The Washington Wizards improved to 18-6 Tuesday in a 109-95 victory over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. Wizards point guard John Wall did the heavy lifting, with an MVP worthy 21 points and a career-high tying 17 assists. Teammate Rasual Butler tied a season-high in points, as well, as he scored an impressive 18 of his team-leading 23 points in the fourth quarter.
“When we spread the ball like that and with the pace we play, we’re going to have a stat sheet like this sometimes,” said Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman postgame. “Rasual gave us a barrage in the fourth.” That barrage was sorely needed for the Wizards, after forward Thaddeus Young dropped 19 points in the third quarter.
Washington led the T-wolves 74-69 at the end of three despite Young’s performance, in a game which could have tilted in Minnesota’s favor thereafter. Young led all scores up to that point with 26, a mark no one would breach in the fourth. While Wall dialed in on Butler for three quick strikes early in the fourth quarter, Nene and the Wizards set their defensive sights on Young. Nene forced Young to commit a turnover early, which set the tone for the rest of the quarter. Washington ran the floor, Butler drilled shots, and when everything was said and done, Thaddeus would go the entire fourth quarter without a single made field goal to add to his line.
“He (Young) did good things, he’s got to get in there and start shooting 100 free throws a day,” said T-wolves Head Coach Flip Saunders postgame. Young went a paltry 5-for-12 from the free throw line on the night, an area of concern given his season average from the stripe (57.6%). “We’ve been working on free throw shooting, but for some reason, whether we have to exert so much energy to stay in games, we get to the line, we relax and rest, but we just haven’t shot enough at the line.” For Thaddeus, who shot 71.2% from the free throw line last season for the Philadelphia 76ers, it’ll be a matter of finding the right rhythm once again.
Coach Saunders might want Young to take a look at Butler’s stroke after this one. Butler has scored 23 points off the bench three times this season for the Wizards, and is averaging 11 points in just 21.6 minutes off the bench. His quick trigger ranks him #48 in the league in points per 48 minutes, which means he is a more efficient scorer by shot clock than more than two-thirds of the starters in the NBA. He isn’t a one trick pony, either, as evident by his alley-oop finish late in the fourth quarter. What does a defense do against a guy who ranks third overall in three-point shooting yet can put the ball on the floor and finish with a dunk?
“I am just the recipient of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA in John Wall,” said Butler postgame. Add “humble” to that 6th Man stat line. “He does a great job reading defenses, and manipulating defenses. Marcin (Gortat), Nene, those guys set really good screens, and I was open on the weak side, and my teammates did a good job finding me.”
Whenever guard-forward Martell Webster comes back–while he has been there bombing postgames for awhile now–he’s going to have a hard time finding minutes behind Butler. Webster, too, is an athletic, prototypical wing player, good for threes and finishes. He isn’t quite as good with his handle as Butler, but neither are expected to make their own shot with the likes of Wall, or even Bradley Beal, dishing it out. Top to bottom, this Wizards team is slowly proving how their on paper could be good for a 50-win season, a mark Washington hasn’t met since 1978-79 (54-28). In fact, at this pace, Washington is in the running for 60, a feat which has been accomplished by the franchise only one time in a 53 season history (1974-75, 60-22).
Meanwhile, Wall is pushing that #WallStar hashtag to new limits. He grabbed “Player of the Week” honors late November, but he fell short on “Player of the Month” (Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls). A humble Kevin Durant won the 2014 MVP award after snagging four of the six “Player of the Month” titles, and if Wall is thought to be a serious contender this season, he’s going to need those monthly votes. Fans can put their votes to work for All-Star purposes, at the least, with both Wall and teammate Beal in the mix. For Georgetown fans, finding Otto Porter is quick and easy this time around. Filter by conference, then by team, and bam. No more write-ins. He got the first start of his NBA career out of the way Tuesday, so why not his first All-Star game?
Washington will challenge the 12-13 Miami Heat Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET (CSN).