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Morning tip: Noticeable loss of toughness without Nene


Morning tip: Noticeable loss of toughness without Nene

As the Wizards were spiraling out of control during a three-game losing streak, hemorrhaging turnovers and leading the coach to clash with his starting center, more than one person close to the situation pointed out the fix they needed. Nene, who had missed a game with back spasms, is the rock on which the revitalization of the franchise -- and its last two playoff appearances -- was built.

Saturday, in a 108-99 victory vs. the Orlando Magic, the mesaurables said this: nine points on 4 of 8 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and one block in 20 minutes. The unmeasurables: Defense to slow down Nikola Vucevic, rotating properly to seal off baseline drives to help perimeter teammates, the inability of the Magic to collapse on him with the ball because of how he always makes the right reads with the ball and, of course, toughness. The latter is a word that's rarely used in relation to the 7-footer who has moved from starting power forward to backup center.

"His physicality is key. That's what he's always had. He's one of the strongest guys from that type of standpoint of being moved," coach Randy Wittman said. "If I got the spot, you're not moving him off that spot. I thought he came in that first quarter, we were kind of teetering there midway through and I called a quick timeout. When he came in, he got us solidified better defensively there."

The Magic shot 60% in the first quarter when Vucevic was 5 of 7. But only one of those field goals came when Nene entered for Marcin Gortat at 4:29.

Immediately, Nene snatched a rebound in traffic away from guard Elfrid Payton then assisted Gary Neal with a nice bounce pass for a layup on a give-and-go to tie the score at 21. When the Magic's defense sucked in on him in the mid-post, Ramon Sessions cut to the basket and Nene found him with a pass over the top for a layup. 

With 3:34 left in the second quarter, Vucevic made one more field goal on a 17-foot fadeaway, but the Brazilian went strong to the basket himself for a finger-roll layup. 

In other words, because of how Nene bodied Vucevic off of his spot, he was relegated to taking shots farther from the rim. Nene, who played in a pace-and-space offense when he spent all of his career with the Denver Nuggets before being traded to Washington in 2012, couldn't be more comfortable in this role and got to the rim at will. Even if it didn't result in a basket for him, it broke down Orlando's defense.

"Nene's probably our best passing big. Someone that when you give him single coverage that can score one-on-one which is huge and he's a physical defender. He's someone if you come across the lane, he's going to put a little wood on you. He can rebound the ball. You saw he dunked a couple people today," said forward Jared Dudley who comes off the bench with Nene. "You need that. You need an enforcer down there, especially with the second unit.

"With the second unit what we try to do is we go small with myself and we try to space the floor. It gives them more of a lane. Defensively we lose a little bit when it comes to rebounding and that's when you need him, myself. Try to box out as best we can so we can get out and run a little bit more."

After not playing well in the season opener in Orlando, a game the Wizards still won 88-87, Nene has been steady. He has shot 19-for-30 in the last six games in which he has played. He wasn't available for the 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, a game in which Wittman lamented his team allowing themselves to be pushed around. 

That doesn't happen with the Brazilian. There's so much nuance to his game. He seals multiple defenders with his box outs and enormous wingspan, preventing them from getting loose balls and rebounds so his own teammates can have a clear path for recovery. Nene doesn't complain about his numbers because he realizes that his sacrifices are key to the Wizards winning. His teammates realize it, as do his coaches, though most on the outside looking in don't see it. 

“He’s a lot different than Marcin," said point guard John Wall. "Marcin uses his height. Nene uses more of his hands and quickness. Nene uses his power against guys. Vucevic is a heck of a player. I feel like he can be an All-Star in this league at any time. A lot of guys on their team can make plays and they’re one of the toughest teams to play because they’re always playing hard.”

Nene, 33, played harder. He just can't play starter's minutes anymore. The only question is if he can play a full season given his repeated health issues. 

MORE WIZARDS: Always will be spots in NBA for players like Garrett Temple

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The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards returned to Washington, D.C. on Friday down 0-2 to the Raptors in their best-of-seven 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series

The team lost a close one in Game 1 and was run out of the building in Game 2. Game 3 was must-win, and the Wizards knew what needed to happen in order for them to secure the victory.

"Everybody eats." 

That's the phrase that has defined the Wizards throughout much of the season They are at their best when John Wall is making players and feeding his teammates.

On Friday night, the Wizards beat the Raptors 122-103 to force at least a Game 5. Wall finished with 28 points and 14 assists.

Bradley Beal finally broke out of his slump for 28 points and  Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre all chipped in with at least 10 points.

But the stat sheet wasn't the only place where everybody eats.

Here's Marcin Gortat from Game 3. 

But if pantomiming isn't your thing, here is Bradley Beal actually eating popcorn during Game 3.

So what did we learn in Game 3? Well, for starters: "Everybody Eats" is not just a motto, it is a way of life.





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With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were only going to hold Bradley Beal down for so long. After two so-so games to begin the Wizards-Raptors playoff series, the All-Star shooting guard was bound to find his way offensively and that arrival came in a Game 3 win on Friday night.

Beal was brilliant and much more in line with what he's shown in the postseason throughout his career. Game 2 was his worst playoff game as an NBA player, he scored only nine points. Game 3 was one of his best on the postseason stage, or at least one of his most timely and important.

The Wizards needed more from Beal to give themsevles a chance in this series. An 0-3 deficit would have been a death sentence. His production is so key to their success that head coach Scott Brooks and point guard John Wall met with Beal in between Games 2 and 3 to figure out how to get him going.

Whether that was the catalyst or not, the results followed. Beal poured in 28 points in 10-for-19 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. He hit four threes, more than he had in the first two games combined.

Beal wasted no time to make an impact scoring the ball. His first points came on a quick burst to the basket where he stopped on a dime, turned around and banked it in. By the end of the first quarter, he had 12 points in 11 minutes.

“I just wanted to be aggressive, get shots that I wanted which is what they were going to force me to take," Beal said.

After Game 2, Brooks and Beal described how physical the Raptors were defending him. They were holding on to him and staying close, even when he wasn't moving off the ball.

Brooks saw a difference in how Beal responded to that in Game 3.

"Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success," Brooks said.

Beal's 28 points were as much as he scored in Games 1 and 2 together and just about what he averaged through four games against the Raptors during the regular season (28.8). By halftime of Game 3, Beal had 21 points on 8-for-11 from the field.

Beal hit two threes in the first quarter and another two in the second quarter. Several of those threes were set up by Wall, who used the meeting with Brooks and Beal to ask how he can set him up better as the point guard.

In Game 3, they were on the same page.

"I do think this man [John Wall] next to me, he creates and facilitates for the whole team and gets everybody easy shots," Beal said. "I talk to you guys all the time and I can’t tell you the last time I actually got a regular catch and shoot three just in a regular half court set. When he came back, I got like three or four off the bat."

What Beal did in Game 3 is what the Wizards are used to seeing from him this time of the year. Despite being only 24 years old, he has a strong track record in the playoffs.

Through 37 career postseason games, Beal is averaging 22.3 points, more than his career average of 18.7 in the regular season. In each of his previous three postseason runs, he has averaged more points during the playoffs than he did in the regular seasons leading up.

That production has earned him the nickname 'Playoff Beal' and when he goes off like he did in Game 3, good things usually happen. The Wizards are 10-6 in the playoffs during his career when he scores 25 points or more.

Wall also boasts impressive career numbers in the playoffs. When the Wizards have both of their stars playing at their best, they are hard to beat. With peak Beal on board, this series looks a lot different than it did not that long ago.





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