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Wizards' 'anchor' in middle turns negative into positive


Wizards' 'anchor' in middle turns negative into positive

The negativity that Marcin Gortat spoke about feeling after the Wizards' last loss could be lifting. That's because they have the L.A. Lakers, one of the NBA's worst teams, coming to town on Wednesday which should give them two wins in a row.

Should. That's the key word.

"We can beat good teams by 20 points or lose to Philly on the road," Gortat said, alluding to last season when the Wizards lost consecutive games to the worst team in each conference, the Minnesota Timberwolves and then the 76ers. "We are a crazy team. It was a great win but don't get excited."

Tuesday, Gortat had a season-high four blocks, all coming in the first quarter when the Wizards (7-8) jumped out to a 10-0 lead in what became a 97-85 road win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finished with 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting and 11 rebounds. Their four-game losing streak was over, but can this be a launching pad for their first significant win streak of the season?

"There was a totally different approach today than the last few games," Gortat said. "We all bought in to what we were supposed to do. The main guy who led us was John (Wall) who had an outstanding effort and a lot of hustle plays. He played like he was just back to being him. It was huge. We played hard. We were the team that threw the punch."

RELATED: Morning tip: Wizards find super-small lineup that works

Gortat knows his team is prone to high peaks and low valleys. It has been their identity each of his three seasons in D.C.

To understand Gortat is to know he wears his emotions on his sleeve. When he's critical of the vibe inside Verizon Center, and he doesn't spare being critical of himself, it comes from a good place. It'll result in occasional clashes with coach Randy Wittman, who was an old-school player groomed by an old-school coach in Bobby Knight. 

One moment Gortat prefers to have separation from Nene so the Wizards can spread the floor with four shooters. The next minute, he misses having him around to help rebound. The Wizards are up and down so naturally he is, too. Are the Wizards going to commit to going big to exploit big lineups or go big to exploit small-ball lineups from other teams?

Against Cleveland, they were both. They measured up with the size of Timofey Mozgov inside as Gortat dominated that matchup and then went small without Gortat on the floor -- four guards and a wing in Otto Porter -- and still ran the Cavs ragged.

The linchpin in both lineup scenarios? Jared Dudley.

Kris Humphries started the first 13 games at power forward for the Wizards, but in their last two games that has been Dudley. A better "stretch" four option, he played with Gortat in a pace-and-space offense with the Phoenix Suns from 2010-13. Even in an 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, the Wizards' defense was as good as ever.

"Jared is going to do a lot of great things for me offensively. He's going to cover for me especially if I'm going to rotate (to help), defensively he's going to cover for me under the basket," Gortat said. "We understand each other very well."

They lost the rebounding battle 47-39 but all 11 of Gortat's rebounds were on the defensive end which typically require more effort (and don't result in points like offensive ones) and had to impress Wittman. 

And Gortat's shot blocks put Wall in transition. Then he altered two shots by LeBron James on drives in the fourth quarter that prevented the Cavs from getting the deficit down to single digits. Sometimes from tension comes gems like what happened Tuesday.

"I know I have to be the anchor. I have to be the bigger force inside the paint," Gortat said. "If I'm going to block the shot I got to make sure I'm going to get it."

MORE WIZARDS: Wittman: 'John was incredible'

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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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