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How many games will John Wall need to reach midseason form before the playoffs?

How many games will John Wall need to reach midseason form before the playoffs?

All signs seem positive in John Wall's recovery from arthroscopic left knee surgery, as over the weekend he went through full 30-minute workout on the court before the Wizards took on the Miami Heat.

He took shots, he stretched and even ran. This Wednesday will mark six weeks since he had the procedure and the initial timeline was six-to-eight weeks. 

Wall still has several milestones to reach. He hasn't practiced, though that could happen very soon. He will need to work his way up to 5-on-5 scrimmages and along the way be cleared for contact.

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With light at the end of the tunnel, the question of how many games Wall will play by the end of the regular season is coming into focus. The Wizards are on track to make the playoffs and not only want Wall back, they want him at his best. That likely will not happen immediately when he returns.

Like any player coming back from an extended absence, Wall will need to play himself into game shape. All the calisthenics and time on the exercise bike can only get him to a certain point. The same goes for game simulation in practice. Nothing quite compares to live NBA action.

The problem is that the Wizards' regular season is nearing its close. There are only 15 games remaining. 

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The Wizards have three games this week and three games the next. If he comes back in two weeks, he will have nine games to work with.

There is an important factor to consider in all of this. Of the Wizards' final seven games, six are part of back-to-back sets. Head coach Scott Brooks said recently that it's likely Wall will be on a minutes restriction when he returns and could be limited in back-to-backs.

Given the recent history of how the team has handled injured players and specifcially Wall and knee issues, it's plausible he is only allowed to play in one out of two games in back-to-backs. In that case, Wall returning with nine games left would actually mean six or seven. And those first few games could include minutes restrictions. 

NBC Sports Washington analyst Tony Massenburg, who played 13 seasons in the NBA, said on the Wizards Extra podcast he thinks it usually takes about five-to-seven games for an NBA player to get his conditioning and rhythm back. If Wall misses two more weeks and has restrictions when he returns, he will bump right up against that threshold.

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Massenburg's timeline makes sense if you look back at how Wall played when he returned earlier this season from platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment on his left knee. He averaged just 14.2 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 35.5 percent from the field in his first five games. He then posted double-doubles in the next three.

The good news is that the Wizards have played relatively well without Wall. Though they have lost four of six, they are 12-7 since he went down. They don't need to rush him back and that is the most important aspect of all of this.

But it is getting close to the point where it's fair to wonder how much time Wall will have before the postseason begins. It's one thing to be playing catch-up in the regular season. It's a completely different task when done in the playoffs.

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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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