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John Wall can't solve puzzle of Isaiah Thomas


John Wall can't solve puzzle of Isaiah Thomas

The competitive relationship between John Wall and Isaiah Thomas goes back to their days playing in AAU. But in the NBA, it has been a mismatch as the Boston Celtics guard has won 10 of 11 of their meetings.

Thomas had 23 points, nine assists and four rebounds in just 28 minutes Monday as the Celtics (25-21) swept the season series with the Wizards 4-0. Wall had just eight points and 10 assists in 33 minutes as they blew a 41-34 lead in the second quarter, allowed Thomas to score the final five points to give Boston a 53-49 halftime advantage and nine points in the decisive third.

"I just started winning against Derrick (Rose) when he played. I didn't win against him. I didn't win against CP," said Wall of the Bulls' point guard and Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers. "Teams play hard. They play well. We just played like (expletive) and I played like (expletive).

The Wizards did well with Nene, who made his second start at power forward of the season next to Marcin Gortat. He covered Thomas on the pick-and-rolls, challenged shots that fell short over his 7-foot frame, playing good position defense. Marcus Smart didn't have much success, either.

But when Nene, who is playing on a minutes restriction because of a left calf strain that has bothered him all season, left the game the tone changed. 

"He was the best at it," coach Randy Wittman said about contesting Boston's guards on the pick-and-roll actions with his help defense. "He was our best big at doing that. Our other bigs didn't challenge at all."


That's an unspoken dig at Gortat, of course.

Thomas stared at the Wizards' bench after he drained shots. He has friendly back and forths with Wall, but even when he was with the Phoenix Suns he won these matchups.

"Me and him we have no problem at all," Wall said. "When I was trying to become one of the best players in the country he was already known. ... When we're on the court it's all competitive trash talk between us. It's nothing serious. I have no problem with him. It's fun. He's always been a tough competitor, a tough matchup to play against because he's so small and quick. He has a lot of heart for somebody his size."

At 5-9, Thomas kept his dribble alive and used every ounce of his body weight to shield Wall from blocking him from behind. Half of Thomas' field goals (8 of 14) came at the rim as his shotchart from the game shows. Wall couldn't keep him in front of him.

"The biggest thing is Isaiah has just learned how to survive and thrive at his size. He's figured it out no matter who he's playing against. He's never playing against somebody his size," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "He's always had to play against bigger guys. There's not necessarily anything to that particular matchup that I would say that I can see. ... I just think Isaiah tries to figure it out. He uses his body well. He's got the ball on a string and he can shoot it well enough that you have to honor that and closeout to him."

On the flip side, Stevens changed his coverages on Wall. In their last meeting, won 119-117 by Boston, Wall torched them for a season-high 36 points as they went under on pick-and-rolls and gave him the mid-range shot. Not Monday. Wall shot 3-for-11.

"They did a great job adjusting their defensive coverages," Wall said. "I really didn't get a lot of looks that I had last game. They wanted (other) guys to make plays."

Bradley Beal went out in the second quarter with a likely concussion and broken nose and didn't return. Garrett Temple, who has started for him since returning on his minutes restriction, had his worst game in a while (0-for-7).

There weren't many other perimeter options for the Wizards, but yet another head-to-head battle goes to Thomas. Like Wall did last season when he had trouble getting the best of the Celtics and the Toronto Raptors, who they travel to play Tuesday, he has to forget about it and move on. 

"That's my first two years (in the league). I thought about it," Wall said of his inability to win certain matchups. "When I play bad and the other person plays well, yes I'm really pissed. I'd be more happy if I play bad and we win. You play bad and you lose? You're really pissed."

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

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