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With his NBA window closing, Wizards' Gortat is improving with age

With his NBA window closing, Wizards' Gortat is improving with age

Few basketball players can count themselves as fortunate as Wizards center Marcin Gortat. Now in his 11th season, he's enjoyed a long and successful NBA career, and has made tens of millions of dollars along the way. 

For some, that would be enough. For some, this time would coincide with a slow decline towards retirement. The sun would be setting, the skills they accrued over that decade-plus would be fading away.

But at age 32, Gortat has somehow taken his game to brand new heights this season. He's averaging career-highs in rebounds (11.4, 7th in NBA), field goal percentage (58.6) and minutes (34.8). 

The man whom many call 'The Polish Machine' is getting stronger and more efficient with age. He has been as reliable as anyone for the 25-20 Wizards, having played in all 45 games this season.

"He tells me all the time that he’s 'The Polish Machine,' and I’m starting to believe that," head coach Scott Brooks said earlier this month.

For Gortat, there is no well-kept secret for why he continues to ascend at his age. It's about a love for the game and a simple personality trait.

"I would just say the pride. It’s just pride. Don’t take things for granted and just go out there and play," he said. "My window is closing up really fast right now, so I’ve got maybe another three or four years in front of me. I just want to use this situation. I just want to perform and just be a very good big man in this league. Just compete. I can’t imagine going to a game and just going through the motions."

Gortat, naturally, has grown wiser over the years. He may not be as quick at 32 as he was at 22, but there are other elements of the game where he has made significant leaps.

"You become smarter and you appreciate things more, definitely. You appreciate things more. Second thing, you get more experience and have more fun. You find the little details in the game that make the game easier for you. You just get more confidence about a lot of things. You’re doing all the little stuff like rebounding and setting screens and the coach is rewarding you by giving you touches and post-ups, then the game is a lot of fun," he said.

Setting screens is an area where Gortat has truly emerged. Brooks has referred to Gortat as the "best screen-setter in basketball" this season and the numbers back that up. He leads the NBA with 6.9 screen assists per game. 

[RELATED: How Marcin Gortat sets table for Wizards' half-court offense with screens]

That is a product in part due to the fact he plays with John Wall, one of the best passers in basketball, and shooters like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. But Gortat's role as a big, mobile body who can check someone with precision and force cannot be understated. At 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, he is not someone you want to run into.

Gortat said the reasons why he has improved at setting screens over the years are "basketball knowledge, physical preparation, timing and experience." Add it all up and he's become very confident in his ability to get his teammates open.

"They are coming off butt-naked, so they just gotta make a shot," he said with a grin.

Setting screens is among the most physical aspects of the game of basketball, yet there is an art to it. As much as screens are pure brute force, the line between a legal screen and an illegal one can be very thin. That's where the experience comes into play.

"Well, some screens are going to be illegal. That’s obvious that some screens are going to be illegal," Gortat explained. "It’s about how I’m going to sell it to the referee, if they are going to see it or not see it, bottom-line. Number two, there are a lot of people that are just running into a screen and they think they have been illegally screened, which is B.S. I’m just trying to read the situation. I’m just trying to anticipate what path the guard is going to take to avoid the screen. That’s what we have got to read and we have been doing pretty good so far."

Every time Gortat sets up for a screen, he knows some hard contact could be coming his way. Usually it's a guard running around on defense with no idea that contact is coming. That could mean an elbow or a shoulder jabbing him in the stomach or the arm, from a player running very fast.

"I’ve been playing my whole life a physical game. I’m not afraid of the contact. I’ve just gotta continue to do it. As early as you can start it in a game, the better. It can carry over throughout the whole game later on. Setting a tone, that’s the easy part," Gortat said.

[RELATED: Marcin Gortat posterizes Gerald Henderson]

Screening can be one of the more thankless parts of the game. Screens aren't reflected in a traditional box score and rarely are they the focus of highlight reels. But that doesn't mean there aren't kickbacks for Gortat. He has come to learn over the years that those efforts can lead to points when he rolls to the basket.

"If you set a good screen, then you are going to be open too," Gortat said. "It definitely translates to me. If I set a good screen, I am going to be open. That probably works best with John because they commit to John more on the pick-and-rolls. That’s going to get me open and get me opportunities to shine offensively."

"He's realizing how important he is and he's realizing how many more shots he can get when he screens," Beal said.

When asked a simple answer for why he has improved this season, particularly when it comes to rebounding, Gortat will point to his coach. Brooks has had to rely on Gortat heavily this season with backup center Ian Mahinmi having missed 44 of the team's 45 games due to injury.

Gortat likes to play a lot, but Brooks has had little choice otherwise.

"It’s just more minutes. It’s more minutes and at the same time, coach has really given me a chance to play and given me a lot of confidence. He’s kind of just leaving me out there and leaving me alone consistently," Gortat said. "I’m going to come up with some crazy stuff. Sometimes I’m going to come up with some crazy stuff and some unnecessary stuff, but he knows that ratio of good stuff to crazy stuff is like three-to-one. So, he doesn’t have to worry about anything."

How long that will continue is unclear. Mahinmi should be back within the next several weeks and backup big man Jason Smith has emerged as a consistent option on the Wizards' bench. Ultimately, Brooks would like to scale down Gortat's minutes to keep him fresh and that process has already taken place in recent games.

"It's a long season and March is playing more minutes [than ever]. I don't think he's ever played this many minutes in his career," Brooks explained. "I think he's averaging like 35 or 36 and he's played many games in the high 30s, low 40s. I don't want to do that. Like every player, they want to play. They want to play 40 minutes and they think they can. But we see the production when you play guys 40 minutes every night and it's not as high."

A lot is being asked of Gortat, to the point where his coach has publicly said they may need to reduce his workload. Yet, 'The Polish Machine' has shown no signs of slowing down.

[RELATED: Gortat comes up big for Wizards in tough matchup vs. Towns, Wolves]

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 3: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 3: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Friday night in Game 3 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

GAME 3: TORONTO RAPTORS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Series: Raptors lead 2-0
Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Do or die

If the Wizards lose on Friday night, the series will technically not be over. They will be down 0-3 with a home game up next and an opportunity to extend their season and send it all back to Toronto. That said, the odds would not be good. In fact, they would be pretty much as bad as they can be.

No team in NBA history has ever come back from down 0-3 in a series. So, unless the Wizards feel like they can make history, like UMBC over Virginia history, then they better win Game 3. 

Now, some teams have come close to making it happen. Three times before a team has gone down 0-3 and forced seven games. The last time was the 2003 Blazers, who fell in Game 7 to the Mavs. 

Recovering from an 0-3 deficit to win a seven-game series has happened in both baseball and hockey, most famously in 2004 when the Red Sox beat the Yankees to reach the World Series. At some point it will happen in basketball, but the chances are essentially next-to-none. The Wizards will be much better off by winning Game 3, just like they did last year when they went down 0-2 against the Celtics in the second round and forced a Game 7.

Beal and Otto

The Wizards are hoping to see more from both Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. It was a big topic of discussion at Thursday's practice how both guys need to be more aggressive in looking for their own shot. Beal was held to just nine points in Game 2 and Porter, the NBA's third-best three-point shooter, didn't even attempt one three.

Brooks held a meeting with Beal and John Wall to discuss how they can get Beal more opportunities, but ultimately it's up to him and Porter to force the issue for themselves. It would seem likely at least one of them breaks out in Game 3. They both were great against the Raptors during the regular season and both proved throughout the year that they can score against anybody.

Too many threes

The biggest reason the Wizards are down 0-2 in this series is the three-point shot. The Raptors have hit a ton of them and even though the Wizards have been intent on stopping them, they have had no such luck.

The Raptors hit 16 threes in the first game to set a playoff franchise record. They shot 51.7 percent from long range. In Game 2, they hit 13 and 11 were in the first half. They made seven of them in the first quarter alone to the tune of 44 points, the worst defensive quarter in the playoffs in Wizards franchise history since 1965.

This is how much the three-point shot matters: the Raptors' 11 first-half threes in Game 2 helped them outscore the Wizards by 18 points by halftime, but in the second half when they hit only two threes, the Wizards edged them by seven points. Washington has to stop the three-pointer, it's that simple.

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For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Wizards hope meeting between superstar backcourt can jumpstart Bradley Beal's playoff production

Wizards hope meeting between superstar backcourt can jumpstart Bradley Beal's playoff production

With an 0-2 deficit in their first-round playoff series against the Raptors, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks called for a meeting with his two All-Star guards once his team returned to Washington. Brooks met with John Wall and Bradley Beal, hoping to solve an issue that plagued them particularly in Game 2, a blowout loss.

Brooks is intent on getting more out of Beal offensively and since Wall is the quarterback of their offense, it made sense to have him present. After Beal scored nine points and shot just 3-for-11 from the field and 1-for-5 from three, it is clear to Brooks that the Wizards need more to climb back in this series.

"We need to have Brad play well. It's no secret that you need your best players to step up and play well," Brooks said.

Both Brooks and Wall, who each spoke after Thursday's practice, said Beal needs to be more assertive in the offense. Beal averaged 28.8 points against the Raptors through four regular season games and Wall did not play in any of them. In theory, things should be easier for him now with another star player drawing attention.

That has not been the case, however. Beal is averaging 14.0 points through two games while shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from three. 

Even if his shot isn't falling, the Wizards want Beal to force the issue.

"I feel like I tell him at times that he needs to be more aggressive. Be more aggressive and look for your shot," Wall said. "He even says it that he has to be more aggressive himself. Even if he's missing or making shots. That's how he's been all season. We need that same type of player, to be aggressive and get at least 20 shots or more per game. That's when our team is probably at our best."

Beal has been limited to 14 shots per game by the Raptors when he averaged 18.1 during the regular season. Wall said he and Beal often talk within games about how Beal would like to be set up and the meeting with Brooks involved some of that dialogue.

While Beal's struggles stand out, the same could be said for Otto Porter, the Wizards' third-leading scorer. Porter was held to 12 points in Game 2 and did not attempt a single three-pointer. For a guy who finished third in the NBA in three-point percentage (44.1), that is difficult to justify.

Like Beal, the Wizards need Porter to impose his will a bit more and according to Brooks, the right lower leg strain he suffered late in the regular season is not to blame.

"He's 100 percent healthy," Brooks said. "It's always been a little bit of a problem. We want Otto to be more aggressive. We gotta run some more plays for him and the defense has done a good job on him. We need him to play well."

Like Beal, Porter had success against Toronto in the regular season. He averaged 18.5 points on 59.2 percent shooting, including a 24-point game on March 2. 

The Wizards need Beal and Porter to step up, knowing the series could hinge on if they do.

MORE ON THE WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

HISTORIC ODDS FOR TEAMS THAT GO DOWN 0-2

BROOKS MAY CHANGE STARTING LINEUP FOR GAME 3

DRAKE WON'T STOP TRASH-TALKING WIZARDS PLAYERS

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