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Morning tip: Sheldon McClellan earns trust of Wizards' coaching staff

Morning tip: Sheldon McClellan earns trust of Wizards' coaching staff

The first time vs. the Chicago Bulls, Sheldon McClellan started out of necessity because the Wizards were without John Wall and Bradley Beal. It was far quicker than coach Scott Brooks anticipated, or even wanted, to play the rookie but now that he's earning rotation minutes the message has gotten through. 

McClellan has had a small but significant impact on the Wizards' last two wins. He's gotten the call off the bench instead of veteran Marcus Thornton and there doesn't appear to be a reason to go back. 

“I like what Sheldon has been able to do. He plays hard," Brooks said. "When you play hard it gives you a chance to stay on the court and make good things happen for your team. I think he does that. He has that play-hard gene that I like. It helps him. Last game I thought he had some big moments. He hit a couple big shots. He just didn’t rely on the jump shot. He went to the basket. He’s a talented player. I think he’s getting better as the season goes on.”

It was in a Nov. 16 loss at the Philadelphia 76ers when McClellan quickly slipped into Brooks' doghouse. The Wizards fell 109-102 and McClellan started with Beal out with a hamstring strain and Wall on a minutes restriction. He missed two open three-point shots badly and picked up a charging foul with the Wizards in striking distance. But that's not why McClellan didn't make an apperance in 16 of the next 17 games. In the one game he did play, it was one minute of mop-up duty. 

The Wizards were 2-8 after that loss to the Sixers, but McClellan learned his lesson from the "players' coach" in Brooks, who is far more stern than some recognize. He showed McClellan what he did wrong.

“It’s film and seeing how hard I play and how hard I run to my spots. Just the little things that help me stay on the court," McClellan said. "I remember one game in Philly coach told me I was playing so cool and I got backdoored. I didn’t play for like 10 games. Ever since then, now when I get on the court, I think about that game and I just try to compete as hard as I can to earn myself a couple more games.

“It was just my body language. The way I look sometimes. It’s something I’m still working on. I just want to look engaged at all times."

McClellan averaged 16.3 points per game as a senior at Miami. He got up his share of shots and never averaged more than 1.9 assists in college, including his first two seasons with Texas. 

"You go from college where you can make a lot of mistakes and still stay in a game, you know you’re not coming out," McClellan said. "I don’t have to hunt for shots anymore. They come. They don’t? You just make the right read."

The Wizards entered the fourth quarter vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves last week down 85-80. A 9-0 run helped them regain the lead as McClellan passed up shots to get Kelly Oubre a three-pointer and Jason Smith a mid-range jumper. In Sunday's win at the Milwaukee Bucks, it was a stepback jumper, a steal and a three-point play conversion to push the lead to 89-83 in the fourth. McClellan then took a charge from Jabari Parker that gave the Wizards an extra possession that led to Markieff Morris' jumper for an eight-point lead. 

As long as he keeps this up, Thornton, who hasn't played in either of the last two games, will find it tough getting back on the court. Thornton takes too many risks on defense and gets caught out of position on screen-action. He also requires taking shots to be effective, and that sometimes will mean less for Oubre and Smith.

McClellan's recent play can help bridge that gap to fortify an inconsistent second unit.  

"I love passing the ball. Just come down and making the right basketball play, making that extra pass from a good shot to a great shot. That’s what I’m doing," McClellan said. "Do the small things to stay on the court."

[RELATED: State of the Wizards: Aiming for a winning record]

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Marcin Gortat dedicates big game against Sixers to late former Polish teammate Adam Wójcik

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Marcin Gortat dedicates big game against Sixers to late former Polish teammate Adam Wójcik

Marcin Gortat is a legend in his home country of Poland and on Wednesday night he paid homage to one of his predecessors.

Adam Wójcik, one of the most decorated Polish basketball players of all time, passed away in August after a battle with Leukemia. Months later, in the first game of the 2017-18 season, Gortat took the floor with Wójcik's initials, the date of his death, a cross and 'RIP.' 

Gortat went out and had one of the best games of his career. He had 16 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks, just the third time in his 11 NBA seasons he has posted those numbers. His production was pivotal in the Wizards' 120-115 win over the Sixers in their season opener.

"I'm just glad I did that wearing the initials of the greatest players from Poland, Adam Wójcik," Gortat said. "I'm glad in the first game, we came up with a win."

[RELATED: WALL, BEAL RECALL THEIR NBA DEBUTS]

Ten of Gortat's points came in the fourth quarter, as he consistently fed off pick-and-roll mismatches. John Wall found him over and over, including for a big dunk that allowed Gortat to do his signature Polish Hammer celebration.

That Wall-to-Gortat combination is something head coach Scott Brooks wants to see more of.

"It’s simple for him. I’ve been telling him for about a year and at the start of this season," Brooks said. "You run into your screen and you roll out, and you’re going to get open looks. We have some special players handling the ball. They’re going to have to guard with an extra man and if he rolls hard, he’s going be able to finish."

Wójcik died at just 47 years old after a long and successful basketball career. He won eight Polish League championships and won MVP three times. Gortat and Wójcik played together for the Polish national team and Wójcik is someone Gortat looked up to for a long time.

"I dedicate this game to him," he said.

[RELATED: PODCAST - WIZARDS TIPOFF SEASON PREVIEW]

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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

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John Wall, Bradley Beal catch fire as Wizards take out Sixers in season opener

The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 120-115 in their regular season opener on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

How it happened: As fun and talented as the upstart Sixers are, with two No. 1 picks making their NBA debuts in Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons and an enigmatic star in Joel Embiid, they didn't have enough on Wednesday night, as the Wizards let their seasoned veterans go to work in the second half to pull out a season-opening victory. 

Bradley Beal and John Wall found their rhythm in the third quarter, helping the Wizards outscore the Sixers 34-23 in the frame. Beal had 11 points and shot 6-for-6 from the free throw line, while Wall put up 14 points. The two combined for 25 of the Wizards' 34 points in the fourth quarter.

Beal finished with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists and Wall with 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds, including this dunk that was pure, unaldurated disrespect:

The Sixers made a push in the fourth quarter, opening the frame with a 13-2 run. But as the quarter continued, the Wizards put on a display of dunks that kept the crowd on their side. Kelly Oubre, Jr. threw down a putback slam on a Beal missed three that helped key a 12-4 run. Marcin Gortat (16 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks) had 10 points in the fourth quarter, several assisted by Wall including a big dunk that inspired a Polish Hammer celebration.

The Wizards were in command in the first quarter, leading by nine at the end of the frame. Otto Porter scored their first eight points on 4-of-5 from the field. But the Sixers charged back, shooting 56 percent in the second quarter to take a three-point lead at halftime.

Robert Covington (surprise) led the Sixers in scoring with 29 points. Simmons (NBA debut) and Embiid each had 18, while Fultz was limited to 10 points in 17 minutes in his first game.

The Sixers cut it to two with a minute left before Jerryd Bayless threw an earrant pass into the hands of Beal. Beal then stole the ball on a save by Otto Porter with 20.5 seconds left. He was fouled and hit one free throw. Philly couldn't answer, as J.J. Redick missed a three from straightaway center.

The Wizards later closed it out at the free throw line with Beal knocking down two with just 2.0 seconds remaining. He went 12-for-16 from the charity stripe for the night. The Wizards shot 30-of-38 from the line, exactly double the attempts Philly got.

RELATED: GORTAT PLAYS WITH HEAVY HEART

What it means: The Wizards are off to a 1-0 start, which is important considering their travel-heavy schedule early on. They want to avoid what happened last year, when they started 2-8, and Wednesday night was a good first step.

Early returns good from bench: It was one game, but the Wizards' bench looked solid, especially considering they are a group depleted by injuries. Jodie Meeks was the offensive spark they signed him to be. He made it look easy with 14 points in 19 minutes. Tim Frazier mainly played the role of distributor with five assists and zero points. Oubre did a little bit of everything with 14 points, seven rebounds and three three-pointers in 32 minutes. He carried a heavy load once Smith went out. Mike Scott scored inside and out and finished with seven points in 14 minutes. 

Gun shy early: Scott Brooks could not have been happy with the Wizards attempting just eight threes as a team in the first half. Beal and Porter combined for one attempt, while Oubre and Wall led the team with two attempts apiece. Brooks wants guys like Beal and Porter to attempt at least five threes a game. It was likely a point of emphasis at halftime, because Beal knocked down a triple just 1:36 into the third quarter. Oubre stole the ball and found Beal, who swished one over Embiid.

Injury news: Jason Smith got the start at power forward, but only played 7:04 before exiting with a sprained right shoulder. He jogged to the locker room with trainers and never returned. This is extra noteworthy considering he was the replacement for Markieff Morris, who is out for several more weeks following sports hernia surgery. He will get an MRI on Thursday, per Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington.

Up next: The Wizards stay home for their second game, hosting the Detroit Pistons at 7 p.m. That game will be on NBC Sports Washington. After that they head west for a four-game road trip.

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