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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.


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.


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.


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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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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