nets within 4742 at the break.

The Hor­nets con­tin­ued to ap­ply pres­sure on the Wizards, as they opened the sec­ond half by scor­ing the first eight points, a run that was aided by three­Wall turnovers. Ariza stole the ball from Wall twice, lead­ing to two fast­break layups, with­Wall foul­ing him and set­ting up a three­p­oint play that gave the Hor­nets a 50-47 lead.

“I thought we turned the ball over too many times. When you give a team easy bas­kets, it’s go­ing to be hard to win,” Rashard Lewis said af­ter scor­ing 14 points. “We’ve got to learn from our mis­takes. We’ve got to play for 48 min­utes. We can’t play one half or play three quar­ters to win a ball game.”

The Wizards re­gained con­trol briefly­whenWall buried a three­p­ointer to give his team a 60-56 lead, but the Hor­nets ended the third pe­riod on a 12-2 run, tak­ing a 68-62 lead when Jar­rett Jack made a long jumper.

“He is a re­ally tal­ented player and he’s got a great fu­ture ahead of him,” Paul said of Wall. “For now he just needs to get healthy, and that’s what I told him. You can tell his foot is still a lit­tle off, and once he gets back to a hun­dred per­cent we can all only ex­pect great things.”

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Nick Young scored 24 points and added five re­bounds in­Wash­ing­ton’s loss to New Or­leans.

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Trevor Ariza, left, and Emeka Okafor sent Hil­ton Arm­strong and the Wizards to their 16th de­feat in the last 19 games.

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