Take a look at John Wall’s Twitter feed, and you’ll see the same thing over and over again. The Washington Wizards point guard has spent the better part of January constantly retweeting messages that include his name and the all-important “#NBAVote” hashtag.
Of course, it didn’t pay off.
Wall was omitted from the Eastern Conference’s starting lineup in favor of Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan, and now the rest of the league is going to pay. The New York Knicks were the first to feel his wrath in a closer-than-it-should-have-been 113-110 defeat in Madison Square Garden.
According to NBA.com’s official results, Wall somehow finished seventh in fan voting, trailing Irving, Dwyane Wade, DeRozan, Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry and Derrick Rose. He fared better in the other sections—fourth in the player vote and fifth among the media panel—but it wasn’t enough.
And as this breakdown from NBA Math might indicate, his play should have merited stronger consideration:
DeMar DeRozan and Kyrie Irving are starting for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Did they deserve it over these snubs? pic.twitter.com/NOAJaSfqW5
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 20, 2017
Wall might not admit this snub will motivate him, but based on how he performed Thursday night, he won’t need to. His play can do all the talking.
The floor general was dynamite from start to finish against Rose, who, again, received more votes from fans. It’s worth driving home just how outlandish that result was, is and will be.
He helped his team open up a double-digit lead in the first quarter behind 11 points and seven assists. Everything he did was efficient, as he only missed a single shot from the field and passed the rock with pinpoint precision, most notably on this dime to Marcin Gortat:
Then the Washington bench let him down, as it so often has this season.
The Wizards were utterly defenseless against a 25-point onslaught from Carmelo Anthony in the second period. Even as they kept him away from the basket, they were powerless to slow down the barrage of mid-range jumpers:
But Wall would get the last laugh, finishing with the victory and yet another stellar stat line: 29 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and three steals on 11-of-21 shooting from the field. And he was never better than during the closing minutes.
After a rough start to the 2016-17 campaign, the Wizards have slowly crawled back into the playoff picture. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve been able to ride Wall’s heroics, Bradley Beal’s offensive exploits and Otto Porter’s development into someone who’s sure to make oodles of cash this summer.
Entering the Knicks affair, Washington sat at 22-19 on the year and had won six of its last seven. More importantly, the team was within shouting distance of the Atlanta Hawks and the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed.
Wall wasn’t about to let the Wizards lose that progress against the increasingly hapless Knicks. And he didn’t, putting together a pair of clutch plays that will surely be revisited if his squad is in contention for home-court advantage in a few months:
Those plays don’t happen without a combination of skill, athleticism and motivation. Now, after he was forced to wait for the announcement of reserves to know if he made the All-Star roster, Wall has more of the last component than ever.
“Everything that comes with it—MVP, All-NBA, All-Star MVP, winning an NBA championship,” he recently told Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today about what it means to want to be the best. “I know there’s a lot of great players in this league but me being healthy and me being back to myself, I give myself a shot to be one of the best players in the league. But it’s all about winning. You don’t get those accolades without winning. If you’re not winning, you don’t get noticed.”
Wall didn’t list becoming an All-Star starter as one of those accolades, but it certainly counts as such. Though history may not differentiate between starters and reserves, it will inevitably sting that the fans, media and players didn’t feel he was deserving enough during a career season.
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
That just means he has to win even more. And that, in turn, means he needs to keep playing like he did against the Knicks, or like he did while winning the Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for his December exploits.
Washington is wholly dependent on him and the rest of the starters in its quest to remain competitive. According to NBA.com, the team posts a minus-9.3 net rating when he’s on the bench, and that elevates to 4.3 with him on the floor.
Wall simply has to continue rolling for the Wizards to keep pace and potentially earn a top-four seed out East. At least he now has a little more drive to do exactly that.
Cleveland Cavaliers Back on Track
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images
This is more like it.
The Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t be fully satisfied with their 118-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns, who fell to just 13-29 with this latest loss. Their defense was still a bit too easy to penetrate, and they fouled way too frequently, sending the opposition to the stripe 31 times.
But this was a major step in the right direction.
Since the beginning of January, the Cavaliers have been bad. Not bad relative to expectations; just flat-out bad.
They’d gone 4-4 prior to this outing, beating no one better than the New Orleans Pelicans and losing to every playoff hopeful they’d faced. After their 126-91 thrashing by the Golden State Warriors, their January net rating fell to minus-6.7—better than only the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. Offense served as the primary culprit, as the Cavs were one of three teams failing to score at least a point per possession.
Thursday night, offense posed no problems.
Granted, the caveats that come with playing a struggling Suns squad have to apply, but so many different players thrived against Phoenix. LeBron James flirted with a triple-double (21 points, nine rebounds, 15 assists), while Kyrie Irving (26 points), Channing Frye (18 points), Iman Shumpert (17 points) and James Jones (14 points) all hit double figures.
The schedule is about to toughen up with the San Antonio Spurs looming, but at least Cleveland gets to take some much-needed positives away from this outing.
Nikola Jokic Keeps Rolling
Mark Sobhani/Getty Images
Yes, the San Antonio Spurs beat the Denver Nuggets, 118-104, and still have yet to lose their 10th game of the season. Yes, Kawhi Leonard dropped 34 points—his fifth consecutive outing scoring in the 30s.
But Leonard still wasn’t the high scorer of the night.
Taking advantage of a weakened San Antonio frontcourt, which was missing Pau Gasol after he fractured his finger in pregame warm-pus, per ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright, Nikola Jokic exploded. He often seemed incapable of missing, thriving as he knocked down touch shots around the hoop, mid-range jumpers and a pair of triples to finish with 35 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two blocks on 14-of-22 shooting.
This may have been a career night from Jokic, but it falls in line with everything he’s done over the last few outings:
|Average||27.0||11.8||4.4||54-85 (63.5%)||6-14 (42.9%)|
The Denver offense has been unstoppable with Jokic running the show. Operating as a primary facilitator and aggressive scoring threat, he’s kept defenses off balance and constantly found ways to adjust to any and all schematic alterations.
That dizzying skill set was on display yet again Thursday night. San Antonio seemed intent on cutting off the lobs into the paint that have produced so many recent highlights, so Jokic took over as a versatile scorer.
Just look at the dexterity (and luck) it takes to play volleyball and then get the ball to drop in traffic:
Take a peek at his water polo style on this play:
At half, the @spurs lead the @nuggets 59-58 on NBALP.
Kawhi: 13 PTS. Jokic: 17 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST. pic.twitter.com/DxupBHIur9
— NBA (@NBA) January 20, 2017
Since re-entering the starting lineup on Dec. 15, Jokic is now averaging 20.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 63.8 percent from the field, 46.4 percent from downtown and 78.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Start thinking of him as a star. He is one.
Dunk of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Kristaps Porzingis is the master of the putback dunk, to the point that Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale once wrote an article ranking the best of his second-chance slams.
He was back to his old tricks Thursday night, swooping in to steal a rebound away from Otto Porter and completing a vicious jam:
If you have to watch that six more times, I can’t blame you. Kevin Harlan’s call will never cease to entertain.
KAT and the Timberpups Expose Shorthanded Clippers
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Down the stretch of a tight game, the Minnesota Timberwolves rolled with a lineup composed of Kris Dunn, Tyus Jones, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Not only were they able to hold off the enemy and emerge with a 104-101 victory, but they also allowed ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande to publish this interesting tidbit:
The oldest player on the court for the Timberwolves right now is their rookie, Kris Dunn (22)
— J.A. Adande (@jadande) January 20, 2017
The lineup worked, largely because Towns couldn’t be stopped.
Abusing DeAndre Jordan at every turn, the reigning Rookie of the Year put together a relentless barrage of offense. He scored in the post, created second-chance opportunities, drained mid-range looks and showed no hesitation contributing in big moments. When the final buzzer sounded, he’d recorded 37 points (15 in the fourth quarter), 12 rebounds and five assists on 17-of-24 shooting from the field.
This is the future for Minnesota.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau trusted his youngsters, and the gambles paid off. Though no one on the floor during crunch time has yet celebrated his 23rd birthday, they were able to maintain their poise and highlight the upside at this franchise’s disposal.
On the flip side, the Clippers became who we thought they’d be without Chris Paul (torn ligament in his left thumb) and Blake Griffin (arthroscopic surgery in his right knee). Nbawowy.com showed the team had posted a minus-6.6 net rating without the two superstars on the floor prior to this game, and that was readily apparent as it struggled against a young squad that’s still learning how to win.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Jordan (29 points and 16 rebounds) did his part. Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton held their own against Minnesota’s guards. But it just wasn’t enough, and LAC failed to generate much offense in the biggest moments, devolving into isolation sets and failing to overcome the hack-a-Jordan stratagems.
More losses are coming in the near future. Until Griffin returns, the Clippers will fall down the Western Conference standings, even when they don’t have to face someone of Towns’ caliber.
Thursday’s Final Scores
- Cleveland Cavaliers 118, Phoenix Suns 103
- Miami Heat 99, Dallas Mavericks 95
- Washington Wizards 113, New York Knicks 110
- San Antonio Spurs 118, Denver Nuggets 104
- Minnesota Timberwolves 104, Los Angeles Clippers 101
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com or NBA Math and accurate heading into games Thursday, Jan. 19.