Wizards

Rookie Damian Lillard blazes a trail in Portland

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Rookie Damian Lillard blazes a trail in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Damian Lillard usually sticks to the rookie script, rarely showing much excitement.

But when the Trail Blazers' guard sank the game-winning 3-pointer against New Orleans last week, he celebrated by high-fiving a fan seated near the bench.

``I have no idea who it was,'' Lillard said, laughing. ``He was the first guy that I saw.''

Lillard, playing with a veteran's poise and a rookie's humility, is the early favorite for Rookie of the Year.

``I think he's a wonderful player,'' said San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. ``His skills are obvious but I like his demeanor as much as I like his skills. He really plays within himself, he's not afraid of contact and he understands how to take advantage of situations.''

Popovich knows. Lillard dropped 29 points on his Spurs last Thursday in a 98-90 Portland win. Then he hit the game-winning 3 with 0.3 seconds left in a 95-84 victory over the Hornets on Sunday night.

Lillard was the sixth overall pick in the June draft out of Weber State, where he was a two-time Big Sky Conference player of the year. He averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior with the Wildcats before declaring early for the draft.

From the start, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey called him the team's ``franchise point guard.'' Lillard was the key component as Portland rebuilt around LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews after finishing 28-38 and out of the playoffs last season.

``You can break his game down and quantify the shooting, the ball handling, the assist to turnover ratio, the pick-and-roll efficiency. What can't be quantified is his leadership ability and the gravitas he carries himself with as a young player,'' Olshey said.

The 6-foot-3 point guard excelled first in the NBA's Summer League, where he averaged 26.5 points and was the league's co-MVP.

In Portland's opener on Halloween night against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lillard had 23 points and 11 assists. He joined Isiah Thomas and Oscar Robinson as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in their NBA debuts.

Lillard had at least 20 points in his first three games, matching Grant Hill for the NBA record set in 1994. He is averaging 18.8 points, best by far among the NBA's first-year players, along with 6.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and a labor-intensive 38 minutes per game.

He is the only Blazer to start in all 23 games and he had at least one 3-pointer in his first 20 pro games, tying an NBA record. Lillard was the league's Rookie of the Month for November.

``It's almost like he glides with the ball. He has a high basketball IQ,'' Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. ``The thing you love about him more than anything else is he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He's one of those underdogs who went to a small school who is out to prove to everybody he's an NBA player.''

The Blazers' last rookie sensation was Brandon Roy, who was the Rookie of the Year in 2007 after averaging 16.8 points, 4.0 assists. He was the third Trail Blazer to win the award, joining Geoff Petrie in 1971 and Sidney Wicks in 1972. Now Lillard is making his case.

Portland has leaned on him of late while the Blazers ride out a wave of injuries. Batum has struggled with back pain. Matthews' streak of 250 straight starts ended because of a hip injury. Most recently, Aldridge sprained his left ankle in the final minute of the victory over the Hornets.

Matthews and Aldridge are uncertain for Thursday night's game against the Denver Nuggets. So the Blazers might have to turn to Lillard again.

Lillard, for his part, just wants to keep it simple.

``My main focus is to keep trying to help us win games,'' he said.

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Wizards at Heat Game: TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Wizards at Heat Game: TV Channel, Live Stream, how to watch

Thursday’s 119-113 victory over the 76ers was by far the best victory the Wizards have had this season.

Davis Bertans was hot shooting 7-for-10 from three. He even set a career high of 25 points in 27 minutes.  

Miami, on the hand struggled Wednesday night and fell short to Boston 112-93. 

Who will get the victory Friday ngiht? Tune in to find out. 

WIZARDS at HEAT HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards at Heat, Game 21

Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

When: Friday, December 6, at 8:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards at Heat will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards at Heat on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS at HEAT TV SCHEDULE

7:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)

7:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)

8:00 PM: Wizards at Heat (LIVE)

10:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

11:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live (LIVE)

11:30 PM: Wizards Talk (LIVE)

WIZARDS at HEAT INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: John Wall (OUT, Left Achilles rehab), Ian Mahinmi (OUT, Right Achilles strain), C.J. Miles (OUT, Wrist), Thomas Bryant (OUT, foot), Isaiah Thomas (OUT, Calf)

Heat: Justise Winslow (OUT, Back), Goran Dragic (OUT, Groin), KZ Okpala (OUT, Achilles), Udonis Haslem (OUT, Illness)

WIZARDS at HEAT PLAYERS TO WATCH

Davis Bertans, PF, (13.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 app, ): Bertans went off in the first half against the 76ers shooting 6-for-6 from deep to get 22 points going into halftime. Bertans finished Thursday nights game with a season high of 25 points, one rebound, one steal and seven 3 pointers within 37 minutes.

Ish Smith, G, Wizards (8 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.9 apg): With IT out Ish Smith stepped up to the plate dishing out a season high of eight assists with 19 points and one rebound in 34 minutes in Thursday nights win over the 76ers. Smith is averaging

Jimmy Butler, G, Wizards (20.1 ppg, 6 rpg, 6.5 apg): Jimmy Butler was on fire in Miami’s 112-93 loss to Celtics on Wednesday. Butler made 12-of-18 from the field and set a season high of 37 points.

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Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

Davis Bertans reinforces status as Wizards' best offseason addition in win over 76ers

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Philadelphia 76ers 119-113 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. The Wizards entered this season with the understanding they probably wouldn't make the playoffs. They wanted to play hard and be a team capable of pulling off upsets on nights their effort and scrappy play caught opponents off guard.

They wanted to have games like they had on Thursday night. For the first time this season, the Wizards jumped all over a very good team and held on for a victory.

The Wizards took out the Sixers 119-113 for what is so far their signature win of the season. Philly is one of the best teams in the East at 15-7 and it was mostly healthy, unlike the Wizards.

Washington snapped a three-game skid as it now flies to Miami for battle with the Heat, who may be the surprise team of the NBA so far this season with a 15-6 record.

2. Though it's not showing in the standings, the Wizards did a nice job in the offseason in flipping their roster and creating long-term financial flexibility. Their most impressive move may have been trading for Davis Bertans.

Bertans was essentially stolen from the San Antonio Spurs for Aaron White, who was likely to never play for the Wizards. And all Bertans has done is thrive in an expanded role with the green light to shoot as often as he wants.

Bertans was lights-out on Thursday with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting. He set a career high with seven threes, going 7-for-13 from the perimeter. Bertans had 20 points and was 6-for-6 from three in the first half, tying his previous career high for makes.

As I've mentioned before, Bertans is going to be a commodity come the trade deadline and that is going to force a tough decision for the Wizards, whether to trade him or keep him and try to work out an extension in the offseason. If they are offered a first-round pick, it will be hard to pass up.

But there is an argument either way to hold on to him because he is such a good shooter. Just imagine how well he would fit with John Wall.

3. Rookie Rui Hachimura also had a huge game in what was his first career meeting with the Sixers. He popped off for 15 points in the second quarter and ended up with 27 points and six boards.

Hachimura did all of this while dealing with Al Horford and Joel Embiid down low and guarding those guys on the other end. He also spent some time checking Tobias Harris, so there was a lot on his plate.

Hachimura got many of his points with his bread-and-butter midrange game. He made one three and found trouble getting around Embiid at the rim. 

Hachimura took what the defense gave him and it worked. There were several occasions where defenders just let him take long twos and he made them.

Head coach Scott Brooks was just talking pregame about why the Wizards are okay with him living in the midrange, if that's what he is most comfortable with at this point. Good timing with those comments.

Hachimura, by the way, is averaging 22 points over his last four games while shooting 54.4 percent from the field (37-for-68).

4. The Wizards shared some good news on the injury front before the game as both of their backup centers returned. Moe Wagner, who was nursing a left ankle injury, came back after missing two games. And Ian Mahinmi made his season debut after missing two-plus months with an Achilles strain.

Wagner was put in the starting lineup due to Thomas Bryant's absence and, though he did not have his usual scoring numbers, he did what he could to bother Embiid and give the Wizards energy. Wagner finished with five points and 11 rebounds.

Mahinmi played surprisingly well, all things considered. He had some bad moments, some due to rust. Be he did a solid job guarding Embiid, which is no easy task. The Wizards also helped him out with double teams.

The best part of Mahinmi's night, though, was right when he checked in. He has developed a reputation for getting in foul trouble and, sure enough, he got one on his very first play.

5. Though the Wizards got two players back from injury on Thursday, they also lost two. Jordan McRae will be out a few weeks after having a second surgery on his right ring finger. And, in a bigger surprise, starting point guard Isaiah Thomas was a late scratch with a left calf strain.

The Thomas one is a newly disclosed injury and at this point it's unclear if he will miss any more time. But it was enough for him to sit after he had played in 17 straight.

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