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Wizards 'unstoppable' if this is Markieff Morris' NBA playoff form

Wizards 'unstoppable' if this is Markieff Morris' NBA playoff form

Two years ago, Markieff Morris played for a 39-win team headed nowhere in the Phoenix Suns. At best he was a spectator as the Wizards, then the No. 5 seed and starting Nene at power forward, upset the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of the conferrence semifinals only to then have Paul Millsap say this: "Internally, we felt like we won the game."

Fast forward to Sunday, when Morris was playing in his first playoff game in six NBA seasons. It was his first full season in Washington. A matchup problem for Millsap whenever they're matched up this season, Morris dominated. Though statictisally it didn't look lopsided, it was indeed. 

Millsap isn't getting under their skin as much as Morris appears to be getting under his.

 "The ball is like gold now. Every possession counts, so I'm going head-first every play," said Morris after 21 points on 8 of 19 shooting, seven rebounds and four blocks. "We're going to jostle the whole series and that's what it's going to be."

Morris picked up his first foul 17 seconds into the game on Millsap's move to the basket. Despite that, he was able to stay out of trouble and on the floor. Millsap had the better first half in terms of scoring with 12 points, but Morris closed strong.

He made all three foul shots after Millsap ran into him on a three just before the halftime buzzer and had words with his foe on the way out. Then Morris emerged from the locker room more edgy than when the game started, when he had consecutive blocks on Millsap and Dwight Howard in the second quarter.

"We've been telling him in the second half of the season, he's not going to get open unless he creates opportunities to get open," coach Scott Brooks said. "He's been doing that the last couple of games of the season." 

[RELATED: John Wall took over vs. Hawks, kicked offense into high gear]

Morris' three, then a jumper and floater put the Wizards ahead for good as they erased what had been an eight-point first-half deficit for good to win Game 1, 114-107, at Verizon Center. 

The edge Morris had goes beyond numbers. When Atlanta allowed Howard to defend him, Morris can pull him so far away from the basket it opens up the floor for the willing passer. Howard tends to be reluctant to vacate and that's how Morris made one of his three-pointers. 

Nene was valuable for the Wizards, particularly three years ago when they won their first playoff series. Then-first-timers John Wall and Bradley Beal didn't play well and he carried them. But when the Wizards went up against the Hawks the next year, the aged 7-footer was playing out of position trying to chase around Millsap. Drew Gooden wasn't up for the task. And when the Wizards tried to to make Kris Humphries and Jared Dudley stretch fours, they didn't match up well with Millsap, either. 

Morris does. The biggest mismatch with Atlanta comes when Ersan Ilyasova tries to stay in front of Morris who is too good off the dribble and facing up. He can get to his spots at will and it forces Atlanta to help. Kelly Oubre's three-pointer to give the Wizards a 95-83 lead in the fourth came off such a play, when Morris reversed the ball to Brandon Jennings in the opposite corner who then found Oubre spotting up. 

"Like I said last year when we first got him, I was excited. He changed everything right away for us," Wall said. "We didn't have to go big in the post anymore. If any team had a four man that could score, we could go right back at him and he can score on their man in the post. He changed our team a whole lot and he understands that. But most importantly, he was one of those guys that bought in. He had never been to the playoffs before. He shied away from getting a lot of shots at times but he's doing everything to help our team win."

Morris doesn't require such help if he's defending Ilyasova, who also can stretch to the three-point line, or Millsap. That means the Wizards don't have to leave shooters open to compensate for a deficiency like they used to do. Millsap had four turnovers, a key one to start the third quarter as Morris inspired a game-changing run. He went up to draw contact that Morris avoided, left his feet and came down with the ball for a traveling violation. A 48-45 halftime deficit became a 57-52 lead three minutes into the third and the Wizards would never look back. 

"It's incredible, man. He's been telling me that he's been ready for this moment since he was drafted," Oubre said of Morris. "He hadn't had the opportunity for seven years, but now that the opportunity is here, it's time to go take it. It don't matter if it's your first or your seventh year, when you make it to the playoffs you're going to make a name for yourself. That's what he's doing. That's what we're all trying to do."

Wall had his career-playoff high with 32 points and 14 assists. The entire starting five seemed to be back to their pre-All-Star break form. Each scored in double figures. 

"When he's playing as well as he did today for us," Wall said of Morris, "we're unstoppable."

[RELATED: Oubre on Morris vs. Millsap: 'Keef is better than him']

 

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Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

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Associated Press

Bradley Beal makes most of his opportunity in first All-Star Game

Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.

Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.

In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.

RELATED: BEAL BOUNCED EARLY IN THREE-POINT CONTEST

Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range. 

Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:

Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.

Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.

Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...

*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch. 

Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.

*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.

Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:

*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:

*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.

This was one of his dunks:

LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.

*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.

*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.' 

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT

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The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

The NBA All-Star pregame introductions were, uh, something

Whoever put together the NBA All-Star Game player introductions has some 'splainin to do. 

The NBA introduced a kinda-full Staples Center to their 2018 All-Stars about an hour ago, and boy was it weird. There were a lot of dancers in different themed costumes. Kevin Hart was screaming. Rob Riggle was screaming. Ludacris showed up? Hey! Did you know that the Barenaked Ladies are still a band? The NBA would like you to know they're still around.  The whole thing was like when you're at an art museum and you're told that abstract piece in the corner is actually really meaningful but you gotta be honest, you don't get it. 

Anyways, the internet hated it. Here are some highlights from the internet hating it:

The lesson here is that you never need Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle. One will do.