WASHINGTON — John Wall was up to his usual antics Saturday night.
Atlanta Hawks guard Kent Bazemore thought he had a clear path to the hoop in transition, only to have his shot turned away by a soaring Wall. Wall has now had emphatic chase-down blocks in back-to-back Wizards games after spiking a would-be Brandon Ingram on Thursday against the Lakers.
Defense was a point of emphasis all night for Wall, who despite pregame sickness, catalyzed a 113-94 Washington win over the Hawks by holding Atlanta’s leading scorer, Dennis Schroeder, to a 2-16 shooting night.
Long-heralded as one of the league’s better defensive point guards, Wall has finished no lower than second in blocks per game amongst point guards each year since 2014, but he has only one All-NBA Defensive Team selection to show for it.
Last June, Wall scoffed at the notion that he should be left off the team.
So in late August, when Kobe Bryant issued a directive to Wall via Twitter – “1st team all defense” – he was ready for the challenge.
“I challenged myself before then, so it was kinda great getting the challenge from ‘The Mamba,’” Wall said, referring to the Laker guard’s nickname.
Wall has focused on staying in plays more often and asserting himself as a better two-way player. That concerted effort has helped other areas of his game too, he contends.
“It kinda helps me get in better shape and not get tired as quick,” Wall said.
On a night like Saturday, when Wall was “very sick” and wore a ski mask upon entering the arena, that conditioning proved particularly helpful. Wall, who didn’t get to warm up because he received two IVs, admitted he didn’t have the same energy or burst he normally does.
“My migraines came back and I had a cold on top of that,” Wall explained.
Nonetheless, Wall was proud of his play Saturday night.
“I thought I played OK,” said Wall, who has drawn a poor shooting night from the opposition’s point guard in Washington’s last two games, after holding Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball to a 3-12 clip Thursday.
Defense has been a point of concentration all year for the Wizards, who have conceded over 110 points to the sub-.500 Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, and a 130-point scoring barrage to the Cleveland Cavaliers. All of those disappointing performances were at home.
But Wall had an optimistic outlook, given the improved defense the Wizards have shown from the latter part of this home stand.
“If we can just stick to the basics of our concepts,” Wall said, “I like our chances against anybody.”
Sick or not, the point guard will certainly play a large role in how well that defense fares going forward.