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Win over Celtics has things looking up for Wizards, who are surging with John Wall back

Win over Celtics has things looking up for Wizards, who are surging with John Wall back

The Wizards started playing their best basketball of the 2016-17 season in December and they may be following a similarly trajectory one year later.

With their 111-103 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday, the Wizards are now 5-2 in their last seven games since John Wall returned from a left knee injury. That matches their best seven-game stretch of this season. Though one of those losses was an ugly one to the Nets, the other was perfectly understandable, a narrow defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers with Otto Porter sidelined for all but three minutes.

With Wall back in the fold, the Wizards are starting to rack up wins and even on nights where they clearly aren't playing their best basketball. That was the case against the Grizzlies and Clippers, his first two games back, and against the Pelicans last week when they let a 25-point lead slip away. Their last two wins, though, were their most complete victories in weeks.

The first was a 48-minute dismantling of a depleted Orlando Magic team. They won by 27 points. The second was their best game of the season, a convincing win against the Celtics on the road and in the pressure spot of an evening tipoff on Christmas Day. The whole NBA was watching as the Wizards put in their best performance of the year.

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Those tuning in to see the Wizards for the first time this season may have had no clue how inconsistent Washington has been overall. There have been some frustrating times for sure, but overall with Wall running the show this team has been quite good. The Wizards with Wall are 14-9 and without him they are 5-6.

Their record with Wall puts them at a 50-win pace. So, when at full-strength, the Wizards have been the team most of us thought they would be.

The biggest problem for the Wizards this season has been their troubles against losing teams and Wall has not been an exception. They are 9-9 against teams with losing records and tied for the most such losses in the NBA with the Mavericks (9-25) and Magic (11-23), two terrible teams. Wall was around for many of those defeats including to the Mavs, Nets and Hornets.

But after beating the Celtics, the Wizards now boast a 10-6 record against teams at .500 or better. That is the best record in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA behind the Warriors and Rockets.

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When it comes to the Wizards' performance against losing teams, it's not crazy to expect water to ultimately find its level. They were 27-9 vs. sub-.500 teams last season and even the year before when they missed the playoffs went 23-9 in those games.

Good NBA teams generally feast off of the bad ones. The Wizards' 9-9 mark is a major outlier. At the top of the East are the Raptors, who are 16-1 against sub-.500 teams, the Celtics, who are 15-2 and the Cavs who are 16-3. If only the Wizards could just take care of business against the basement dwellers, they would be right in the mix.

The Wizards already aren't far off. As bad as things have seemed at times and as frustrated the players have been, they currently sit sixth place in the East and just a half-game out of fourth. Their 19-15 record has them on a 46-win pace. Last year, 46 wins would have put them at fifth in the East, one spot down from where they finished.

Right now the Wizards find themselves at a fork in the road between glass half-full and glass half-empty perspectives. Are they beginning to hit their stride or is this all a step forward before they take another step back?

The Celtics win has to be encouraging even for those who wonder if this team will ever reach the level they did last season. Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal all scored 20-plus points and led the Wizards to their first win in Boston after nine straight losses there. Kelly Oubre, Jr. impacted the game in a host of ways, showing just how much he's improved since the last time these teams played in May during the playoffs.

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Markieff Morris reached double figures for the fourth time in his last five games and is shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three in his last 12 appearances. He said recently he's inching closer to 100 percent health and those numbers back up that claim. The Wizards took off last December in part because Morris rounded into form, so this could be a parallel.

Mike Scott has emerged as a consistent scoring option off the bench who can play capable defense on the other end. In his last 11 games, he's averaging 13.7 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 68.8 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from three.

Tomas Satoransky has gained confidence in himself and from the coaching staff by protecting the ball and using his athleticism to affect games. He has the best offensive rating (124) on the Wizards this season. Ian Mahinmi has played in 32 of the Wizards' 34 games, already one more than he did all of last season, and Marcin Gortat quietly boasts the best defensive rating (104) on the team.

The struggles against losing teams have been the biggest thing holding the Wizards back this season, as playing up to top teams has never been their issue. They will have several chances to buck that trend in the next few weeks including on Wednesday against the 8-25 Atlanta Hawks, the worst team in all of basketball. A win there would give them three straight victories for the first time since Nov. 15.

With Wall back, things are looking up for the Wizards. If they can ever figure out the bad teams, they will be just fine.

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Scott Brooks feels good about John Wall and Bradley Beal's All-Star chances

Scott Brooks feels good about John Wall and Bradley Beal's All-Star chances

Voting for the 2018 NBA All-Star Game's starters is now closed and though they have not fared well with fan ballots, the chances Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal are picked as reserves seem good.

The All-Star reserves are chosen by NBA head coaches and Wizards head coach Scott Brooks thinks the Wizards should have two representatives.

"They're definitely both having All-Star years," Brooks said. "I can't vote for either one, but they are definitely in my mind two of the best guards in the East."

Wall, 27, is averaging 19.9 points and leads the Eastern Conference with 9.3 assists per game. He also leads all NBA guards with 1.1 blocks per game.

Bradley Beal, 24, is seventh in the East with 23.7 points per game and third among Eastern Conference guards. He is averaging a career-high 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

[PODCAST: MIDSEASON AWARDS FOR MVP, BEST WIN AND MORE]

The 25-19 Wizards are currently in the playoff picture, which should help their cause for two All-Stars. But there is a lot of competition at the guard position.

Beal has done plenty to make the case he should be a first-time All-Star. He leads the Wizards in points and has played in every one of their games.

What could hold Wall back is that his numbers are down from last season and the fact he missed 11 games due to injury.

Brooks, though, thinks he should be in there and that it shouldn't be all that close.

"I think John is the best point guard in the East," he said.

Wall is certainly up there among the best point guards in the conference. His competition would be guys like Kyrie Iriving, Kyle Lowry and maybe Ben Simmons. Wall is a more versatile player than Irving and has better numbers than Lowry or Simmons.

The All-Star starters are announced on Jan. 18 and the full rosters will be revealed on Jan. 23. We'll see if Wall and Beal make the cut.

[PODCAST: BRADLEY BEAL ON HIS GROWTH AS A LEADER]

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' tough loss to Bucks including John Wall's circus shot

5 must-see moments from Wizards' tough loss to Bucks including John Wall's circus shot

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Wizards' 104-95 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday afternoon...

1. John Wall came out swinging in the first half with 22 points, 16 of them in the first quarter alone. 

This was one of his best plays. Wall split two defenders and then flipped it in off the glass:

Wall finished with 27 points, nine assists, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. 

2. Kelly Oubre, Jr. led the Wizards' bench with 19 points, five rebounds and a block. He missed on this play, but nearly dunked on Giannis Antetokounmpo. That would have been something:

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3. Oubre did get this one to go down. He popped a three at the buzzer to end the third quarter:

4. Wall had some nice passes including this alley-oop lob to Tomas Satoransky. Sato got way up there:

Satoransky also threw down this alley-oop pass earlier thrown by Bradley Beal:

5. This last play was by the Bucks and it was not something you see every day. Antetokounmpo fired an assist through his legs like a longsnapper:

The Wizards lost a close one. Now they head to Charlotte to begin a five-game road trip.

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