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Nene's acceptance of new role elevates Marcin Gortat


Nene's acceptance of new role elevates Marcin Gortat

In his usual honest dissertations about what has changed for the Wizards after they went up 3-0 in their series with the Toronto Raptors, John Wall dropped this nugget: "Nene, he's not complaining about getting the ball in the post, worrying about fouls, he's playing through it and getting rebounds for us and doing little things to help our team. That's the key you need to win in the playoffs."

Nene didn't have much of an impact in Game 3's 106-99 victory, but in the first two games won in Toronto he had 22 rebounds (more than twice his average) which contributed to the Wizards' plus-30 edge going into Friday's game. 

There's a trickle-down effect that comes by not forcing as much play through the Brazilian in the low post because Marcin Gortat has prospered on both ends. He is averaging 16 points and 9.6 rebounds and shooting 21-for-30, or 70 percent.

RELATED: By the numbers: No stretch which Wizards lineup rocks Raptors

Suddenly, after the backcourt had been on different pages with the frontcourt and bickering about responsibilities on busted pick-and-roll coverages in the regular season, everything has fallen into place. The Wizards aren't getting shredded in the paint and burned on kickouts to three-point shooters like they did vs. the Raptors in three regular-season losses.

Wall, who could be seen having spirited discussions with Gortat at practices, is clearly referencing that here: "In the season you play certain teams you got guys that might complain about different coverages you might have to do and say it's too tough and difficult. In the playoffs you put that aside." 

With Gortat more engaged on offense and rolling to the basket -- he matched his season high with 24 points to go with a game-high 13 rebounds, five assists and four blocks Friday -- his defense has picked up. He's playing fourth quarters after not playing after the third vs. Toronto all season. The Wizards' superior size has come into play by forcing the Raptors to finish over their length.

As a result, Kyle Lowry is shooting 10-for-42, or 23.8%, in the series. Lou Williams, the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, is 12-for-40, or 30%. DeMar DeRozan is 26-for-67, or 38.8%.  

The ball pressure of Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter is a large part of it. The help from bigs Gortat and Nene is, too.

MORE WIZARDS: Arenas declares the Raptors new mascot

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."


The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.


For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.




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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."


In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.


Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."