Once John Wall returned to the Wizards lineup following knee surgery during training camp, you knew it would take a little while for him to find his groove.
But it took a little more than that — it took a veteran getting in his face.
Wall told the story to the Wall Street Journal. It started with a February loss to the Detroit Pistons where Wall had been benched by coach Randy Wittman in favor of A.J. Price. Why? Price was playing better (not turning the ball over, for one).
When Okafor attempted to explain afterward why Coach Randy Wittman had to make the decision to give A.J. Price more playing time, Wall snapped back, leading to a heated argument that was audible from the walls on the other side of the training room.
“It was just me being young and very frustrated. I wasn’t making anything, turning the ball over, and we lost a lot of games that we should’ve won and I put the toll on me,” Wall explained, as he recalled his emotions before the encounter. “A lot of frustration was coming out. As a veteran and being a leader on the team, [Okafor] stepped up and said something. At the time, it was in the heat of moment. I was upset.”
Wall was unaccustomed to having a teammate challenge him, but in hindsight, he couldn’t disagree with anything that Okafor told him: Wittman had to go with someone else if he was ineffective and Wall has to trust that the coach is doing what was in the best interest of the team, which should always come first
It turned around and now Wall looks like the player people expected when he was drafted No. 1 — in his last 20 games he has averaged 23.9 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting and 41.7 percent from three, plus he has 7.8 assists per game. His jumper is falling and that opens up lanes for him to use that incredible straight-line quickness to get in the paint.
This is what veteran leadership can bring. When Wall came into the NBA this was a team with Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee and Nick Young on it. Not exactly the most professional of locker rooms. Okafor and Nene have their flaws, but they are professionals — they take care of themselves, watch tape and generally prepare well for games.
And when a young player needs it, they get in his face. The results speak for themselves.
The Heat and Hornets are clearly tiring of each other, six games of testiness culminating with Game 7 today.
One particular battle line being drawn is over Jeremy Lin (6.3) and Kemba Walker (5.5), who lead players in this series in free-throw attempts per game.
ESPN sources say that one of the factors that ramped up the tension between the teams stems from Miami complaints to the highest levels of the league office after Game 4 about what the Heat deemed to be favorable officiating for Jeremy Lin and Kemba Walker.
Lin and Walker relentlessly driven to the basket. That’s why they’ve attempted so many free throws. If Miami wants to keep them off the line, trap them harder on the perimeter.
That said, this is part of playoff gamesmanship. If the Heat plant a seed with referees – through the league office or otherwise – that Lin and Walker are drawing too many fouls, maybe that affects a call today. With the margins so narrow, every little bit helps.
Oklahoma City has more than a few adjustments to make after a brutal defensive effort in Game 1 of their series against San Antonio, but at the top of the list is sticking with LaMarcus Aldridge on defense.
He was killing them from the midrange, and more than half of his looks were uncontested — the Thunder know he can knock down that shot, right?
It was a fantastic performance from Aldridge; we’ll see if he faces tougher defense in Game 2.
Should we be preparing for Game 7 of the Trail Blazers-Clippers series today?
If the officials had called the final minutes of the last game correctly, maybe.
Portland won Game 6 to take the series 4-2, but a missed call a key missed call helped clinch.
With 1:45 left, Mason Plumlee got away with offensively fouling Jamal Crawford, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:
Plumlee (POR) sets the screen on Crawford (LAC) without giving him room to avoid the contact.
A correct call would’ve meant a Trail Blazers turnover. Instead, Damian Lillard ended the possession with two made free throws.
Portland’s advantage when the Clippers began intentionally fouling: two.
Would the Clippers have won if the refs called Plumlee’s offensive foul? Impossible to say. The final 1:45 could’ve played out much differently.
But this missed call, the only error in the Last Two Minute Report, certainly boosted the Trail Blazers’ odds.
It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:
1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.
2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.
3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.
4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.