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Same ending but not same Wizards after this playoff run

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Same ending but not same Wizards after this playoff run

To John Wall, the way the 2014-15 season ended for the Wizards didn't feel a lot different than a year ago when they were eliminated in Game 6 to the Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center. They had two more regular-season wins and the same No. 5 seed.

"In my opinion, it's the same. You lose Game 6 at home, that's tough. We went through adversity throughout the series. These guys kept competing, kept fighting. ... We had a good opportunity ahead of us to try to make it to the Eastern Conference finals. That's the reason I sacrificed," said Wall, who played the last two games vs. the Atlanta Hawks with five fractures in his left wrist after missing the previous three. 

And while the what-if game will be played all summer because of Wall's injury, there were distinct differences between these Wizards:

  • They lost Trevor Ariza and actually finished with a better scoring defense. The Wizards were top 10 for two consecutive seasons with Ariza, who was their best one-on-one perimeter defender. They allowed him to walk, banking on the combination of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter giving them more versatility at the small forward spot at half the cost. Though the defense could be disjointed against elite teams and at key moments, they went from allowing 99.4 points to 97.8.

  • When able to stay healthy, Bradley Beal showed he could consistently be a two-way player. When Wall went down, Beal added ball distribution to his repertoire. In the three games vs. Atlanta without Wall, Beal totaled 22 assists. And he kept the NBA's best three-point shooter in Kyle Korver under wraps. Korver shot 12-for-42 in the series, or 28.5%. If Beal and Wall can pick up in 2015-16 during the regular season playing on the defensive end, they'll belong in the discussion with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the NBA's best backcourt.

  • The Wizards were a top 10 team in field-goal shooting overall and from the three-point line in the regular season, before Porter's emergence allowed them to use more small lineups (with Pierce at power forward) which produced even greater offensive success.

  • End-of-game/quarter situations improved dramatically. It was an 11th-hour adjustment made by coach Randy Wittman that put Pierce in position to take advantage of the Hawks' switching defenses that got him the Game 3 winner. Pierce had a wide-open look he missed in Game 4 and made a wide-open three in Game 5 to put the Wizards ahead by a point. Most of these were created by ball and player movement, not 1-on-1 off-the-dribble individual efforts. Trailing 87-80 on Friday, Nene had a key uncontested layup out of the timeout that started the comeback. The Wizards were not this efficient in the regular season as their execution and attention to detail weren't quite the same.

The Wizards who lost to the Pacers last season relied on Beal to do everything, usually heaving low-percentage 20-plus foot jumpers, as Wall was taken out of transition and kept out the paint. 

There is, in fact, growth. But will it stick? The roster will go through changes but the core will remain mostly intact. Wittman has another fully guaranteed year to find out. 

[RELATED: NBA Draft: Wittman desires pieces for new-look Wizards]

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The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards dominated Game 3 because everybody ate ... literally

The Wizards returned to Washington, D.C. on Friday down 0-2 to the Raptors in their best-of-seven 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series

The team lost a close one in Game 1 and was run out of the building in Game 2. Game 3 was must-win, and the Wizards knew what needed to happen in order for them to secure the victory.

"Everybody eats." 

That's the phrase that has defined the Wizards throughout much of the season They are at their best when John Wall is making plays and feeding his teammates.

On Friday night, the Wizards beat the Raptors 122-103 to force at least a Game 5. Wall finished with 28 points and 14 assists.

Bradley Beal finally broke out of his slump for 28 points and  Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre all chipped in with at least 10 points.

But the stat sheet wasn't the only place where everybody eats.

Here's Marcin Gortat from Game 3. 

But if pantomiming isn't your thing, here is Bradley Beal actually eating popcorn during Game 3.

So what did we learn in Game 3? Well, for starters: "Everybody Eats" is not just a motto, it is a way of life.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

With Playoff Beal back, the Wizards are revitalized in playoff series vs. Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were only going to hold Bradley Beal down for so long. After two so-so games to begin the Wizards-Raptors playoff series, the All-Star shooting guard was bound to find his way offensively and that arrival came in a Game 3 win on Friday night.

Beal was brilliant and much more in line with what he's shown in the postseason throughout his career. Game 2 was his worst playoff game as an NBA player, he scored only nine points. Game 3 was one of his best on the postseason stage, or at least one of his most timely and important.

The Wizards needed more from Beal to give themsevles a chance in this series. An 0-3 deficit would have been a death sentence. His production is so key to their success that head coach Scott Brooks and point guard John Wall met with Beal in between Games 2 and 3 to figure out how to get him going.

Whether that was the catalyst or not, the results followed. Beal poured in 28 points in 10-for-19 shooting with four rebounds, four assists and three steals. He hit four threes, more than he had in the first two games combined.

Beal wasted no time to make an impact scoring the ball. His first points came on a quick burst to the basket where he stopped on a dime, turned around and banked it in. By the end of the first quarter, he had 12 points in 11 minutes.

“I just wanted to be aggressive, get shots that I wanted which is what they were going to force me to take," Beal said.

After Game 2, Brooks and Beal described how physical the Raptors were defending him. They were holding on to him and staying close, even when he wasn't moving off the ball.

Brooks saw a difference in how Beal responded to that in Game 3.

"Brad came out and was looking to go towards the basket and not just letting them hold him and going along with it. He didn’t want to dance with his opponent, he wanted to get away from them. That was a critical part of his success," Brooks said.

Beal's 28 points were as much as he scored in Games 1 and 2 together and just about what he averaged through four games against the Raptors during the regular season (28.8). By halftime of Game 3, Beal had 21 points on 8-for-11 from the field.

Beal hit two threes in the first quarter and another two in the second quarter. Several of those threes were set up by Wall, who used the meeting with Brooks and Beal to ask how he can set him up better as the point guard.

In Game 3, they were on the same page.

"I do think this man [John Wall] next to me, he creates and facilitates for the whole team and gets everybody easy shots," Beal said. "I talk to you guys all the time and I can’t tell you the last time I actually got a regular catch and shoot three just in a regular half court set. When he came back, I got like three or four off the bat."

What Beal did in Game 3 is what the Wizards are used to seeing from him this time of the year. Despite being only 24 years old, he has a strong track record in the playoffs.

Through 37 career postseason games, Beal is averaging 22.3 points, more than his career average of 18.7 in the regular season. In each of his previous three postseason runs, he has averaged more points during the playoffs than he did in the regular seasons leading up.

That production has earned him the nickname 'Playoff Beal' and when he goes off like he did in Game 3, good things usually happen. The Wizards are 10-6 in the playoffs during his career when he scores 25 points or more.

Wall also boasts impressive career numbers in the playoffs. When the Wizards have both of their stars playing at their best, they are hard to beat. With peak Beal on board, this series looks a lot different than it did not that long ago.

MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

GORTAT DITCHES MOHAWK, TEAMMATES APPROVE

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM WILD GAME 3

BEAL GOT AN APOLOGY FROM SCOTT BROOKS

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