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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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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Bradley Beal receives zero All-NBA votes, which itself is a snub

Bradley Beal receives zero All-NBA votes, which itself is a snub

On Thursday the NBA revealed the All-NBA teams for the 2017-18 season.

Not surprisingly, Bradley Beal and John Wall did not make it to one of the three five-player teams. Of the two superstars, only Wall has been recognized once in his career.

What is surprising is that neither Beal nor Wall received a single vote in the whole process, especially Beal.

The 2017-18 season was without question the best in Beal’s career. He played in all 82 games, coming right off of the heals of his All-Star recognition. Beal seems to agree in his snubbing, tweeting this minutes after the teams were announced:

Looking at the list of players who made the top three teams, it shouldn’t be an issue, but these three guys got more votes than the Wizards' duo combined: Steven Adams, Trevor Ariza, and Dwight Howard. It is not surprising that Beal and Wall did not make an All-NBA team. It is odd that Beal didn’t receive a vote.

Here is a list of the full All-NBA Teams:

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM: 

LeBron James (Cavaliers), James Harden (Rockets), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), Kevin Durant (Warriors)

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM:

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Joel Embiid (76ers), LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors)

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM:

Stephen Curry (Warriors), Victor Oladipo (Pacers), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves), Paul George (Thunder)

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