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Wizards sputter in another loss to Raptors 97-88: Five takeaways

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Wizards sputter in another loss to Raptors 97-88: Five takeaways

All three meetings between the Wizards and Toronto Raptors, who they deposed in the first round of last season's playoffs, have come down to the wire -- except for what took place at Verizon Center in front of 17,064 on Friday.

The Wizards (15-19) lost their third game in a row -- and third in as many games with Toronto -- as they scored just 14 third-quarter points and committed 23 turnovers to lose control, 97-88.

John Wall (21 points, four assists, three blocks) looked more like the player he was in November than the Eastern Conference player of the month for December. Otto Porter (16 points), Marcin Gortat (12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) for his 16th double-double and Ramon Sessions (14 points) were the only Wizards to reach double figures.

DeMar DeRozan had a season-high 35 points for Toronto (23-15). His previous high of 34 came against the Wizards, too. Kyle Lowry had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

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The offensive outburst that the Wizards had in a 39-point third quarter vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers was absent. The Raptors broke open the game with a 16-4 run to enter the fourth ahead 73-61.

  • DeRozan, who went 15-for-15 from the foul line in a 94-91 on Dec. 30, shot 12-for-13 from the stripe. His shot selection leaves a lot to be desired but he knows how to force whistles by creating contact. But this game turned because of the Raptors' defense. Bismack Biyombo made the Wizards second-guess and outright freeze when they got inside the paint. Biyombo (0 points, six rebounds, four blocks) was such a game-changer that Jonas Valanciunas played sparingly afterwards.
  • After seven turnovers in Wednesday's loss, Wall had four in the first half alone en route to seven again. One of them was a bullet to Porter cutting on a fast break that was impossible to corral. Then when Wall started to deliver more catchable passes, the Wizards had gotten the turnover bug and were fumbling everything. They had 12 first-half turnovers that produced 12 points for Toronto. Neither team was very responsible with the ball. The Wizards had 23 giveaways and the Raptors, who got by because of better defense, had 19.
  • Gortat's play will be overshadowed by a modest stat line and yet another loss. But if anyone is complaining about his play lately they're just not watching. Forget what a boxscore shows. His rotations and help have been almost flawless. In this one, DeRozan shot 5 of 14 in the first half because, in part, of Gortat's challenging over the top to alter several of his shots. On consecutive plays he forced DeRozan into an airball at the rim and changed the arc on a floater that went off the back rim. After Wall had his shot blocked, it was Gortat who hustled back and caused Lowry to change his mind at the last minute and make a bad pass for a turnover. Gortat fought Jonas Valanciunas for position before the catch in the low post, forced him off his spot and to turn away from the basket on the shot. When it went up and Gortat contested, Valanciunas barely drew iron. Lowry got into the lane early in the third quarter and it was Gortat's help by going vertical that caused him to lose the ball and produce a transition basket for Temple. The rim can be protected by good position defense (see the Boston Celtics). It doesn't require Gortat to be Hassan Whiteside. 
  • Rookie Kelly Oubre has seen his time decrease, but he was inserted for the first time with 2:19 left so Porter wouldn't pick up his third foul. Exactly a minute later with the Wizards desperate for a basket, Oubre spotted up for his only shot and made the three-pointer for their final points before the break. The Wizards went into the locker room tied at 47 but it's this sort of efficiency in spot minutes that could get Oubre time again. Right now, his chances are limited.
  • Drew Gooden returned to play for the second time since Nov. 17 and made his first field goal since Oct. 31, a three-pointer, but that was the extent of his impact being on a minutes restriction (10). Nene, playing his second game in a row, had turnover on his first possession and only could play 13 minutes because he's on a restriction, too. His physicality helped in the first half on Biyombo who didn't have a rebound in eight minutes.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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