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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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Rui Hachimura falls to Devin Booker in NBA 2K Players Tournament

Rui Hachimura falls to Devin Booker in NBA 2K Players Tournament

Coming off a nail-biting win over Donovan Mitchell in the first round, Rui Hachimura lost to Suns star Devin Booker in the quarterfinals of the NBA 2K Players Tournament Thursday night. 

The Wizards' rookie forward played with the Clippers, while Booker went with the Mavericks. Not only did Hachimura have the more talented team in this matchup, but it looked like he had a coach sitting near him the whole time too. 

Hachimura's biggest challenge in this one was finding easy points against Booker's defense. Booker did a good job using his center to close down driving lanes while leaving Hachimura's big men wide open in the corner.

The Clippers bigs aren't great outside shooters, so outside of a few surprising makes from Montrezl Harrell, it was a rough night offensively. Hachimura tried to go with a small-ball lineup with Marcus Morris at the center spot, but then he started giving up way too many offensive rebounds. 

On the flip side when Hachimura tried to do the same thing to Booker, Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber were able to knock those shots down. That left the door open for Luka Doncic to get open looks and that's how Booker eventually pulled away in the second half. 

It was a good run for Hachimura in the tournament. He knocked off the four-seed in Mitchell and delivered one of the more memorable moments of the first round. He just ran into a buzzsaw in Booker, who may have a decent chance to win the whole thing. 

The semifinals and finals of the 2K Players Tournament will begin on Saturday. 

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GM Tommy Sheppard says Wizards plan to retain Shabazz Napier in free agency

GM Tommy Sheppard says Wizards plan to retain Shabazz Napier in free agency

With the NBA season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the extra free time has given teams an opportunity to reflect on the first 64 games of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Whichever direction the league decides to go with returning to play, the 2020 NBA draft and free agency period loom large once the season is over. For the Wizards, they have a pair of key players set to hit the open market: Davis Bertans and Shabazz Napier. 

John Wall's return significantly elevates expectations surrounding the Wizards next season and will make the team's offseason decision-making process that much more important. In the case of Napier and Bertans, Washington's general manager Tommy Sheppard talked highly of both in a Q&A with Dave Johnson Thursday

"I think with [Napier and Bertans], when we acquired them not as rentals we acquired them to stay here," Sheppard said. "I think the players that we acquired, they're here to show that they can be here for the future. With Davis and Shabazz, they showed enough to us that certainly we would love to retain them. We plan to."

What Sheppard had to say about Bertans isn't necessarily new. He maintained the stance all year that the Wizards intended to keep Bertans this summer and held true to it when Washington reportedly turned down offers including first-round picks at the trade deadline. 

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Napier's future with the team, on the other hand, has not been talked about publicly by someone like Sheppard. The Wizards acquired him from the Nuggets in exchange for Jordan McRae at the trade deadline and the six-year veteran appeared in 15 games for Washington before the season was suspended. 

Napier started eight games and averaged 12.2 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 43.1% from the field and 38.1% from three. Based on production alone, it's not that surprising Sheppard wants to bring the former UConn star back. 

However, if the Wizards can re-sign Napier this summer, they'd have quite a lot of viable point guards on their roster going into next season. Wall will be back and Ish Smith will be in the final year of his two-year contract.

Napier would figure to be either the third point guard or Washington's backup shooting guard depending on how you look at things. Then you have to ask how comfortable you are with Napier potentially taking minutes away from Jerome Robinson and ball-handling opportunities from Troy Brown Jr., both young wings the Wizards need to take a step forward next year. 

But shooting and playmaking are at a premium in the NBA today, and as defensively challenged as an Ish Smith-Shabazz Napier backcourt would be off the bench, there's no doubt Washington's second unit would be able to put up a ton of points. 

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