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Morning tip: Wizards take calculated gamble on veteran

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Morning tip: Wizards take calculated gamble on veteran

The Wizards winning consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 9 coincides with the re-emergence of Rasual Butler, who reached double figures in scoring for the first time since then, too, in Saturday's comeback win vs. the Sacramento Kings.

Whether Butler, 35, is over the hump and back to playing the way he did early in the season when the Wizards began 31-15 will be determined soon, starting with tonight's game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers at Verizon Center (CSN, CSNwashington.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 p.m. ET). 

"Just like I told him, 'I'm not going to lose faith in you.' I'm going to keep throwing bodies out there and something is going to happen," coach Randy Wittman said after Saturday's game. "Rasual has gone through a tough stretch. He had bounce in his legs."

As the Wizards (38-28) lost 12 of 15 games coming out of the All-Star break with an open roster spot, the feeling was Butler or Martell Webster would round into form and that one of those forwards remained better than any options available in free agency. When Butler is on, that's true.

Butler made 6 of 10 shots for 14 points in the Wizards' 113-97 win, half of them coming in a 29-12 fourth quarter when they took the lead for the first time and never looked back. But where Butler was just as valuable was his defense as he helped force Derrick Williams into missing 4 of 5 shots. 

"We felt like we needed to pick our pressure up and make it much tougher for them to catch the ball and take them out of their offense as much as we could and we did a better job of that in the second half," said Butler. "That's our identity. We understand that. We just need to do a better job of not being so Jekyll and Hyde. We just need to come out at the beginning of the game to establish that early and allow that to carry us throughout the game."

Butler made 2 of 4 three-point shots, the first time he has shot at least 50% from deep in any of the Wizards' last 14 games. He had been 9 of 45 overall in that stretch, or 20%, and began to fall out of the regular rotation. 

In scoring five of the Wizards' first 10 points of the fourth quarter, Butler sparked them in pulling away from Sacramento. His smooth-looking, finger-roll layup pushed the lead to 99-88 to cap an early-season throwback performance. 

"I had to finish the play for us. Brad (Beal) made a great play. I put a little extra on it.  I was feeling good," Butler said. "It's been a while so it just really exciting to step in to give us a boost. We're better when we get everybody to contribute. When we have six, seven, eight guys in double figures that's when we're at our best."

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Marcin Gortat loses the Mohawk, much to the approval of his teammates and coach

Marcin Gortat loses the Mohawk, much to the approval of his teammates and coach

WASHINGTON — After the Washington Wizards fell behind to a 0-2 hole in their series with the Toronto Raptors, there were a lot places where people jumped to criticism. Marcin Gortat was right in the middle of that discussion after his Game 2 performance.

Heading into Game 3 though, Gortat made a change. Not only on the court, but in his appearance.

Yep, he shaved the Mohawk.

“There were a lot of people insisting,” Gortat said. “Keef [Markieff Morris] was bringing, for the past week, he was bringing clippers to the practice to try to shave me after practice, but I was always dipping.”

“I pulled a Houdini trick, I was disappearing right at the end of the practice. So I finally said 'You know what I'm done' fixing, you know it takes a lot of time to maintain that so I decided to shave it. And I'm glad because I was smoother out there.”

Smooth is right, and to the tune of 16 points, 8-of-10 shooting in nearly 26 minutes of action, Gortat had his best scoring output since March 17. He was one of five Wizards to reach double figures on the evening.

“That was the key,” John Wall said.

Often times in sport it superstitious to shave anything during the postseason. After all, the Mohawk has been a staple for the 6-11 center for the entire 2017-18 season. Now he is back to his polished look, one that helps identify the ‘Polish Hammer.’

“We needed the old Marc back, we need the hammer back. I felt like we got him back,” Morris said. “I'd cut his head. He's too cute with that Mohawk.”

A small sample size, but Morris’ point is valid. Time will tell if the post-mohawk era for Gortat will favor the Wizards past one game.

“I think he got an age-appropriate haircut,” head coach Scott Brooks said.

He has a point too… Gortat is 34-years-old.

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Markieff Morris set tone for Wizards, who finally got back to 'Death Row mentality'

Markieff Morris set tone for Wizards, who finally got back to 'Death Row mentality'

Perhaps Toronto and their fans would disagree, but through two games the first round playoff series between the Wizards and Raptors had been relatively uneventful, maybe even boring to the casual observer. For those who have watched the Wizards in recent years, something just seemed off with them.

Not only were Bradley Beal and Otto Porter struggling to score, but the energy and grit we're used to from the Wizards in the postseason just wasn't there. Three minutes into Game 3 on Friday night, that all changed.

Wizards forward Markieff Morris got tangled with Raptors rookie OG Anunoby and fell to the ground. He rose up, shoved Anunoby and gave Serge Ibaka a push for good measure. It cost Morris a technical, but he wasn't ejected. From there, the tone was set.

This was to be a physical game and the Wizards were going to make sure of it. That's how they prefer to play and that nastiness had been missing thus far in this series.

"I think OG [Anunoby] did not know the scouting report because he did not know that Keef is one of the people you do not mess with in this world," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He will learn.”

The fireworks didn't end there. Beal and Jonas Valanciunas got into it and so did John Wall and Anunoby, and then Wall and Ibaka.

The Wizards made a name for themselves in the 2016-17 season when they won 49 games and were one win away from the conference finals as a team that would instigate contact and talk trash. They prided themselves on being old school in that regard and were praised for it by former NBA tough guys like Paul Pierce and Stephen Jackson.

This season, they just haven't been able to do it as often.

"We have been there at spurts throughout the year, we just have not been there consistently," Oubre said. "Now it is do or die. We just need to bring that Death Row mentality.”

Oubre also joked that rapper Drake started it all by sitting courtside in Toronto and talking trash. Truthfully, their backs were against the wall and they had no choice but to punch back.

The Wizards entered Friday's game down 0-2 to the Raptors with Game 2 a dispirited blowout. If they went down 0-3, they would essentially have been dead in the water. No team has come back from that deficit in NBA history.

This time, they weren't going to go down without a fight.

"It sounds crazy, but sometimes we need that. The crazy part is that it's always [Morris]," center Marcin Gortat said. "If you see your teammate fighting, I'm going to fight with him. That's the bottom-line."

"We came out tonight with an edge about ourselves," Beal said. "Keef is a bully... we are physical team." 

As for Morris, the enforcer himself, he let his actions speak for themselves. He didn't take the bait on most questions, but did wear a 'Death Row D.C.' shirt during his media availability. Morris came up with that nickname last season to convey the toughness he wants the Wizards to play with.

"We need some physicality," Morris said. "I feel like when we were in Toronto, they were doing everything too freely. This kind of set the tone for the whole series... we need to keep our same mean mentality. If they wanna fight, we will fight."

The Wizards fought the Hawks and Celtics last year tooth-and-nail and often used physical play to their advantage. It worked in Game 3 against the Raptors. Now the Wizards will have to counter however Toronto chooses to respond.

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