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Morning tip: Graduation day for Wizards stars John Wall, Bradley Beal in Game 7 vs. Celtics

Morning tip: Graduation day for Wizards stars John Wall, Bradley Beal in Game 7 vs. Celtics

Every playoff game is crucial, but the finality of Game 7 will hit most of the Wizards in a hostile environment tonight at TD Garden. Ian Mahinmi knows what it's like when he was with the Indiana Pacers, and he was a vital piece off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks 2011 NBA championship team that upset the Miami Heat.

That was Game 6 of the Finals when he was in Dallas, but that crucial victory came on the road. The Wizards are tasked with having to win at a venue where they've only found creative ways to lose in the last few years.

“Game 7s are fun," said Mahinmi, who was the starting center for the Pacers in a Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors in the first round last year, a reserve in 2014 when the Pacers beat the Atlanta Hawks in a first-round Game 7 and in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the 2013 conference finals.

"They’re easier to prepare for because it’s kind of you have to go out there and give it everything you have. It’s plain and simple. There is no, ‘I’m going to save this for the fourth quarter,' because if you lose, you go home. Mentally, you just relax and go out there and do what you’ve been doing all year. It’s kind of a privilege to get to that point where one game is going to decide your whole season, basically. I’m going to tell those guys, ‘It’s nothing to overthink. Just go out there and play hard.’ We’ve been playing hard. More of the same.”

Mahinmi's role has been minor, but the 6-11 center's presence is big. That he was able to get back on the court after a left calf strain ended his regular season a game early is an accomplishment itself. Mahinmi missed the first-round triumph over the Hawks in six games and remained on the shelf for two games when this series with the Celtics began. 

While his production hasn't been eye-popping (3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds), just having another big body on the floor for 13 minutes per game to give Marcin Gortat a breather has helped. And it has kept Markieff Morris, who has a tendency to pick up quick fouls, from getting into trouble since he doesn't have to play as much as the backup five. 

[RELATED: Morris on injury before Game 7: '(Expletive) this ankle']

Jason Smith's time, however, has been cut which was the case in the regular season when Mahinmi missed 51 games after procedures on both knees.

When Mahinmi was in Indiana as the No. 1 seed in the East, they met the Wizards in the semifinals and were pushed to six games by the then-No. 5 seed. John Wall and Bradley Beal were first-timers in the postseason, and Indiana simply loaded up the paint to prevent drives to the basket and forced shooters to beat them.

Other than Beal, who was being blanketed by an elite defender in Paul George, the Wizards were short-handed. Otto Porter was a rookie. Wall wasn't enough off a threat from range and although Trevor Ariza was a 40% three-point shooter he couldn't put the ball on the floor or create for others. When the Pacers ran him off the line, the Wizards' offense was out of options.

The Wizards never scored more than 102 points in any of the games. In fact, they were held to 63 in a brutal Game 3 defeat and 82 and 80 points as well. 

That's no longer an issue for Washington which has a more diversified offense with a third scorer and a potential fourth one in Porter and Morris. And both can spread the floor with their three-point shot and have Bojan Bogdanovic coming off the bench to add another weapon.

Though as a team they haven't shot the ball well from three-point range which had been a strength all season, the Wizards have scored 111, 119, 116 and 121 vs. Boston.

Beal is coming off a 33-point explosion in a 92-91 win over the Celtics to force Game 7, and that included a momentum-changing three with his team down by five with 94 seconds left. Wall hasn't always shot the ball well to start games but he has finished strong most of the time, and no shot was bigger than his game-winning three-pointer at the end.

“Those guys are not babies anymore. They're closers. They're proven closers," Mahinmi said. "You could tell, at the end of the game, there is no hesitation from none of those two guys. Bradley came up and shot that three with full confidence like the whole entire stadium knew it was going in. And then he went right back at it, drove, floater. All those shots were no hesitation and you can tell from the bench, from being on the floor, those guys are now calm when it comes down to taking last shots and game-winning shots.”

[RELATED: Bradley Beal smart to go after Celtics' bigs on switches]

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Wizards hope this time will be different in Game 5 on road

Wizards hope this time will be different in Game 5 on road

The Wizards were in a very similar spot and less than one year ago. After dropping the first two games on the road against the Celtics in the second round of the 2017 playoffs, the Wizards held serve to lock up the series at 2-2. They then lost in Boston in Game 5 and ultimately dropped the series.

This year the Wizards find themselves at 2-2 against the Raptors, this time in the first round. Again, they are on the road for Game 5, knowing it will be pivotal and could determine the series.

This time, they hope for a much different result.

"It's super important," forward Markieff Morris said. "Ideally, what we're looking for us to come back [to D.C.] up 3-2 with a chance to close it out on our home floor."

The Wizards value continuity more than most teams in the NBA. According to Basketball Reference's roster continuity chart, they are the only team in the NBA to retain 75 percent of their roster year-over-year in each of the past three seasons.

The Wizards have kept 82 percent of their roster from the 2016-17 season. Only three teams have held onto more players: the Spurs, Blazers and, ironically, the Raptors.

Continuity can have its pitfalls. It can breed complacency and, for certain personality-types, discord. Things can very easily go stale.

But in this case, the fact these players have been in this same scenario before and know very well how important Game 5 is could work to the Wizards' advantage.

"I definitely will bring it up. I won't dwell on it. Just bring it up. We have to do better," head coach Scott Brooks said. "Hopefully those experiences will pay for us and give us that toughness that we don't want to be on the losing side of it again."

If the Wizards didn't already know the importance of Game 5, they could look at the historical odds. Teams that win Game 5 in a seven-game series tied at 2-2 go on to win the series 82.8 percent of the time with a 164-34 all-time record. Teams that lead a seven-game series 3-2 go on to win the series 84.8 percent (251-45) of the time.

The Wizards could also look at the home/road numbers. When series are tied at 2-2, the home team has a 22-13 record in Game 5 since 2003 and a series record of 26-9.

The Raptors not only won the first two games of this series at home, but they tied the Rockets for the best home record in the NBA this season at 34-7. One of those defeats were to the Wizards.

Washington, however, has to get over a hump on the road in the playoffs. Though they have won eight consecutive home postseason games, they have lost six straight on the road. The last one they won was in Atlanta in Game 6 of the first round last year. They did not win on the road against the Celtics in the second round and as a result lost the series.

Morris and Brooks offered keys to breaking that streak.

"On the road, you've gotta really lock in," Morris said. "I was telling the guys yesterday that when you're up 20 it's only really 10 when you're on the road because they have the crowd to give them momentum in the game."

"We have to have a better start. We have to bring that edge on the road," Brooks said. "We haven't seemed to get into an offensive rhythm there. I thought the second game actually helped. We were down by 23 or so and then really started moving the ball and attacking their feet. Even though we didn't win the game, it gave us some confidence."

Brooks was referring to Game 2 wheN the Wizards outscored the Raptors 61-54 in the second half. They held Toronto to just two threes during that stretch, including zero in the third quarter.

That may have been a breakthrough. Now they have to do it for 48 minutes.

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PREVIEW: WIZARDS-RAPTORS GAME 5

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 5: 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 Wednesday night in Game 5 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 5: WASHINGTON WIZARDS AT TORONTO RAPTORS

Series: Series tied 2-2
Where: Air Canada Centre
Tip-off: 7:02 p.m. (earlier tipoff than usual)
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Pivotal game

The Wizards have done their part in winning both games at home to even up this series at 2-2. Now comes Game 5, which could very well determine who takes this series.

Winners of Game 5 in a seven-game series tied at 2-2 hold a 164-34 (.828) record all-time. That means teams that lose Game 5 come back to win the final two games and the series only 17.2 percent of the time.

The Wizards need to get this one and they know all too well why. Last year they were in this same position in their second round series against the Boston Celtics. They went down 0-2, won the next two games but then lost Game 5 and ultimately the series in seven games.

Road warriors

The Wizards will also have to do something they have yet to do in a while in Game 5 and that is win on the road. Though they have won eight straight home postseason games, they have lost their last six on the road. It goes back to that Celtics series when Washington lost all four games in Boston. The last time they won on the road in the playoffs was Game 6 last year against the Hawks.

The Raptors are particularly tough in Toronto. They were 34-7 this season at home, tied with the Houston Rockets for the best record in the NBA. 

The recent historical odds are also in Toronto's favor. Since 2003, the home team has won each of the first four games in a seven-game series 35 times. In those series, the home team has held a Game 5 record of 22-13 and a series record of 26-9. If the Raptors get Game 5, history will be on their side to go on to win the series.

Can Otto get going?

Games 3 and 4 in Washington saw All-Star Bradley Beal break out to score 28 and 31 points. Will we see the same from Otto Porter before this series is over?

Game 4 seemed to suggest that is possible. After scoring only one point in the first half, Porter erupted for 10 points in the third quarter alone. Though he only scored 12 points in the game overall, it was the most aggressive we have seen him all series.

Porter is averaging just 10.3 points per game through four playoff games. He is shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from three, and as long as the Wizards are winning he won't complain, but Porter can do much more than that on offense. If he starts scoring more, the Wizards will be tough to stop.

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

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