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Markieff Morris and Dolph Sand: an odd couple friendship within the Wizards' organization

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Wizards

Markieff Morris and Dolph Sand: an odd couple friendship within the Wizards' organization

After each game at the Verizon Center, Wizards forward Markieff Morris takes his time getting dressed, often in clothes that read F.O.E., or 'Family Over Everything.' He brushes his short-trimmed hair and his bushy beard and turns from his locker to meet the media. Each time he makes that turn, a 75-year-old man in a suit with a big grey mustache steps forward to make the same announcement:

"No. 5 in your programs, but No. 1 in your hearts: Markieff Morris."

Win or loss, Morris often can't help but smile and the same goes for the reporters waiting with their questions. A 6-foot-10, 27-year-old man covered up to his neck in tattoos goes from NBA enforcer to willing media messenger with refreshing honesty and frequently a sense of humor his reputation wouldn't suggest.

"No. 1 in your hearts… I've heard that about 80 or 90 times," Morris said with a grin.

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That humor is a big reason why Morris and Dolph Sand, an assistant to Washington's public relations department for 45 years, have learned to like each other. Sand has been a part of the Wizards since they were the Bullets and regular participants in the NBA Finals. He's seen all sorts of players come through the locker room doors from Wes Unseld to Chris Webber to Michael Jordan to Gilbert Arenas. 

Sand was around when the Bullets won the NBA title in 1978. He was given a championship ring, one that he gifted to his son.

"It's a great feeling to talk to somebody who's been through it all," Morris said. "He's been through the ups and downs. He's seen the last time we won. For him to be here right now is special."

Along the way, Sand has encountered plenty of people, many of them good-natured, but also some who have made his job more difficult than it needs to be. Some players leave early after games or complain that they're tired when media requests are made. Not Morris. Sand has never heard 'no' from the Wizards' big man.

"It means a lot," Morris said of Sand's opinion. "He's seen so many players come through the organization. Whatever was said about me before I came here was completely false. Once people give me the chance, they see the real person that I am."

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Over the last five decades Sand has worked with all sorts of personalities. What he appreciates about Morris is his positivity and willingness to have fun. The feeling is mutual.

"It's cool, man. I call him the 'King of D.C.' He's a great guy," Morris said. "He's been around a long time. He's a good dude, man. He's always positive. He's always talking about me. That's my guy."

Morris was close with VP of communications Julie Fie during his days with the Phoenix Suns. He has formed a similar reverence for Sand, a retired employment lawyer with still-active bar memberships in D.C., Virginia and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"He's just like a grandfather. He controls it all," Morris said. "He just sits in the same spot every time we come in. He get shown the most respect. All the players respect him to the utmost."

In his time with the Bullets and Wizards, Sand has accrued some interesting stories. He's done everything from PR to working the scorer's table and running the 24-second shot clock on game nights. That role he did not enjoy in part because coaches and players would yell at him for mistakes. Sand's claim to fame in that department is helping call in scores on Feb. 26, 1987 when 7-foot-7 Bullets center Manute Bol set an NBA record with 15 blocks.

Sand also remembers specifics from the 1970s run when the Bullets reached the NBA Finals four times in nine years. He still wonders what could have been in 1975 when the Bullets reached the Finals as a better seed than the Warriors, but had to play two of their first three games on the road. 

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That was due to scheduling conflicts in both the Warriors' primary and backup arenas, the Oakland Coliseum and the Cow Palace in Daly City. One was hosting an ice skating event and the other a karate tournament. Neither were moved for the NBA Finals. The Bullets were swept.

This past season the Wizards won 49 games, their division and reached the seventh game of the second round of the NBA Playoffs, all things they hadn't done since the 1970s. Few have seen all the days in between, but Sand has.

Morris was a big part of the 2016-17 success as their starting power forward. It was his first full season in Washington, where he now feels at home after a turbulent time in Phoenix. He has his mother, Angel, who lives close by in Clinton, Md. and a lot of friends now with the Wizards, Sand included.

"Me and Dolph, it's special. I feel like I've known him for a while for some odd reason. I don't know why," Morris said.

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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.

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Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

The biggest surprise of the Wizards-Raptors series through two games, at least from Washington's perspective, has to be the fact Ty Lawson has very quickly earned a prominent role in Scott Brooks' playoff rotation.

Lawson, 30, was signed the day after the regular season and after he played much of 2017-18 in China with the Shandong Golden Stars. He did not appear in one game with the Wizards or any other NBA team during the regular season, yet he was the first point guard off the bench in Game 2.

When John Wall picked up two quick fouls, it was Lawson who got the nod, not Tomas Satoransky. Lawson ended up playing 31 minutes, more than Satoransky and fellow backup point guard Tim Frazier have earned combined through two games.

Though the Wizards had three point guards on their bench behind Wall before Lawson even signed, he has apparently surpassed them all on the depth chart. Satoransky is the most surprising, given he played quite well during the regular season.

Satoransky averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 assists and shot a team-best 46.5 percent from three. He had the highest offensive rating (124) on the team.

Lawson, though, played quite well in Game 2. He put up 14 points, eight assists and three rebounds while shooting 4-for-5 from three.

Lawson outscored four of the Wizards' five starters. Not bad for his first game.

"He did everything I knew he was capable of doing," Brooks said. "I’ve seen him do it for many, many years. He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He competes and pushes the pace. He plays defense. I liked the spirit."

Lawson provided a noticeable spark. He is still quick and aggressive with the ball, not afraid to look for his own shot, and played physical defense against the Raptors. Lawson ended the night plus-8 in the box score in a game the Wizards lost by 11.

"It’s good to see him get into a game and be able to produce for us," guard Bradley Beal said.

Given the Wizards lost Game 2 and face an 0-2 deficit in their series, it is likely that Brooks continues to alter his rotation in the coming games. He could go back to Satoransky more often, knowing he had some solid games against Toronto in the regular season, including on March 2 when he had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Satoransky could see more time at shooting guard or small forward and could play alongside Lawson. That might be Satoransky's best bet because Lawson did nothing in Game 2 to squander the opportunity.

For a team whose effort has been questioned by their head coach, Lawson's energy and urgency was noteworthy. He brought the edge of a guy playing for his NBA career, knowing a good playoff series could earn him a contract next season. 

Clearly, the way Lawson played was refreshing for Brooks given how long he kept him out on the floor. He may have come out of nowhere, but it looks like Lawson is here to stay.

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