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How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

The perception of the Wizards from the outside and within their own locker room at the midway point of this 2017-18 season perhaps says a lot about how the expectations are higher than they have been for this franchise in quite some time.

After 41 games, exactly the halfway point, the Wizards are 23-18. Over the course of a full 82-game schedule that would amount to 46 wins. Considering that this team has only won 46 games or more twice since the 1978-79 season, that's not bad at all.

But the Wizards have reached a new era where simply being good isn't good enough.

In most years a 46-win pace would be just fine, but they feel their first half of the season should have been appreciably better, especially after their 49-win 2016-17 campaign.

When asked to grade the first half, head coach Scott Brooks and his players all offered marks within the C to B range. What held them back from As is the fact they have lost many games they feel they should have won.

Point guard John Wall put the estimate at nine or 10 games.

"We should have had a way better start to the season than we had. But we can't look back at it," he said. "We have what we have now."

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The Wizards might be content with 46 wins over a full season, but their gripes with the first half are in the details. They have 10 losses against teams with losing records, tied for the second-most in the NBA. That's in contrast with their 12-8 mark against teams at .500 or better, second-best in the East.

Those woes continued on Wednesday night against the Jazz, the Wizards' 41st game. They went up by 12 points early, only to suffer yet another loss to another team with a sub-.500 record.

The Wizards have had consistency issues in years past, but this is an unusual split. Past records show they are generally very good against lesser teams.

"I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it," Wall said. "Until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”

That's the glass half-empty perspective.

The positive side is that the Wizards are comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff race at fifth despite missing several key players at times due to injury. Wall has missed 11 games, Markieff Morris missed eight and Otto Porter has missed four.

Health has been a big difference between last year and this year. Last season they didn't have any significant injuries to their starting lineup and after 41 games they were 22-19, a game behind their current pace. That team advanced all the way to the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs.

As the Wizards will tell you, it's not easy navigating injuries to the starting lineup.

"It's different lineups, different rotations and playing with different guys," guard Bradley Beal said.

"We'll take it," Wall said. "You would think it would be worse with the way we were playing and what we've been going through so far."

PODCAST: HAS BRADLEY BEAL BEEN THE WIZARDS' MVP?

Though they have lost two straight games, there are signs the Wizards are trending up in the big picture. They are 11th in the NBA in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. They should keep improving on offense with Wall in the driver's seat and their defense is much better than it was last season when they were 20th in defensive efficiency. Last year the Wizards were 20th in opponents three-point percentage and this year they are first.

Based on Basketball Reference's simple rating system, the Wizards have been the NBA's eighth-best team. When Wall is in the lineup, they can score with the best offenses in the NBA and they can play sound defense when they are committed to it.

Beal is putting up career numbers and could make his first All-Star team. Porter continues to improve as a scoring threat and versatile defender. Their bench has been by all accounts better with Tomas Satoransky emerging as a legitimate backup point guard. Mike Scott has become a reliable scorer off the bench. Kelly Oubre, Jr. is making less mistakes on both ends of the floor. And Ian Mahinmi is healthy after missing 51 games last season.

Yes, they have suffered losses to the Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Nets (twice), Clippers, Hawks and Hornets. But they have also beaten the Celtics (in Boston), the Rockets, Raptors, Heat, Timberwolves and Blazers. 

There are many ways of looking at their first half, but everyone on the Wizards is optimistic about the next few months leading up to the playoffs.

"The bright side is that we're right there," Beal said of the Wizards' fifth-place standing.

"This is where it gets interesting. This is where the season changes. I'm looking forward to it. I think we're starting to realize that we can make a big jump right here in these next few weeks."

RELATED: WHO IS WINNING THE 2017-18 MVP RACE?

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Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

The biggest surprise of the Wizards-Raptors series through two games, at least from Washington's perspective, has to be the fact Ty Lawson has very quickly earned a prominent role in Scott Brooks' playoff rotation.

Lawson, 30, was signed the day after the regular season and after he played much of 2017-18 in China with the Shandong Golden Stars. He did not appear in one game with the Wizards or any other NBA team during the regular season, yet he was the first point guard off the bench in Game 2.

When John Wall picked up two quick fouls, it was Lawson who got the nod, not Tomas Satoransky. Lawson ended up playing 31 minutes, more than Satoransky and fellow backup point guard Tim Frazier have earned combined through two games.

Though the Wizards had three point guards on their bench behind Wall before Lawson even signed, he has apparently surpassed them all on the depth chart. Satoransky is the most surprising, given he played quite well during the regular season.

Satoransky averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 assists and shot a team-best 46.5 percent from three. He had the highest offensive rating (124) on the team.

Lawson, though, played quite well in Game 2. He put up 14 points, eight assists and three rebounds while shooting 4-for-5 from three.

Lawson outscored four of the Wizards' five starters. Not bad for his first game.

"He did everything I knew he was capable of doing," Brooks said. "I’ve seen him do it for many, many years. He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He competes and pushes the pace. He plays defense. I liked the spirit."

Lawson provided a noticeable spark. He is still quick and aggressive with the ball, not afraid to look for his own shot, and played physical defense against the Raptors. Lawson ended the night plus-8 in the box score in a game the Wizards lost by 11.

"It’s good to see him get into a game and be able to produce for us," guard Bradley Beal said.

Given the Wizards lost Game 2 and face an 0-2 deficit in their series, it is likely that Brooks continues to alter his rotation in the coming games. He could go back to Satoransky more often, knowing he had some solid games against Toronto in the regular season, including on March 2 when he had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Satoransky could see more time at shooting guard or small forward and could play alongside Lawson. That might be Satoransky's best bet because Lawson did nothing in Game 2 to squander the opportunity.

For a team whose effort has been questioned by their head coach, Lawson's energy and urgency was noteworthy. He brought the edge of a guy playing for his NBA career, knowing a good playoff series could earn him a contract next season. 

Clearly, the way Lawson played was refreshing for Brooks given how long he kept him out on the floor. He may have come out of nowhere, but it looks like Lawson is here to stay.

MORE ON THE WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WIZARDS NEED BEAL TO BE MUCH BETTER TO WIN

BROOKS MAY CHANGE STARTING LINEUP FOR GAME 3

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Beal and Porter need to step up and so does the defense

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Beal and Porter need to step up and so does the defense

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller broke down the Wizards' 0-2 deficit and how Bradley Beal and Otto Porter need to play better.

They went into the potential change in the starting lineup, why the Wizards are doing so poorly on defense and the historical odds the Wizards are now up against.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!