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History suggests wounded John Wall tends to be more dangerous as he closes in on assists lead

History suggests wounded John Wall tends to be more dangerous as he closes in on assists lead

Friday, it wasn't exactly John Wall playing through five fractures in his hand and wrist to to play, but it was the next best thing for the Wizards as they were trying to end a two-game slide against the Chicago Bulls.

Like he did in that playoff series two years ago, averaging a double-double in three games vs. the Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinals (18 and 10), Wall played through a left foot sprain that had his status in question before tipoff. After having knee problems as early as the fourth game last season, which would require surgeries to both a month after 2015-16 ended, Wall still averaged 19.9 points and 10 assists.

"I think going back into the fourth quarter I had maybe 18," Wall said of his assist total at the time. "So I knew I had a chance [to set a career-high]. I knew also that I had to play the right way because it was a close game so you just couldn't worry about those. Just try to get the win. If it was a blowout we could have just worried about it but it was a different kind of game. Luckily, I got it."

By that he means 20. It's a mark that Wall has come short twice this season with 19.  He posted his career-high in a 112-107 win to go with his 14 points for his 45th double-double. 

Wall's defense also was key in them holding the Bulls to just 40 first-half points. Rajon Rondo only had six points in 33 minutes. They allowed 67 points in the second half, but it at least was a start to better individual team defense for the Wizards who have struggled in that area.

Wall injured his left foot Wednesday in a bad fall against the Dallas Mavericks. He played through it and X-Rays revealed no damage, but he didn't practice Thursday or shootaround with his teammates Friday morning.

He never looked tentative but was more focused on getting stops and getting his teammates involved rather than getting his own shot early. Wall only had four attemptts in the first half.

Then when the score drew tighter as the Bulls cut into a 19-point deficit, Wall came through with layup at 5:21 for a 96-91 lead and assisted Otto Porter on a jumper.

After three consecutive buckets on drives by Bradley Beal, Wall got No. 20 on a lob to Marcin Gortat with 1:10 left to keep it a two-possession game. And then the point guard made all four of his free throws down the stretch.

It's the type of grit that's to be expected from the four-time All-Star who is making a push to become an All-NBA player for the first time in his seven seasons and solidify his team as a top 3 seed for the postseason.

Wall didn't receive a single vote among 29 opposition general managers when asked who were the NBA's best passers. He's now averaging 10.9 assists which is second-best in the league. James Harden leads at 11.2 and the assist title is in range.

"That first half," said Wizards coach Scott Brooks of Wall's 12 assists, "was almost flawless. The defensive effort. Rondo is obviously a prober, and he can handle the ball and he can manipulate screen-and-rolls but John was there. ... There are only a few guys in the league that can dominate a game with passing only, and he's one of them."

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' narrow win over Bulls]

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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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