Paul outplays Wall in guards’ first meeting
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.”
Nick Young scored 24 points and added five rebounds inWashington’s loss to New Orleans.
Trevor Ariza, left, and Emeka Okafor sent Hilton Armstrong and the Wizards to their 16th defeat in the last 19 games.