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With Beal down, Wall steps up to lead Wizards to victory

With Beal down, Wall steps up to lead Wizards to victory

After beginning the season 2-8, the Wizards have since leveled out in convincing fashion, to the point that they are now just one game under .500 after beating the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. For about 20 minutes after the game ended, the Wizards held a playoff spot for the first time since the season began. It was brief, but a small sign of encouragement for a team marred by injuries and depth issues for much of this season.

But like many basketball teams, the drop-off is generally obvious even if just one of their best players is missing. This season they are 0-4 without either John Wall or Bradley Beal in their starting lineup. With them both in the lineup, they are now 15-12. Take one of their key cogs out and disaster will sometimes follow.

That was not the case on Wednesday in a game that may have shown how far the Wizards have come in some respects since their disappointing start to the year. Yes, they had won a game earlier this season, against the Celtics, after Beal went down mid-game with an injury, then a right hamstring strain. But the way they rallied after Beal left with a sprained right ankle in the first half against the Pacers was a collective effort worthy of a team in playoff contention.

"When you win a game with one of your best players down, everyone is going to have to play well," head coach Scott Brooks said. "When some guy is out, the next guy has to step up and give us some minutes. I thought Marcin [Gortat] was really good at protecting the rim, he was rebounding, John obviously was phenomenal tonight – nearly a triple-double – getting to the basket, getting fouls. But everybody chipped in. Otto [Porter Jr.] made a big shot off Kelly’s [Oubre Jr.] pass from the corner to the slot. But when you win a game with one of your best players down, everyone is going to have to play well.”

Wall was the leader of that effort. He was just one assist short of a triple-double, ironic in the sense he's one of the best passers of his generation. He finished with 36 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, 12-of-13 from the free throw line and 11 rebounds. It was Wall's 19th double-double of the season, his 10th in the month of December and his seventh in his last eight games. 

Wall scored 19 of his points in the second half, capped by a timely layup with 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Wall took off from halfcourt and first split two defenders - Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young - then challenged Paul George at the rim to beat him with a finger roll. It was another big shot from a player with a growing reputation of making them late in games.

"He's done that in a lot of these close games that we've won. He's made the right plays, whether it's shooting or passing the ball to open players," Brooks said. 

Wall just felt like he had to be more assertive without his backcourt running mate beside him.

"For me, I was kinda just still trying to be aggressive, but get everybody involved," Wall said. "Coach said ‘He would be back and was just getting tape’ but then like a couple minutes went by and I said ‘What is he doing? Is he coming back?’ and he said ‘No, he’s out.’ I think took a mindset approach of being more aggressive and trying to get to the basket.”

The Wizards pulled out the victory, but it did require Wall to play 39 minutes. That's just two days after he logged 42 minutes against the Bucks. That's never ideal, but especially for a player who had surgery on both knees in the offseason. But the Wizards needed him to fill the void for one night and he certainly stepped up.

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Pacers]

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What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

What Wizards guard Chris Chiozza learned from playing with James Harden and Chris Paul

WASHINGTON -- Point guard Chris Chiozza is hailed as a success story for the Wizards' G-League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, which played its first season last year as an expansion franchise. He joined the organization in training camp as an undrafted rookie and by February had played his way into an NBA contract with the Houston Rockets.

Chiozza initially signed a 10-day contract with Houston and ended up sticking around through the playoffs until late July when he was waived. That opened the door for a reunion in Washington where he landed on an Exhibit 10 contract last month.

His time in Houston was brief, but important for a variety of reasons. For one, Chiozza got some official NBA experience for the first time by appearing in seven regular season games. 

Chiozza, 23, is now back with the Wizards with a different perspective.

"It's a much more comfortable feeling now, just having that experience," he told NBC Sports Washington. "I wasn't expecting to be back here. But it's a great opportunity. I get along great with everybody here."

Chiozza is currently gunning for a roster spot with the Wizards out of training camp. With injuries to two of Washington's point guards, John Wall and Isaiah Thomas, Chiozza could earn some playing time early in the season behind projected starter Ish Smith. Chiozza's main competition is undrafted rookie Justin Robinson, who joined the Wizards on a three-year deal this summer. 

Chiozza could have his contract converted into a two-way deal, as they have an open spot there next to Garrison Mathews. That would allow Chiozza to start the season with the NBA team until G-League training camp begins on Oct. 28. Then, a 45-day limit would kick in for how much time he could spend in the NBA. Forty-five days, though, would be plenty for the Wizards to work with, as Thomas is expected to return from his left thumb injury not long after the season begins.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks believes Chiozza has a real chance to carve out a steady career in the NBA.

"I think he knows that he can play in the league. As a young player, you hope that you can be in the league but you're not quite sure if you can," Brooks said. "But with Chris, I think he knows he can play in it."

Chiozza draws confidence from having a full year of professional basketball under his belt. But he also had a unique experience playing in Houston. He got to square off every day at practice with two guards who will be in the Hall of Fame someday.

Chiozza got to see up close what makes James Harden and Chris Paul great. And he took away from that lessons of how he can elevate his own game as a point guard.

"It was crazy just to see how good of a one-on-one player [Harden] is. When you watch him on TV, you can't really tell how smart of a player he is with the reads he makes. He can read when it's his shot or it's time to kick out to a shooter. Just watching him and CP3 and how they read the defense is pretty interesting," Chiozza said.

"When I was growing up, [Paul] was my favorite point guard. Just being around him and going to his camps and stuff and then being on his team, it was crazy."

Chiozza said practicing with Paul is a different experience than in games where he is more conservative with his ball-handling and passing. In practice, Paul may surprise you by passing the ball through a big man's legs or with dribble combinations he doesn't allows deploy. Chiozza calls them "pick-up moves."

Chiozza saw the finer details of what makes two great guards the players they are. As he aims to find a niche in the NBA, that can only help his cause.


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Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

Nationals to honor WNBA Champion Mystics prior to Tuesday's NLCS Game 4

There may be no victory parade until next spring, but the WNBA Champion Mystics will be honored in front of 40,000-plus people in the nation's capital on Tuesday.

The Mystics' tremendous season will be recognized in front of a likely sold-out crowd at Nationals Park prior to the Nats' NLCS Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday, the team announced on Monday.

Additionally, WNBA MVP Elena Della Donne will throw out the game's ceremonial first pitch. Head coach Mike Thibault will be involved in pregame festivities as well.

This comes after the Mystics took home their first-ever WNBA title last Thursday, defeating the Connecticut Sun 89-78 in a decisive Game 5.

Being honored at Nationals Park will be the latest of quite the celebrations from the Mystics. They earned props from President Barack Obama and were featured on Good Morning America Monday morning.

Congratulations to the Mystics, and props to the Nationals for honoring the latest champions from Washington, D.C.