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Morris effective against Cavs as he settles into Wizards 'family'


Morris effective against Cavs as he settles into Wizards 'family'

Markieff Morris has been a Wizard less than two weeks, but you couldn't tell he's the new guy by looking around the locker room after Sunday's 113-99 win over the Cavaliers. 

Keef, as he introduces himself, was sitting at his locker with two toddlers -- 2-year-old Andrew Gooden IV and 4-year-old Justus "Juju" Dudley, sons of teammates Drew and Jared. The boys were peppering him with questions as he combed his beard.

Morris had just wrapped up his most effective game yet for Washington, finishing with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in 21 minutes off the bench. The Wizards built such a big lead in the third quarter, he wasn't even needed in the fourth. 

While a thunderous tomahawk dunk was his most highlight-worthy play, he really shined on defense (albeit against a Cleveland team missing LeBron James). 

The Kansas product brought physicality to the defense and was aggressive going for the ball. He helped limit Kevin Love to 12 points, not enough to ease the scoring burden on Kyrie Irving in a meaningful way. 

For comparison, the Wizards were +22 with Morris on the floor; while the Cavs were -14 with Love in the game.

Washington coach Randy Wittman was pleased with his forward's contributions. 

"I thought [Morris] took another step and he's just getting more and more comfortable," Wittman said after the game. "He makes the extra passes, he's a good passer. He sees the floor in roll situations ... So there's no question that I have a smile on my face with Alan healthy and Markieff here."

But Morris wasn't ready to pat himself on the back just yet. 

"I think I did average of what I can do," he said of his performance after the game. "Defensively, I'm 100 percent there. Offensively, I think I'm about 80 percent, 85 percent. Just got to keep going over the plays and watching film and getting better that way."

Though Morris went 4 of 8 from the field, he only scored on dunks and layups. He missed both jump shot attempts and has not yet hit a 3-pointer in a Wizards uniform. 

But he admitted he felt confident on the defensive end. 

"I just bring intensity. I'm the type of guy, you put me out there and I'll do anything for the team, whether it's rebound, play defense, score," he said.

"I'm just trying to lead by example. And on that second unit, be the guy that you can put on the forward and to stop him, and I think I'm that guy."

Morris's eagerness to contribute in any role, even off the bench, is consistent with how much he says he values a sense of cooperation and family among teammates. After all, he played with his twin for his entire life up until this past summer. 

The brothers have adopted "F.O.E" -- short for Family Over Everything -- as a kind of motto, sporting matching tattoos of the acronym. The 6-10 forward was even decked out in an F.O.E. hat and necklace in the Wizards locker room Sunday. 

And he sounded happy to find that kind of environment with his new squad.

"[The Wizards] have got a super family atmosphere. All the guys stay together. We got text messages going on all the time," he said when asked how he's settling in. "I played with a couple guys and it feels like a family atmosphere. It feels like home."

"Juju? That's my guy."

MORE WIZARDS: Wall dismantles Cavs as Wizards dominate: Five takeaways

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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