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Wall debuts with 14; Wizards top Hawks 93-83

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Wall debuts with 14; Wizards top Hawks 93-83

WASHINGTON (AP) John Wall gave his teammates a lift with 14 points and four assists in his first game of the season, and the worst-in-NBA Washington Wizards have their first winning streak after a 93-83 victory Saturday night over the Atlanta Hawks.

Wall's playing time will be limited as he returns from a knee injury, but he appeared to have his old speed and explosiveness back while playing seven minutes in the first half and 15 in the second half.

No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal, getting to play with Wall for the first time, scored 16 points for the Wizards, who are 6-28 but have strung together two wins in a row following their upset of Oklahoma City on Monday.

A.J Price added 16 points and Martell Webster had 15 for the Wizards, who never trailed in the second half.

Jeff Teague scored 19 points, Al Horford had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and Josh Smith added 11 points for the Hawks, who have lost five of six. Atlanta had won 18 of its previous 19 against Washington, including six in a row.

Typical of the game - and by far the lowlight for the Hawks - came when Ivan Johnson missed a wide-open layup by throwing the ball completely over the basket and catching it on the other side, thus committing a traveling violation. The basket would have cut the Wizards' lead to four with about 9 minutes to play.

Applause rippled around the half-full arena a little over midway through the first quarter when Wall stood up in front of the Wizards' bench and removed his warm-up jacket. When the whistle next blew, with 4:56 to play in the quarter, the team's franchise player walked onto the court to a standing ovation.

Wall didn't acknowledge the crowd and instead simply tied his shorts and took his place near the free-throw line. His first highlight was a fast-break assist to rookie Beal, the kind of play the Wizards have been envisioning from a speedy Wall-Beal backcourt.

Wall also had a three-point play as he dribbled down the clock at the end of the third quarter, and he lit up the crowd with a dazzling assist to Trevor Ariza in the final two minutes of the game.

Wall went 5 for 11 from the field and 4 for 5 from the free-throw line. His driving layup gave the Wizards an eight-point lead with 4:25 to play.

Wall was expected to miss about two months when he was diagnosed with a stress injury to his left kneecap in late September. He began increasing his basketball activity last month, but it wasn't until Wednesday that he had his first full-throttle practice with the team.

After three consecutive days of pain-free workouts, Wall was given medical clearance Friday to suit up, but his minutes are being carefully monitored by coach Randy Wittman. Wall hit the floor a couple of times during the game trying to take a charge, but bounced up with no apparent issues with his knee.

Even with Wall's return, the Wizards are far from healthy. Jordan Crawford (sore left ankle) and Cartier Martin (hyperextended left knee) remain sidelined, and four other players are having their playing time monitored. Trevor Booker returned Saturday after missing 24 games with a strained right knee. Price and Trevor Ariza returned from long injury layoffs in Tuesday's win over the Thunder, and Nene is nursing tendinitis in his right knee.

NOTES: The Hawks were called for three technical: Smith and Williams in the first quarter, and Teague as part of a double-technical with Kevin Seraphin in the fourth. ... Wizards F Jan Vesely played four minutes and committed five fouls. ... Hawks G Anthony Morrow missed his ninth straight game with a sore lower back. ... The Wizards had nine players with at least one turnover in first half. ... It must be NFL playoff time: Random cheers were heard throughout the game whenever the Baltimore Ravens made a big play in their overtime win over the Denver Broncos.

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Most nights, with little variance, the Wizards know what they are going to get from John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. They are consistently what they are, both good and bad, and mostly good.

The same cannot always be said about Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are capable of brilliance, it's just those moments come and go and sometimes with mysterious timing. Both players help the team more often than not, but can be unpredictable and enigmatic.

Monday night saw both Morris and Oubre at their best as the Wizards topped the Blazers 125-124 in overtime at the Moda Center. It was a worthy reminder of how much the two of them can change the outlook for the Wizards as a team on any given night.

Let's begin with Morris because this may have been the best game he's played with the Wizards since joining them in a Feb. 2016 trade. On both ends of the floor, he  was a force, but particularly on offense.

Morris erupted for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three. His six threes were a career-high. He also had 10 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It was the most efficient night in Morris' career and, by one measure, one of the most efficient in franchise history. His 28 points were the most by a Wizards or Bullets player in 25 minutes or less since A.J. English dropped 30 points in 23 minutes in 1990.

Morris' threes were well-timed. He hit two in the extra period, including one with 38.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up four. He also made one with 1:04 left in regulation and another right before that with 1:39 to go, both to give the Wizards a lead at the time. 

The clutch threes invoked memories of a game-winner Morris hit in the very same building two seasons ago. That also happened to be his best year with the Wizards.

Morris has improved his three-point shooting in recent years with a career-best 36.7 percent last season. When he's knocking them down, the Wizards can be uniquely good at spacing the floor, as Wall and especially Beal and Porter can be dangerous from three.

What Morris did against Portland was a major departure from a pair of uninspired games to begin the season. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds total in his first two games, both losses, as he failed to compensate for Dwight Howard's absence. On Monday, he stepped up and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

Like Morris, Oubre had been scuffling through two games. A different version of him showed up in Portland.

Oubre amassed only 17 points in his first two games and shot just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. Against the Blazers, Oubre scored 22 points and shot 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-3 from long range.

Oubre added six rebounds, a block and a steal and a host of winning plays that didn't show up in traditional stats. He drew a loose ball foul on Mo Harkless early in the fourth quarter and took a charge on C.J. McCollum with under two minutes in overtime.

Oubre played pretty much exactly how head coach Scott Brooks often says he should. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the rim when the ball swung his way. He was more selective with his three-point attempts than usual. He wreaked havoc on defense with deflections, didn't gamble for steals and he hustled for rebounds. 

Monday night showed the perfect version of both Morris and Oubre. The Wizards need that to be the model for how they aspire to play every single night. If they do, this team's ceiling is significantly higher.

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