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49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

This is the eve of the Wizards' return to the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. It's their first time with home-court advantage in four decades, but how did they get here? These are 49 reasons, matching their regular-season win total:

49. Turning over the roster. Letting so many veterans walk in free agency had its risk but with the cap booming retaining some of them would've cost more than the Wizards wanted to pay.

48. Plan B. Frequently said after Kevin Durant didn't give them a meeting last summer, "There was no Plan B." That was largely according to those who had no idea what the plans actually were. It's just that Plan B wasn't as exciting as Plan A. 

47. Not getting Nic Batum or Luol Deng. The Wizards talked with both of them, the latter of whom was close to terms, about $1.5 million apart, until the Lakers intervened with more years. Batum had a down season. Deng is on the downturn. 

46. Tomas Satoransky developing on a contract that plays $3 million a year. He's been hot and cold but has real potential. He might not do much in the postseason, but he could get spot minutes and make a big shot or help on a big stop that can flip the outcome of a game. 

45. Response to early-season blowout in Milwaukee. The Wizards got trounced by 27 points on Dec. 23 on the road and came back in the next game to win over them at home. 

44. Jason Smith went from being a major question mark based on how he played early in the season to a must-have piece to the puzzle. But his attitude and professionalism is an example to other players who are in and out of the lineup. 

43. Sticking with Kelly Oubre. He went through difficult stretches and appeared he might have taken a step back. Now he's going to be key to any advancement they make in the playoffs because of his defensive capabilities.

42. Beating Golden State. It was a 112-108 win at home that tested their defensive discipline for 48 minutes. Post-All-Star break this was a problem. For that one night on Feb. 28, it wasn't. That type of defense will get the Wizards at least to the conference finals. 

41. Smith had never had a three-point shot since turning pro in 2007. Even when this season began, the career mid-range shooter attempted just two in 30 games. Now he's a threat to pop to the arc. He made 37 of 78, or 47.4%.

[RELATED: Wall, Brooks tell younger Wizards players what NBA Playoffs are like]

40. The "funeral" game. The 123-108 rout of the Boston Celtics, when the Wizards wore all black as a sign of committment to beat their most heated rival, worked. It was ridiculed by some but it was a put-up-or-shut-up game and they came through. In the end, the season series was 2-2. The Celtics dominated them last season in the series, 4-0. The Wizards of old never would've been bold enough to try a gimmick like this.

39. Going to Marcin Gortat early on post-ups to get him involved early in the offense. This usually results in a more engaged Gortat.

38. The double-digit comeback to beat the L.A. Clippers 117-110 on Dec. 18 was an early sign of what would become an 18-3 streak running to the All-Star break. 

37. Seventeen consecutive victories at Verizon Center made it an actual homecourt advantage for the first time in years. The loudest cheers no longer were for free food in the fourth quarter.

36. The 140-135 overtime losss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 6. It ended the home win streak at 17 but it did plenty for the respect the Wizards gained on national TV and their own psyche that they're not far from being the best team in the East.

35. 4-1 West coast trip from March 7-13. They came back from double-digits to win three of them, at the Suns, Kings and Blazers. Even the previous playoff teams in 2014 and '15 didn't have that kind of grit.

34. A healthy Ian Mahinmi. It took a while because the issues he had with his knees even in training camp. Mahinmi, a 6-11 backup center who is of starting quality, has been the perfect complement to Gortat.  No one mentions his $64 million contract anymore because they see he's worth it.

33. Sheldon Mac didn't do a lot but he had his moments. And he's on a minimum contract. The Wizards didn't need to trade assests to get him in last year's draft. They got him as a free agent.

32. Playing Oubre and Otto Porter together. The Wizards flirted with it a season ago. It can be a potent combination. Their best defensive lineups feature Oubre. 

31. Though Bojan Bogdanovic has cooled off, he's a rotation player who has to be accounted for by the opponent. Andrew Nichoslon, who was swapped for in a trade with Brooklyn to get Bogdanovic, was neither.

[RELATED: Wizards Tipoff podcast, Ep. 8 - Gortat 1-on-1, playoff preview]

30. Going away from Marcus Thornton. After games Jan. 2 and 3 vs. the Rockets and Mavericks, both losses, Thornton never saw the floor again. Defensively, the Wizards came apart at the seams as Thornton was out of position and on a completely different page.

29. Otto Porter shot a career-high 43.4% from three-point range.

28. Bradley Beal made a career-high 223 three-pointers.

27. John Wall took 56 fewer threes (272) than a season ago, leaving more of those shots for Beal and Porter.

26. Wall passed the ball fewer times per game (58.6) -- Beal ran more of the offense -- but created more points per assists (25.3) this year than last year. Think about that. He passed less because he handled the ball less, which allowed him to play off the ball, get it back on reversal and average a caree-highs of 23.1 points and 10.7 assists. But he was more efficient. A year ago, Wall passed 70.9 times per game and generated 24.7 points off those passes.

25. The leadership of Wall and Beal. The pressure was put on them not to just be special but to lead by example in ways they hadn't previously. And they did it together which is a major step forward.

24 Markieff Morris is the answer to the "stretch" four dilemma. He might not like being called one himself, but Morris showed in matchups vs. Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka -- he got the best of both -- that he's the answer that Kris Humphries, Nene, Drew Gooden and Jared Dudley were not in previous years. 

23. Beal's career-high 42 points vs. the Suns on Nov. 21. It was his first 40-plus game in his career. And he had three more. 

22. Wall's career-high 52 points -- in a loss -- the the Magic. They allowed  a bad team to score 124 points on their home floor. For Wall, he said it was his wake-up call to be better on both ends. 

21. Player of the Month for Wall in December. He followed up the loss to the Magic with game after game of stellar two-way play to get the train back on track. 

[RELATED: Son of former NBA great will be big focus of Wizards vs. Hawks]

20. Won season series with Atlanta. The 104-100 win on March 22 gave the Wizards the series 3-1. This might not seem like much, but this is a team they hadn't won the series with since Wall turned pro in 2010. Even tougher was winning at Phillips Arena. That's no longer a hurdle. 

19. Porter's career-high 34 points vs. Boston on Nov. 9. Defenses quickly learned that leaving him open shouldn't be a strategy. Then Tony Allen of the Grizzlies complained that Porter didn't even appear on the scouting report after he made 6 of 8 threes in a loss to the Wizards on Jan. 18. 

18. More motion in the offense. In the first home game vs. Toronto, Beal screened once in the first half alone. That totally changed as he's more actively involved in the offense and makes the reads and screens on his own to create havoc for the defense. It creates more open shots everywhere, including for himself.

17. Gortat's attitude. He'd been losing playing time to Mahinmi and accepts that even though he's the starter he's only going to get about 24 minutes per game (Mahinmi is out injured for at least another week). But Gortat responded by playing better after a month-long lull.

16. Beal's ball-handling.  His 267 assists are 105 more than last season and that number will continue to increase. His 342 attempted foul shots are a career-high, too, with 189 being his previous mark. He creates and gets to the rim better than ever.  

15. Brandon Jennings' pace. His shot hasn't been there. He's also prone to gamble for steals from behind more often than he should, but Jennings has energized the second unit in ways that Trey Burke could not. 

14. Winning in Cleveland. The season series was lost 2-1, but going into their house and thumping them from start to finish 127-115 on March 25 meant the first meeting, an OT loss, wasn't a fluke. 

13. ATOs aka after timeout plays. Under Brooks, they've become one of the league's most efficient teams at getting easy buckets off the inbounds. Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the master at it. Brooks isn't far behind.

12. Taking advantage of size mismatches with guards. Wall and Beal are more likely to post smaller players at their position. This works really well on inbounds plays with the pass thrown over the top if there's no helpside defense. 

11. The 120-98 thumping of the Thunder on Feb. 13 made up for a game they had won in Oklahoma City that was lost in OT. MVP candidate Russell Westbrook didn't get anywhere near a triple-double (17 points on 5 of 19 shooting, four rebounds, four assists). 

[RELATED: What Wizards will need to beat Hawks in playoffs]

10  Trading for Oubre in 2015. He's putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim with a confidence he didn't have in October. Grunfeld said he'd be a 2-3 year project so he's on schedule. He was never projected to be rookie of the year or a 20-point scorer as a sophomore. He was projected to be what he is right now with the prospect of getting much better.

9. Beal running the offense. It works. 

8.  Not pushing Wall too much early after returning from surgery to both knees. After such a bad start, it was easy to go overboard. The plan was for Wall to not play back-to-backs until January but he has an amazing ability to recover.

7. Brooks' handling of 2-8 start. He could've gone off scorched earth and torn everything up but didn't. He stayed on message. And he didn't make the repeated mistakes of his predecessor by calling his team "soft" and his starting center his "supposed big man."

6. Oubre vs. point guards. He's 6-7 and has a 7-2 wingspan and can defend his position or 5-9 flashes such as Boston's Isaiah Thomas.

5. Small-ball lineups. Morris can play the 4 or 5. So can Smith. Porter, Oubre and Bogdanovic can play 3 or 4 and some 2 if needed. The roster wasn't built this way by accident.

4. Revamping the medical philosophy with how to treat injuries. When was the last time Wall and Beal were this healthy this late in a season? Beal appeared in a career-high 77 games, missing the final one only because of rest. Three of Wall's four missed games were scheduled for rest.

3. Morris' three-point shooting. He shot a respectable 36.2% from there for the season and took a career-high 196 attempts.

2. Ernie Grunfeld. He hired Brooks. He locked in on him early after firing Randy Wittman and it panned out. All of the good things that Brooks has done is a credit to Brooks himself. Then who deserves credit for hiring him instead of going after Tom Thibodeau (the popular choice)?

1. Maxing Beal. How ridiculous does it sound now that this was ever up debate? The market determines the value and if Beal were allowed to become unrestricted, he would've been maxed and left for nothing. Period. That's not a plan. Beal was a max talent as long as he could stay healthy for a season and his problematic lower right leg never required surgery. Damaged goods he was not. You pay according to what a player will blossom into during the life of the deal rather than where he's at during that moment. It worked with Wall. It worked with Beal. Ideally, you don't give max contracts to aged players who have peaked when returns diminish over the life of a deal unless their name is LeBron James.

[RELATED: Wizards' Morris: Don't call me a stretch four]

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

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Biggest storylines for Wizards coming out of the All-Star break center around John Wall

The Wizards experienced a wild ride before the All-Star break, but came out of it on solid ground, fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 33-24 record. With 27 games still remaining until the postseason, here is a look at the biggest storylines moving forward...

Who will they sign?

The Wizards are close to signing a new player as they were left with open roster spots following the trade deadline when they dealt guard Sheldon Mac to Atlanta for a second round pick. The Wizards have keyed in on the backup point guard position and are likely to go in that direction with the move. But they could still be in the market for other players, possibly someone at the backup wing position, even if they sign a point guard.

The Wizards only have a few days left to make a move because they need to get their roster to 14 players within 14 days of the Mac trade on Feb. 8. Their next game is on Thursday against the Cavaliers, so they could have someone in the building in time to play in that game.


When will Wall return?

Wall had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 31 and was prescribed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, meaning he still has about another three weeks to go before a return is possible. It could be another five weeks before he's back on the court. That puts him in the range of missing another 10-to-17 games.

The Wizards have played nine games since he went down and have won seven of them, but they aren't even halfway there yet. They have a long way to go. Because it's Wall and his return will have a domino effect, this is the most important storyline to watch for the Wizards moving forward.

How will Wall fit back in?

Wall's return will of course be a big deal for the Wizards. They will be adding an All-Star back into their lineup with just weeks before the start of the playoffs. But at the moment, they have a good thing going and are playing much better than they were in the last week or two before he was shut down. That, of course, had a lot to do with Wall playing injured.

It will be interesting if the Wizards are still winning at anything close to their current rate when Wall comes back. That would be the ideal scenario because they could ease him back into the lineup and take their time getting him up to speed. But it will also create a complex situation for head coach Scott Brooks, who will need to make adjustments to his rotation. The alternative would be if the Wizards aren't playing well when Wall returns and the concern there would be the urge to rush him back in any capacity.


Tough schedule

The Wizards have fared quite well for themselves so far with a 33-24 record despite injuries to Wall, Markieff Morris and Otto Porter to varying degrees. But they have done so while enjoying the easiest schedule in the NBA, 30th out of 30 teams. It is about to get a lot tougher coming out of the All-Star break.

All in the next five weeks the Wizards will see the Cavs, Bucks, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers (twice), Timberwolves, Celtics, Spurs (twice) and the Nuggets. Of their next 17 games, 15 will be against teams currently in the playoff picture. They could be without Wall for all of them. That won't be easy.

Can Oubre get back on track?

While Wall has been out, just about everyone on the Wizards has stepped their games up to compensate. Though he still impacts games in other ways, Kelly Oubre, Jr. has been one exception on offense. In his last 11 games, Oubre has averaged 9.4 points and shot just 31.2 percent from the field and 23.2 percent from three. In his previous 46 games, he averaged 12.4 points while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.5 percent from three.

That is a major difference and the Wizards certainly want to get the early-season version of Oubre back. At his best he is one of their most consistent scorers and an excellent three-point shooter. When he's contributing on both ends of the floor, the Wizards are tough to beat.


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NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

NBA Midseason Awards 2018: Who is leading the pack at the break?

The 2017-18 NBA season has reached the halfway point with the 2018 NBA All-Star Game taking place in Los Angeles, Calif., this weekend.

But as the season shifts toward the second half NBC Sports Washington is taking at the major NBA awards and which players are positioned to bring home the hardware at the end of the 2018 season.

The season is far from over the second half is where the awards are won. Will Ben Simmons hold on to his lead in the Rookie of the Year running? Will LeBron James surpass James Harden for the MVP award?

Below are the detailed results of the NBC Sports Washington NBA midseason awards. 

The voting panel consists of NBC Sports Washington's Steve Buckhantz, Kara Lawson, Chris Miles, Travis Thomas, Adam Wise, Chase Hughes, Nick Ashooh and Troy Machir.


2017-2018 NBA Midseason Awards

Rookie of the Year:

Nick AshoohDonovan Mitchell, Jazz. While Simmons gets to work with another franchise player in Joel Embiid, Mitchell saw Utah's second-leading scorer traded at the deadline (Rodney Hood), and has had center Rudy Gobert miss tons of games with injuries. The Sixers are 3-8 without Embiid, but still Simmons in the lineup. Mitchell is the first rookie to lead his team in scoring during a winning streak of at least 11 games and he leads all rookies in scoring, on a team that could make the playoffs in a tough Western Conference.

Steve BuckhantzBen Simmons, 76ers. Rookie of the year would be Ben Simmons, and while there are more than one outstanding young players in the game, he seems to be the most unstoppable and the one with the greatest upside, especially if he hones his shooting skills.

Chase Hughes: Ben Simmons, 76ers. Simmons has returned from injury to be a rookie sensation, consistently flirting with or recording triple-doubles. He is going to be an All-Star for a long time.

Kara LawsonBen Simmons, 76ers.

Troy MachirBen Simmons, 76ers. This is tough because Simmons 1) isn't really a rookie 2) Doesn't have any range on his jump shot, and 3) gets to play with Joel Embiid. Donovan Mitchell is the best player on his team and is doing it all without Rodney Hood (trade) and Rudy Gobert (injury). I still lean toward Simmons, but Mitchell will probably steal from him in the second half. 

Chris Miles:  Donovan Mitchell, Jazz. As Damian Lillard put it, he’s actually leading his team. Secondly he isn’t a “red-shirt rookie” like his top competitor Ben Simmons. This is a two horse race if anyone picks someone else that’s a failed drug test.

Travis ThomasBen Simmons, 76ers.  He’s the second best player on a team destined for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. His combination of size and court vision reminds me of a young Magic Johnson.

Adam Wise: Ben Simmons, 76ers. I don't like the rule that he's technically a rookie (ahem, Blake Griffin winning over John Wall in 2010-11) but he's a triple-double threat every night and you can't ignore that. Donovan Mitchell is a close second.


Most Improved Player:

Nick Ashooh: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. It’s always tough to pick the MIP, because sometimes it’s more about just getting a larger role that showcases the game a player already has.

Steve BuckhantzJaylen Brown, Celtics. Every time I see him play, the results are amazing. A very close second would be Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks.

Chase Hughes: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. Oladipo went from decent to stardom seemingly overnight and has made the Pacers look very smart for trading for him.

Kara Lawson: Victor Oladipo, Pacers.

Troy Machir: Victor Oladipo, Pacers. We've always known Oladipo has elite athleticism and talent, but the change in scenery meant more opportunities to lead and develop. He's gone from a solid start to a bona fide perennial All-Star in less than half a season. 

Chris MilesVictor Oladipo, Pacers. He’s running away with this award. I taught him how to shoot over the summer so I can’t wait to get my residuals.

Travis ThomasVictor Oladipo. The local product is an All-Star now and he’s the only bright light on a team that’s overachieving, proving he’s also a leader. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers being in the Playoff picture without Oladipo.

Adam Wise: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks. Should Tim Hardaway Jr. have a say in this? Giannis has upped his "wow" factor this season and it was already among to tops in the league. He's can't-miss viewing when he's on the floor.


Sixth Man of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Lou Williams, Clippers. No brainer here. "Lou-Will" is one of the top scorers in the NBA despite playing just 32 minutes per game.

Steve BuckhantzLou Williams, Clippers. He's making shots of the bench like Jamal Crawford and has had numerous game winners. I also like Terry Rozier of Boston. He's an excellent player with a huge upside.

Keely Diven:

Chase Hughes: Lou Williams, Clippers.  could have been an All-Star this year, he has been that good off the Clippers' bench. The guy is putting up career numbers and got a well-deserved contract extension along the way.

Kara Lawson: Lou Williams, Clippers. 

Troy Machir: Lou Williams, Clippers. There are several good candidates, but this is Lou Williams' award ... again. He's averaging over 20 ppg and coming off the bench AND nearly made the All-Star Game. When has that ever happened before?

Chris Miles:  Kelly Oubre, Wizards. Yep, I went full homer on this one. Dude is legit and this summer the “should Oubre start” camp is going to revolt if he keeps this up.

Travis ThomasLou Williams, Clippers. He should be every year. In fact they should rename the award, Lou Williams Of The Year. He’s averaging 23 points a game coming off the bench for a team going nowhere fast.

Adam Wise: Lou Williams, Clippers. He should've been an All-Star ... and he doesn't even start! 


Coach of the Year:

Nick Ashooh: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets. D’Antoni has kept the Rockets in contention for the top spot in the west, which means a true competitor to the Warriors. They’ve already had two double-digit win streaks, and now that he finally has a roster that fits his system, it’s not just Golden State that can run teams off the floor.

Steve Buckhantz: Eric Spoelstra, Heat. Just when you think they really don't have a lot going on in South Florida, he consistently keeps his squad in the game and has them poised to make a run in the post season. Brett Brown of the Sixers and Brad Steven of the Celtics would also get consideration.

Chase Hughes: Gregh Popovich, Spurs. The Spurs are third in the stacked Western Conference despite missing Kawhi Leonard.

Kara Lawson: Dwane Casey, Raptors.

Troy Machir: Dwane Casey, Raptors. The Cavs and Celtics are the talk of the East, but the Raptors are the most consistent team this side of the Mississippi River. Casey doesn't get enough credit, which is why I'm writing about him here. 

Chris MilesBrad Stevens, Celtics. I hate Boston, everything about it. Just being forced to pick this guy means I don’t have to write an explanation.

Travis ThomasBrad Stevens, Celtics. Boston has continually overachieved under Stevens tutelage. Despite the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward, Stevens still has the Celtics primed for a run at the NBA Finals.

Adam Wise: Dwane Casey, Raptors. Toronto seemed to be an afterthought in the East after everyone got all excited about the new faces in Boston and Cleveland. He's figured out how to use a deeper bench, while also giving ample minutes to his stars in DeRozan & Lowry. The Raptors are very well in the hunt for the top seed for that reason.


NBA Most Valuable Player:

Nick Ashooh: James Harden, Rockets. He leads the NBA in scoring, second in assists, and has Houston poised to give a legit push to the Warriors out West.

Steve Buckhantz: James Harden, Rockets. You can always make a case for the great players and how they elevate the athletes around them, and this is an award that's best suited to someone AFTER the season ends, but right now I'd go with Harden, who continues to play at a high level for his squad. Lebron will be there in the end, as will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. 

Chase Hughes: James Harden, Rockets. He is the NBA's leading scorer, is second in assists and is leading the charge for the Rockets, who have the league's best record.

Kara Lawson: James Harden, Rockets. 

Troy Machir: James Harden, Rockets. LeBron James is still the best basketball player on the planet, but James Harden is the NBA MVP at the midway point. He's still the elite volume scorer he always was, but he's evolved into a player that makes his teammates around him better. Also, he scored a 60-point triple-double. 

Chris MilesJames Harden, Rockets. His 60-point triple-double should say enough. His team is also 26-1 when he has Chris Paul and Clint Capella. They also gave it to the Warriors and are in contention for the top seed in the West. Lebron James is second and could supplant Harden depending on how the season ends.

Travis ThomasJames Harden, Rockets. You could have made the case for him the past three seasons but other guys balled out of control and earned the award. This season it’s undeniable, he’s averaging  over 30 point per game and leading one of the best teams in the league.

Adam Wise: James Harden, Rockets. He's used the runner-up to the award as motivation this year. While the rebounding numbers are down (Clint Capella has gobbled them up), he's still near the top of the league in assists and he's leading the NBA in scoring. Oh yeah, and his play has elevated the Rockets into the "Could they really beat the Warriors in the playoffs?" discussion.