WASHINGTON — Having coached the rookie version of John Wall, Flip Saunders recognizes the point guard’s growth. Sadly for the Minnesota Timberwolves coach, the latest example of the Washington Wizards star’s improvement sent his scuffling team to yet another loss.
Wall had 21 points and matched his career high with 17 assists, and swingman Rasual Butler had 18 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Washington Wizards fended off the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-95 on Tuesday night for their eighth straight home win.
Butler went 7 of 8 from the field in the final period with three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for the Wizards (18-6), winners of five in a row and nine of 10 overall.
The Wizards led by 14 points in the first half, but only 74-69 after three quarters as Minnesota (5-19) forward Thaddeus Young had 19 of his 29 points in the period. With Butler’s shooting and Wall’s floor direction, Washington pulled away and led by as many as 20 points.
Minnesota has lost three straight and nine of 10.
Now in his fifth season, Wall was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 18.3 points, 11.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 while leading the Wizards to a 4-0 record. In his game since the honor, the point guard matched his career high with 17 assists, which also matched Minnesota’s entire total.
“He’s just matured. He was a kid when I had him,” Saunders said. “The baby has turned into a man now.”
Now in his fifth season, Wall was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 18.3 points, 11.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 while leading the Wizards to a 4-0 record. In his first game since the honor, the point guard matched his career high with 17 assists, which also matched Minnesota’s entire total.
Asked about whether the game has slowed down for him, the lightning-fast guard said, “I can read everything. I’m picking and choosing. Now people are at my mercy.”
The Wizards fired Saunders, Wall’s first NBA head coach, in January of 2012 after a 2-15 start and a 51-130 record in three seasons.
The game was the first in Washington on the visiting bench for Saunders, now the Timberwolves coach, team president and part owner. Randy Wittman, then one of Saunders’ assistants, took over as head coach and the person often tasked with answering the question of whether Wall is playing his best basketball.
“No, I think he still has the best ahead of him,” Wittman said after Washington improved to 13-2 at home. “I want him to keep driving.”
Butler drained back-to-jumpers early in the final quarter and then tacked on his third straight field goal for Washington as the Wizards led 82-72 with 10:17 remaining.
The lead ballooned to 107-88 on Butler’s fourth and final 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining. He finished 9 of 15 overall, including 4 of 5 on 3-point attempts.
The final player to make the roster out of training camp, Butler now has scored 23 points in three games this season. As for why he made shots on this night, “I’m just the recipient of playing with one of the best point guards in the NBA in John Wall,” he said.
Washington sank 10 of 17 from beyond the arc while shooting 50 percent from the field. Center Marcin Gortat scored 15 points and forward Nene had 11.
Forward Shabazz Muhammad scored 21 points and center Gorgui Dieng had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Timberwolves. Rookie forward Andrew Wiggins scored nine points.
“Our guys competed,” Saunders said. “They’re just too good for us right now. We just don’t have enough firepower.”
Wall recorded six assists inside the first six minutes of the opening quarter, leading Washington to a 46-36 halftime lead. The point guard has at least 11 assists in eight of his last nine games.
NOTES: Wizards F Paul Pierce missed his first game of the season with a sore right toe. F Otto Porter, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, replaced Pierce for his first career start and scored 10 points. … Timberwolves F Ronny Turiaf underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right hip Tuesday morning. Turiaf missed the previous 15 games and 20 this season, only playing in two contests. … F Kris Humphries started his 12th straight game for the Wizards with F Nene coming off the bench since returning from a foot injury on Dec. 5. … Washington next plays at the Miami Heat on Friday night, the same day Minnesota visits the Boston Celtics.
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