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49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

This is the eve of the Wizards' return to the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. It's their first time with home-court advantage in four decades, but how did they get here? These are 49 reasons, matching their regular-season win total:

49. Turning over the roster. Letting so many veterans walk in free agency had its risk but with the cap booming retaining some of them would've cost more than the Wizards wanted to pay.

48. Plan B. Frequently said after Kevin Durant didn't give them a meeting last summer, "There was no Plan B." That was largely according to those who had no idea what the plans actually were. It's just that Plan B wasn't as exciting as Plan A. 

47. Not getting Nic Batum or Luol Deng. The Wizards talked with both of them, the latter of whom was close to terms, about $1.5 million apart, until the Lakers intervened with more years. Batum had a down season. Deng is on the downturn. 

46. Tomas Satoransky developing on a contract that plays $3 million a year. He's been hot and cold but has real potential. He might not do much in the postseason, but he could get spot minutes and make a big shot or help on a big stop that can flip the outcome of a game. 

45. Response to early-season blowout in Milwaukee. The Wizards got trounced by 27 points on Dec. 23 on the road and came back in the next game to win over them at home. 

44. Jason Smith went from being a major question mark based on how he played early in the season to a must-have piece to the puzzle. But his attitude and professionalism is an example to other players who are in and out of the lineup. 

43. Sticking with Kelly Oubre. He went through difficult stretches and appeared he might have taken a step back. Now he's going to be key to any advancement they make in the playoffs because of his defensive capabilities.

42. Beating Golden State. It was a 112-108 win at home that tested their defensive discipline for 48 minutes. Post-All-Star break this was a problem. For that one night on Feb. 28, it wasn't. That type of defense will get the Wizards at least to the conference finals. 

41. Smith had never had a three-point shot since turning pro in 2007. Even when this season began, the career mid-range shooter attempted just two in 30 games. Now he's a threat to pop to the arc. He made 37 of 78, or 47.4%.

[RELATED: Wall, Brooks tell younger Wizards players what NBA Playoffs are like]

40. The "funeral" game. The 123-108 rout of the Boston Celtics, when the Wizards wore all black as a sign of committment to beat their most heated rival, worked. It was ridiculed by some but it was a put-up-or-shut-up game and they came through. In the end, the season series was 2-2. The Celtics dominated them last season in the series, 4-0. The Wizards of old never would've been bold enough to try a gimmick like this.

39. Going to Marcin Gortat early on post-ups to get him involved early in the offense. This usually results in a more engaged Gortat.

38. The double-digit comeback to beat the L.A. Clippers 117-110 on Dec. 18 was an early sign of what would become an 18-3 streak running to the All-Star break. 

37. Seventeen consecutive victories at Verizon Center made it an actual homecourt advantage for the first time in years. The loudest cheers no longer were for free food in the fourth quarter.

36. The 140-135 overtime losss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 6. It ended the home win streak at 17 but it did plenty for the respect the Wizards gained on national TV and their own psyche that they're not far from being the best team in the East.

35. 4-1 West coast trip from March 7-13. They came back from double-digits to win three of them, at the Suns, Kings and Blazers. Even the previous playoff teams in 2014 and '15 didn't have that kind of grit.

34. A healthy Ian Mahinmi. It took a while because the issues he had with his knees even in training camp. Mahinmi, a 6-11 backup center who is of starting quality, has been the perfect complement to Gortat.  No one mentions his $64 million contract anymore because they see he's worth it.

33. Sheldon Mac didn't do a lot but he had his moments. And he's on a minimum contract. The Wizards didn't need to trade assests to get him in last year's draft. They got him as a free agent.

32. Playing Oubre and Otto Porter together. The Wizards flirted with it a season ago. It can be a potent combination. Their best defensive lineups feature Oubre. 

31. Though Bojan Bogdanovic has cooled off, he's a rotation player who has to be accounted for by the opponent. Andrew Nichoslon, who was swapped for in a trade with Brooklyn to get Bogdanovic, was neither.

[RELATED: Wizards Tipoff podcast, Ep. 8 - Gortat 1-on-1, playoff preview]

30. Going away from Marcus Thornton. After games Jan. 2 and 3 vs. the Rockets and Mavericks, both losses, Thornton never saw the floor again. Defensively, the Wizards came apart at the seams as Thornton was out of position and on a completely different page.

29. Otto Porter shot a career-high 43.4% from three-point range.

28. Bradley Beal made a career-high 223 three-pointers.

27. John Wall took 56 fewer threes (272) than a season ago, leaving more of those shots for Beal and Porter.

26. Wall passed the ball fewer times per game (58.6) -- Beal ran more of the offense -- but created more points per assists (25.3) this year than last year. Think about that. He passed less because he handled the ball less, which allowed him to play off the ball, get it back on reversal and average a caree-highs of 23.1 points and 10.7 assists. But he was more efficient. A year ago, Wall passed 70.9 times per game and generated 24.7 points off those passes.

25. The leadership of Wall and Beal. The pressure was put on them not to just be special but to lead by example in ways they hadn't previously. And they did it together which is a major step forward.

24 Markieff Morris is the answer to the "stretch" four dilemma. He might not like being called one himself, but Morris showed in matchups vs. Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka -- he got the best of both -- that he's the answer that Kris Humphries, Nene, Drew Gooden and Jared Dudley were not in previous years. 

23. Beal's career-high 42 points vs. the Suns on Nov. 21. It was his first 40-plus game in his career. And he had three more. 

22. Wall's career-high 52 points -- in a loss -- the the Magic. They allowed  a bad team to score 124 points on their home floor. For Wall, he said it was his wake-up call to be better on both ends. 

21. Player of the Month for Wall in December. He followed up the loss to the Magic with game after game of stellar two-way play to get the train back on track. 

[RELATED: Son of former NBA great will be big focus of Wizards vs. Hawks]

20. Won season series with Atlanta. The 104-100 win on March 22 gave the Wizards the series 3-1. This might not seem like much, but this is a team they hadn't won the series with since Wall turned pro in 2010. Even tougher was winning at Phillips Arena. That's no longer a hurdle. 

19. Porter's career-high 34 points vs. Boston on Nov. 9. Defenses quickly learned that leaving him open shouldn't be a strategy. Then Tony Allen of the Grizzlies complained that Porter didn't even appear on the scouting report after he made 6 of 8 threes in a loss to the Wizards on Jan. 18. 

18. More motion in the offense. In the first home game vs. Toronto, Beal screened once in the first half alone. That totally changed as he's more actively involved in the offense and makes the reads and screens on his own to create havoc for the defense. It creates more open shots everywhere, including for himself.

17. Gortat's attitude. He'd been losing playing time to Mahinmi and accepts that even though he's the starter he's only going to get about 24 minutes per game (Mahinmi is out injured for at least another week). But Gortat responded by playing better after a month-long lull.

16. Beal's ball-handling.  His 267 assists are 105 more than last season and that number will continue to increase. His 342 attempted foul shots are a career-high, too, with 189 being his previous mark. He creates and gets to the rim better than ever.  

15. Brandon Jennings' pace. His shot hasn't been there. He's also prone to gamble for steals from behind more often than he should, but Jennings has energized the second unit in ways that Trey Burke could not. 

14. Winning in Cleveland. The season series was lost 2-1, but going into their house and thumping them from start to finish 127-115 on March 25 meant the first meeting, an OT loss, wasn't a fluke. 

13. ATOs aka after timeout plays. Under Brooks, they've become one of the league's most efficient teams at getting easy buckets off the inbounds. Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the master at it. Brooks isn't far behind.

12. Taking advantage of size mismatches with guards. Wall and Beal are more likely to post smaller players at their position. This works really well on inbounds plays with the pass thrown over the top if there's no helpside defense. 

11. The 120-98 thumping of the Thunder on Feb. 13 made up for a game they had won in Oklahoma City that was lost in OT. MVP candidate Russell Westbrook didn't get anywhere near a triple-double (17 points on 5 of 19 shooting, four rebounds, four assists). 

[RELATED: What Wizards will need to beat Hawks in playoffs]

10  Trading for Oubre in 2015. He's putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim with a confidence he didn't have in October. Grunfeld said he'd be a 2-3 year project so he's on schedule. He was never projected to be rookie of the year or a 20-point scorer as a sophomore. He was projected to be what he is right now with the prospect of getting much better.

9. Beal running the offense. It works. 

8.  Not pushing Wall too much early after returning from surgery to both knees. After such a bad start, it was easy to go overboard. The plan was for Wall to not play back-to-backs until January but he has an amazing ability to recover.

7. Brooks' handling of 2-8 start. He could've gone off scorched earth and torn everything up but didn't. He stayed on message. And he didn't make the repeated mistakes of his predecessor by calling his team "soft" and his starting center his "supposed big man."

6. Oubre vs. point guards. He's 6-7 and has a 7-2 wingspan and can defend his position or 5-9 flashes such as Boston's Isaiah Thomas.

5. Small-ball lineups. Morris can play the 4 or 5. So can Smith. Porter, Oubre and Bogdanovic can play 3 or 4 and some 2 if needed. The roster wasn't built this way by accident.

4. Revamping the medical philosophy with how to treat injuries. When was the last time Wall and Beal were this healthy this late in a season? Beal appeared in a career-high 77 games, missing the final one only because of rest. Three of Wall's four missed games were scheduled for rest.

3. Morris' three-point shooting. He shot a respectable 36.2% from there for the season and took a career-high 196 attempts.

2. Ernie Grunfeld. He hired Brooks. He locked in on him early after firing Randy Wittman and it panned out. All of the good things that Brooks has done is a credit to Brooks himself. Then who deserves credit for hiring him instead of going after Tom Thibodeau (the popular choice)?

1. Maxing Beal. How ridiculous does it sound now that this was ever up debate? The market determines the value and if Beal were allowed to become unrestricted, he would've been maxed and left for nothing. Period. That's not a plan. Beal was a max talent as long as he could stay healthy for a season and his problematic lower right leg never required surgery. Damaged goods he was not. You pay according to what a player will blossom into during the life of the deal rather than where he's at during that moment. It worked with Wall. It worked with Beal. Ideally, you don't give max contracts to aged players who have peaked when returns diminish over the life of a deal unless their name is LeBron James.

[RELATED: Wizards' Morris: Don't call me a stretch four]

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.

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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 4: HOW WILL JOHN WALL'S CONTRACT AFFECT ROSTER CONSTRUCTION?

Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.

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