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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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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense help him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller analyze the Wizards' two picks the night of the draft.

They went in-depth on first round pick Troy Brown, Jr. and why the Wizards took him when some big names were still on the board. They also broke down why the Wizards chose to pick a draft-and-stash guy in the second round.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!