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Morning tip: Wizards reach midway point of season on a high note

Morning tip: Wizards reach midway point of season on a high note

The halfway point for the Wizards isn't the All-Star break which comes before the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans. It's now, following Wednesday's 104-101 win against the Memphis Grizzlies to put them three games over .500.

After playing out of a hole under first-year coach Scott Brooks, they're 22-19 through 41 games. John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing at an All-Star level. Otto Porter is having a career season and will be a candidate for the league's Most Improved Player, Marcin Gortat is a rebounding machine who is having his best season since arriving in Washington in 2013 and Markieff Morris has put together his best stretch of play since arriving in a trade almost a year ago.

It’s time to look at the highlights and lowlights:

Starting 5: Beal and Wall are averaging career-highs -- and set career high points for a game (Wall, 52; Beal, 42) -- and the offense is potent. They've gone away from high pick-and-rolls to initate the offense which has added more diversity and made both more difficult to cover. It hasn't negatively impacted the numbers of the role players. In fact, it's involved them more. They are a major reason why the team is averaging 108.6 points per 100 possessions, their highest since 2007-08. 

The bench: A lot of the early-season losses can be parked at the feet of no production from the reserves, who have struggled because of point guard play (Trey Burke, Tomas Satoransky), rim protection (Ian Mahinmi) and defensive inefficiencies (Andrew Nicholson, Marcus Thornton). That has put a heavy burden on the starters to play more minutes than what's ideal, but Burke has shown signs of being effective in spots and Satoransky has rebounded after confidence issues with his shot. Mahinmi has been a non-factor due to injury, but Jason Smith's play has been remarkable at both ends. Kelly Oubre has had his spots, too, though not as consistently as Smith. Thornton is completely out of the rotation. 

[RELATED: Coach Brooks, Wizards take stock at midpoint of season]

The rookies: Sheldon McClellan has been in and out of the rotation. With every one step forward (see wins over Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks) he takes two steps back (see next game vs. Chicago Bulls). He made key reads and passes that led to big shots in the first two, getting his points off hustle plays and in transtion, only to muck it up with bad decision-making on defense against the Bulls. Still, McClellan is a better option than Thornton and likely will get more looks but Satoransky is monopolizing the time now. Daniel Ochefu would've already played in the D-League if it weren't for Mahinmi's injury. They need the big body, but the Wizards like Ochefu and feel he's worth developing. Danuel House (right wrist) still is in a brace but should be out of it soon.

Best win: Dec. 18 vs. L.A. Clippers. Beal came one point shy of tying his career-high with 41 points, Wall had a double-double and Morris put up 23 points and nine rebounds in a fierce fourth-quarter comeback against an elite team. And they were short-handed with Kelly Oubre out because of a concussion. 

Worst loss: Dec. 6 vs. Orlando Magic. Wall set a career-high with 52 points and it still wasn't enough to beat a team that has trouble scoring. But because of bad all-around defense, Orlando had seven players in double figures led by Elfrid Payton's career-high 25. And it occured at Verizon Center. That edges out the Dec. 23 road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks who scored 73 in the first half and won by 27. 

Biggest surprise: Smith. The way he began the season, looking confused and frequently fumbling the ball in offensive sets, didn't give cause for optimism. But he's not just playing well offensively by knocking down the mid-range jumper and occasional three but rotating properly on defense to serve as a rim protector. High-flying dunker Zach LaVine found that out when Smith challenged him running full speed at the rim. Smith won out. 

Biggest hurdle: Bench scoring on the road. The Wizards are 4-13. Reserves, by definition, don't play as well away from home. That's why they come off the bench. Burke shoots 53.6% from three at home. That dips to 25% on the road.

Projected record at All-Star break: 30-25.

[RELATED: CMills asks why Wall, Beal don't get more national attention]

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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USA Today Sports Images

Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

PODCAST: WIZARDS MAKE A FREE AGENT SIGNING

The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

RELATED: DURANT MAKES HUGE DONATION TO PG COUNTY SCHOOLS

Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' blowout loss to Hornets, including Bradley Beal's buzzer-beater

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Wizards' 122-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night...

1. This was a tough one for the Wizards. For the third time this season, they got beaten by the Hornets and for the second straight time it was in a blowout.

They still had their moments, though, including this alley-oop from Tomas Satoransky (11 points) to Markieff Morris (13 points, eight assists, six rebounds). It was the second alley-oop connection for those two in as many games:

PODCAST: WHAT THE SESSIONS SIGNING MEANS FOR SATORANSKY

2. This was a play that encapsulated the Wizards' night. Jodie Meeks drew a flagrant foul on Michael Carter-Williams, but took a hard shot to the head:

3. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had a solid game with 11 points, including this big dunk:

RELATED: 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT RAMON SESSIONS

4. Speaking of Oubre, he helped the Wizards close the first half with a late surge. The real highlight was Bradley Beal stealing the ball and hitting a corner three at the buzzer:

5. Beal ended up with 33 points, six assists and six rebounds. Here's an and-1 he got to go down in the second half:

All in all, it was an ugly performance for the Wizards. To cheer you up, we'll leave you with this young fan who had a great time at Capital One Arena despite the result:

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS