Wizards 96, Hornets 87
Heard the one about the point guard who can't shoot? That's supposed to be John Wall.
Helpless from long range for so long, the Washington Wizards point guard had his best shooting game as a pro Friday night, a night so successful that the names Larry Bird, Jim Furyk and Jason Kidd were kicked around when discussing what went right.
In fact, Wall was in such a good mood following his season-high 29-point performance in a 96-87 victory over the New Orleans Hornets that he joked about his beloved Kentucky Wildcats' 16-point loss to Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
''We were national champs last year. ... We stunk it up tonight,'' said Wall, who was trash-talking just anybody in the locker room whose school was on the NCAA bubble. ''You see we just lost by 20. I ain't worried about the brackets.''
Wall also doesn't seem to be worried about his jumper, even though his outside touch has been mostly absent since he was chosen No. 1 overall in the 2010 draft. Against the Hornets, however, he went 12 for 15 from the field, including 3 for 3 from 3-point range and 9 for 12 from 13 feet and beyond.
How unusual is that? He entered the game just 3 for 20 from 3-point range for the season, and he was a mere 3 for 42 last season. The only previous time he had made three 3s in a game was a 3-for-7 performance against the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 23, 2010, during a rookie season when he took - and missed - the 3 more often, going 34 for 115.
Wall's .800 field goal percentage was his best in any game in which he's taken more than a half-dozen shots. He had a 5-for-6 night against the Milwaukee Bucks last month.
Wall has been shooting better the last few games, and he and coach Randy Wittman agreed that it has a lot to do with confidence - and finding a consistent stroke.
''Larry Bird didn't have the picture-perfect shot, but he shot it the same way every time,'' Wittman said. ''Jim Furyk has the ugliest golf swing in America, but it's the same one over and over again. That's why he's good. John, he's got to make it the same shot. He can't take two different shots.''
Wall claims not to be bothered by his can't-shoot rap.
''You look at Jason Kidd, he didn't start making 3s until late in his career,'' Wall said. ''At long as I can make the mid-range and improve my game and help my teammates out, that's all that matters to me.''
Wall's performance, which included nine assists, brought some electricity to what looked to be a humdrum game between teams all but certainly headed for the NBA lottery. Eric Gordon scored 20 points for the Hornets, who have lost five straight on the road and five of six overall.
''John Wall was disrespected tonight,'' New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. ''We just let him shoot shots like he couldn't make them, and he made us pay.''
Known more of his speed and ball-handling, Wall looked ready for a game of Around the World from the get-go. He made a 19-foot jumper on Washington's first possession and hit from 15, 24, 26 and 23 in the first half alone.
He casually sank a leg-kick fadeaway from just inside the arc late in the third quarter and nodded his head repeatedly after his next one, a 15-foot swish. He scored the Wizards' final six points of the period, with a coast-to-coast, scoop-shot layup and a pair of free throws putting Washington ahead 74-64, the first double-digit lead by either team in the game.
Playing at the faster pace that Wittman likes, Wall had then-season highs of 27 points and 14 assists in a 95-90 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday and put up 23 and 10 in a 106-93 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.
''These last two games, I told him, `Take these home and study these,''' Wittman said. ''This is the way, from the pace standpoint, that we have to play.''
Notes: The Wizards hadn't beaten the Hornets at home since March 2, 2008. ... Washington rookie G Bradley Beal (sprained left ankle) missed his sixth straight game, and G A.J. Price (right groin) missed his second in a row. ... Hornets F Ryan Anderson (13 points) returned after sitting out one game with an illness.
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