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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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Mark Jackson thinks Wizards should retool like the Clippers, not tank or trade Bradley Beal

Mark Jackson thinks Wizards should retool like the Clippers, not tank or trade Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have flipped their roster this offseason, to the point where they are one or two moves away from what could be considered a significant rebuild. Those two moves would be trading Bradley Beal and John Wall.

The team has no plans to do the former and probably can't do the latter due to Wall's injury and contract. But the point at which they arrived has sparked some debate about whether the Wizards should go all in and blow it up completely.

Count ESPN's Mark Jackson among those who believes the Wizards should not completely tank. The NBA Finals broadaster and longtime star point guard thinks there is a model to follow that equals a reset but also keeps Beal, in particular, in the mix.

"The Clippers," Jackson said. "They didn't tear it down, but competed until the point where they added pieces to where it gave them a real chance. I think that's the avenue to take."

The Clippers have dominated headlines recently after signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, a pair of moves that have installed them as title contenders. But Jackson was speaking more about the steps they took the previous year. They traded off many of their pieces, but did not fully rebuild. And they did it all while keeping their veteran head coach.

"They didn't sell all the way out. They were relevant and competed and they gained valuable experience as they got to the point where they are a championship contender," Jackson said.

"You lose Blake Griffin, you lose DeAndre Jordan and you lose Chris Paul; everybody says that's a teardown, but they defended, they competed at a high level and they were pros. They were high character guys. Good things happened until now where they have a real chance to win it all."

The Clippers took a step back when they traded Paul before the 2017-18 season, but not a major step back. They went from 51 to 42 wins. After trading Griffin and letting Jordan go in free agency, they took a step forward and improved to 48 wins this past season.

L.A. maintained a winning culture while shifting gears. It is worth noting the two biggest winners in 2019 free agency - them and the Brooklyn Nets - were not tanking teams starting from scratch.

There are plenty of differences between where the Wizards are now and where the Clippers were when they began their reset, of course. L.A. had more talent to deal from and got more back in some of the trades they made. 

They got a lot for Griffin and then Tobias Harris when they traded him to the Sixers. The Wizards have little to show for the deals they made involving Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr. and Markieff Morris. There is also the obstacle of Wall's injury and contract, which complicates things further.

But, as Jackson notes, the Wizards are on a different playing field. They don't have to compete in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.

"The fortunate thing for them is that they're in the Eastern Conference. They have a home run hitter in Bradley Beal who is finally getting the recognition he deserves," he said.

"Ultimately, it's about getting John back healthy and allowing these young players to grown and develop and continue to add pieces that can play a role. I think the future is bright for them."


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Still winless without Elena Delle Donne, Mystics fall to league-leading Aces

Still winless without Elena Delle Donne, Mystics fall to league-leading Aces

WASHINGTON – When Elena Delle Donne is on the court the Washington Mystics are one of the best teams in the WNBA. When she doesn’t play, the Mystics look lost and struggle to keep the contests close. Unfortunately for Washington, they were without the former WNBA MVP on Saturday, yielding an 85-81 loss to the Las Vegas Aces.  

With the absence of Delle Donne because of a broken nose, the Aces (11-5) pounded the paint in a game between the league’s two best teams. Forty-four points came in the paint for the Aces, compared to the Mystics’ 30, a far contrast from Washington's style of basketball.

Recent All-Star selections A’ja Wilson (17 points) and Liz Cambage (13 points) commanded the lanes on both the offensive and defensive ends. Combined with forward Kayla McBride, those three scored 46 of the team’s 85 points. Las Vegas also added 21 points from the charity stripe, preventing the game from becoming a barnburner in front of a sellout crowd of 4,200. 

Paired with Sydney Colson’s 17 off the Las Vegas bench, the Aces methodically erased a 15-point deficit the Mystics (9-6) built in the first quarter. 

In fact, the best part of the night for the Mystics was right after everything went wrong on their home court at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. A clock malfunction delayed the start of the contest by 20 minutes. It was yet another crazy quirk of the history of these two teams. 

Once the game got underway the Mystics came out firing. Flying up and down the court, Washington did not let the stoppage deter their success. The Aces were not so lucky and started the game 1-for-9 from the field and eventually found themselves down 22-7. 

“[It’s] always something with Vegas. Oh my God. We can’t ever just play a normal game with Vegas,” Natasha Cloud told reporters postgame. “For us as professional athletes, it is hard to sit there and be waiting, but you know we all focus. We all do different things … I like to dance to stay loose and not get tight.”

All five starters for the Mystics reached double figures without Delle Donne. Replacing the All-Star captain was Emma Meesseman who just finished playing with the Belgian National Team at the EuroBasket tournament. It is the second time the 6-4 forward started for an injured Delle Donne this season. Meesseman had 15 points and Cloud led all scorers with 18 points. 

Without Delle Donne, the Mystics are 0-3 this season. Essentially 0-4 because she only played one minute in the loss to the Los Angeles Sparks. Saturday was the second straight game that she had missed. 

Since she joined the team in 2017, the Mystics are 6-11 without her and 49-31 when she plays. 

“We’re being held kind of together by baling wire right now,” head coach Mike Thibault said postgame.

Combined with Delle Donne’s injury, Meesseman was sick and Latoya Sanders and Tianna Hawkins both played through minor injuries. It does not make things any easier when they are playing their four games in nine days with two of those being on the West Coast. 

With the loss, Washington has now lost a season-high three games in a row. At home, they’ve lost three of their last four. Fortunately, they get a chance to rest and heal some of those nagging injuries. They get six days off for only the second time in the first half of the season before playing the Indiana Fever on Friday.

“Luckily, we have some time to kind of regroup," Thibault said. "Three games left before the All-Star Break. I told them, you know, ‘get the next couple of days off, get your bodies feeling better and come back in here on Tuesday and get ready for Indiana.”