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Morning tip: For Gortat, it's about time Wizards feel anxious

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Morning tip: For Gortat, it's about time Wizards feel anxious

No matter the excuses for why the Wizards have been up and down all season, it doesn't matter. They're almost at the midway point and are starting to run out of time with their third meeting with the Toronto Raptors on Friday at Verizon Center (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 p.m. ET). 

"I'm starting to feel (anxiousness) right now. If we're not going to start winning games, we're going to dig a big hole and it'll be tough for us to come out of that hole," said Marcin Gortat, who has posted double-doubles in four of his last five games and is averaging 13.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. "You got to continue to play hard. We got to do whatever it takes to win games."

The Wizards (15-18) have lost two games in a row and twice in close calls with the Raptors this season, 84-82 and 94-91, a team they swept in the first round of last season's playoffs. 

On Wednesday, they played well enough offensively to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers but fell 121-115. 

"We got to think about playing better defense, one-on-one defense, take more pride in what we do," Gortat said. "We just didn't play well. They made a lot of tough shots."

The Wizards are starting to get bodies back in the fold, with Nene and Gary Neal returning. Drew Gooden is expected to play Friday while Kris Humphries (right knee) hasn't practiced.

"It was encouraging to have a full warmup line for the first time in a month. Nene came back but he's still not 100 percent ready yet," Gortat said of his backup. "He played good but he still can do better. Gary made some shots. It's obviously going to open up a lot of things for us.

"I"m just anxious about this whole situation. We are playing better. We are playing tougher but we had times where we had seven, eight available players. To win games we pretty much need everybody to play great. We don't have crazy talent in this locker room where we can show up and play 50 percent. Each one of us has to play 100 percent to win those games. Having the six, seven players out, it wasn't an easy situation. ... We're constantly thinking, 'OK, other guys are going to come back, we're going to play better.' No. We have to play better right now." 

In his first season in Washington, the injury season has been overwhelming for Neal. He has missed time with soreness in his lower back, hamstring and now his right thigh. He returned to score 13 against Cleveland.

"We hope we can get everybody back. ... We're missing Brad (Beal), our leading scorer, our best scorer, that's a lot to replace," Neal said of the starting shooting guard, who has been out since Dec. 9 with a stress reaction in his lower right leg. "Everybody has to play at the top of their game to fill in for Brad. Nene, then you got Hump and Drew, these are all guys that are expected to play key roles and key minutes on a team. Everybody's doing the best they can do trying to fill in."

Neal isn't reaching panic mode like Gortat yet. More than half of the season is left and having been on an elite team like the San Antonio Spurs, Neal knows how things can change quickly. The Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West in 2011. They were bumped in the first round by the No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies.

"When you're on a team it's about how you're playing, not what your record is. At this point, w'ere not playing our best basketball," Neal said. "That's what it's about. If you're the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs not playing good basketball, you know the records don't mean anything. It's about getting everybody healthy and getting back to playing good basketball."

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

 

 

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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