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John Wall may have played the best game for a Wizards player in generations

John Wall may have played the best game for a Wizards player in generations

Like many Washingtonians, I'm not old enough to remember the 1970s Bullets, the era that brought the franchise's lone world championship, four total NBA Finals appearances and a decades-long outbreak of Bullets Fever.

To me, Phil Chenier is and always has been a broadcaster, Wes Unseld was a general manager who drafted God Shammgod and deep playoff runs are something other teams do. True playoff success, as other cities know it in the NBA, has been somewhat of a foreign concept. For an entire generation of D.C.-area natives, like me, positive playoff moments involving the Wizards have been few and far between.

So, what John Wall did on Friday night in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night was in some ways a brand new experience. A Wizards player putting in the playoff performance of his life in a decisive game to lift his team to a series win, that's unusual. When his team needed him most, when basically the rest of the starting lineup got into foul trouble and the Hawks were imposing their will, Wall thoroughly took over. He almost singlehandedly ended Atlanta's season, smiled and waved bye-bye to the Atlanta crowd as he did it.

Wall scored 19 points in the fourth quarter and blocked the heck out of a Dennis Schroder fastbreak layup. He stared down Falcons superstar Julio Jones, rappers Gucci Mane and Quavo, matched their swagger and then some.

All of that, I had never seen.

Wall, in fact, played the best game I have ever witnessed from a Wizards or Bullets player in my life. I'm 29 years old, so we're not talking too deep of a memory bank. Still, what Wall did on Friday night was arguably the best performance of a Wizards or Bullets player in at least a generation.

The numbers back it up. Wall's 42 points were the third-most for one playoff game in franchise history. Elvin Hayes set the record of 46 points back in 1975. Gilbert Arenas hit 44 points in May of 2006, but it came in a loss.

[RELATED: Wall, Beal show out for Wizards in Game 6]

Arenas scored more points than Wall that day and Wall's seven turnovers certainly hurt his cause. But Wall also had eight assists, four steals and two blocks. The last player to have 42 points or more, plus those numbers in a playoff game was Michael Jordan in 1990. Jordan, the greatest player of all time, only did it once in his career. No one else since at least 1983-84, when Basketball Reference's assists and steals numbers date back, has accomplished the feat. Wall also shot 64 percent.

There have been many great games played by Bullets and Wizards players in recent decades, of course. Since the year 2000, a Wizards player has hit 40 points 41 times. Jordan did it seven times, Arenas did it a whopping 24 times in a three-year span, Wall has done it twice before and Bradley Beal accomplished the feat three times this season alone.

Five times since 2000 has a Wizards player dropped 50 points or more. Jordan did it once, Arenas three times and Wall once himself, back in December. Arenas once scored 60 points against the Lakers, then 54 against the Suns just five days later. Both he and Jordan also had numerous buzzer-beaters.

But all of those were in the regular season.

There have been a handful of great playoff performances by Wizards players in recent memory. Since 2005 there have been six games of 35 points or more by Wizards in the playoffs. But nobody has done quite what Wall did. Not Arenas, not Antawn Jamison, not Chris Webber, not anyone in a long, long time.

Wall dropping 42 points, including a 19-point fourth quarter takeover, was special. Like the Wizards winning their division or getting more than 46 wins (49, to be exact) this season, I had never seen anything like it before.

Yet, something tells me that was just the beginning for Wall, that his best is still to come.

[RELATED: Keys to look for in Wizards-Celtics semifinal series]

 

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Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

Wizards can make playoff push with weak 10-game schedule before All-Star break

After the Wizards suffered a crushing loss to the Chicago Bulls last Wednesday, guard Bradley Beal expressed frustration with the team’s culture of losing. He intimated a desire to win more, even with a general expectation that the team would struggle this season.

"I don't like losing, I'm sorry," Beal said after the loss. "Especially winnable games."

His sentiments stand in direct contrast to those of many fans, and maybe some within the organization, who would prefer the team’s losing ways continue through the season and land Washington a top pick in this summer’s draft. But with 10 games remaining before the All-Star break, a realistic path still exists for Beal’s wishes to come to fruition and the Wizards to make a playoff push.

Washington kicked off a four-game road trip with Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Southeast Division rival Miami Heat. A win would’ve been huge in sparking a climb up the Eastern Conference standings, but with games at the Cleveland Cavaliers (12-32) tonight and Atlanta Hawks (11-34) on Sunday, the Wizards still have a chance to pull to 2-1 this trip before ending it Tuesday against the powerhouse Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wizards then come home for a six-game stretch at Capital One Arena that includes games against five teams with sub-.500 records; the Charlotte Hornets (15-30), Brooklyn Nets (18-24), Golden State Warriors (10-36), Memphis Grizzlies (20-24) and Bulls (17-29). Only the Dallas Mavericks, who they play after the Warriors, have a winning record over that stretch. Finally, the Wizards visit the Knicks (12-33) on Feb. 12 before getting an eight-day break in the schedule.

The Wizards are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference but just 4 ½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot. This 10-game stretch includes just two opponents with winning records, and Washington’s lowly 14-29 record is better than half of the remaining eight teams. The games against the Nets, Bulls and Hornets, three of the four teams between Washington and the eighth seed, provide ample opportunity to make up ground.

The Wizards are in the position they’re in, of course, because like many of these upcoming opponents, they haven’t been a very good team. But while this stretch won’t be a walk in the park, it’s likely where the trajectory of this season will finally be determined. If the Wizards are able to go 6-4 or better, the conversation around how this season ends could change going into the break. If they finish under .500, their long-presumed fate as a lottery team will likely be sealed.

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The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

Since acquiring Davis Bertans from the Spurs in exchange for the rights to Aaron White, the Wizards have unlocked the sharpshooter's full offensive potential. 

In San Antonio, Bertans was known more as a spot-up, floor-stretching power forward. Now? He's one of the most feared snipers in the NBA with his ability to come off screens, get his shot off quickly and drill threes from just about anywhere on the court. 

Bertans should without a doubt be invited to compete in the NBA's three-point contest at All-Star weekend. Jordan McRae is leading the campaign charge and the Wizards recently started a campaign to get him there as well. 

So as we await word on whether Bertans will be invited or not, let's lay out his claim as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league and how he stacks up against everyone else. 

By the numbers

Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game, which is absurd efficiency at that volume. 

Of the 14 players that take at least eight threes per game, nobody is shooting at a higher clip than Bertans.

He's also second in the league in three-point makes per game (3.7), trailing only James Harden. For players who make at least three triples per game, Bertans has the third-highest shooting percentage on his looks. 

If that's not enough, Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot makes from deep this season (3.2). The three-point contest closer resembles catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than shooting threes off the dribble. If Bertans were to compete in such a setting, he'd feel right at home. 

Supreme confidence

Confidence is one of the most crucial traits of a great shooter, and Bertans has no shortage of self-assurance.

He could be 0-for-7 from three and 2-of-10 from the field, but that wouldn't stop Bertans from taking a 30-footer with the game on the line. 

Speaking of 30-footers, Bertans is more than comfortable launching shots from several feet beyond the three-point line. If he ends up shooting in the three-point contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to move the ball racks back a few feet just for kicks. 

After a game in which he made six threes against the Hornets, Bertans was asked if there was a three he felt was too deep for him to take. His response?

"I haven't found that yet."

The competition

Last year there were 10 participants in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant hurt this season, you have arguably the three best snipers in the NBA all sidelined with serious injuries. 

Without those three, I'm not sure there are five shooters in the league better than Bertans, let alone 10. 

As of now, there have been three reported invites to the contest. Luka Doncic (32.7 3P%), Trae Young (37.3) and Duncan Robinson (42.9), though it's not yet clear if those players will accept. 

Bertans is in line for a nice payday this summer based on his play so far this year, but his recognition around the league shouldn't stop there. 

All you need to do is watch a Wizards game when Bertans hits a few threes in a row and look at how the defense reacts to him. They abandon their entire gameplan to run Bertans off the three-point line. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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