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Morning tip: Controversial ending in Portland goes in favor of Wizards this time

Morning tip: Controversial ending in Portland goes in favor of Wizards this time

Markieff Morris' foot was out of bounds. It was evident in real time, and didn't require slow-motion replays to determine that if it was orginally called that his pull-up jumper with 0.4 seconds left to beat the Portland Trail Blazers it would've been confirmed upon review and waved off.

But that's not what happened Saturday, and the Wizards won 125-124 in overtime instead to go 4-0 with one game remaining on this Western Conference road trip. 

A last two-minute report that'll be released by the league on Sunday will say Morris is out. That's because after the game, crew chief Rodney Mott answered questions from a pool reporter on whether or not Morris was out and why the basket still counted:

It was a crushing blow for the Blazers (28-36), who are fighting for their playoff lives. But this isn't the first time a game had a controversial end in Portland.

Last year, March 8, 2016, the Wizards lost 116-109 in overtime. It was a game they had won in regulation, but then-guard Gerald Henderson was allotted well over five seconds to inbound the ball to Damian Lillard who buried a three to force the extra period. 

That Wizards team didn't have the resolve of this one and wilted. The loss dropped them to 30-33 and they'd miss the playoffs at 41-41. Upon review, the league office determined that Lillard's basket shouldn't have been allowed because it was an "incorrect-no call" on the inbound play. 

One blown call doesn't justify another, but it speaks to it being a part of the NBA. Teams benefit from missed calls all the time, especially at the end of games where officials are more focused on the players with the ball. Beal had it for most of the possession.

Did anyone forget about Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs between the Spurs and Thunder? The NBA conclude its officials missed five -- as in F.I.V.E. -- calls on the final play. The Thunder won in controversial fashion, stole home-court advantage and eventually the series.

It's not an isolated incident. It's not a conspiracy against the Blazers. But having a fourth official, who is in an elevated position and looks off the ball for infractions such as holding and fouling off the ball, would be help clean up the game. Given the explosion of rights fees, the NBA certainly can afford it. 

For now, it'll count as the Wizards' 41st win.

:I can't reallly tell but the refs didn’t call it," Morris said on whether or not he was out. "They didn’t call it, that’s all I know."

 

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Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. hope to show improvement when NBA returns

Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. hope to show improvement when NBA returns

The NBA's break in between games due to the coronavirus is long enough to equal a full NBA offseason. If any of the general rules of NBA offseasons apply, that means some players could come back looking noticeably different.

Since young players are usually the ones who improve the most over the summer, Rui Hachimura and Troy Brown Jr. are two players to watch. They are the Wizards' two most recent first round picks and both spent the break working with the resources they had, hoping to make another leap.

Hachimura, whom the Wizards took ninth overall in 2019, spent much of the time off in Los Angeles. He mostly trained at home with access to weights and a schedule lined with Zoom workouts hosted by Wizards coaches and members of the team's training staff.

Hachimura didn't have full-time access to a hoop, but did get some shots up here and there. Since returning to Washington once the Wizards' practice facility reopened in June, Hachimura has been working closely with assistant coach Corey Gaines.

The emphasis has been his outside shot, ball-handling and court vision.

"I feel like I have more confidence in my threes," Hachimura said. "I feel like that's come from how much I'm working out. The coaches have done a good job with me, the technique and stuff. I think it's more the confidence and I think it's getting better."

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The Wizards have been trying to add arc to Hachimura's shot ever since they drafted him out of Gonzaga. He has a solid midrange shot, but the percentages go down the further out he goes and the flat trajectory doesn't help.

Hachimura is shooting just 27.4 percent from three as a rookie this season. The team hopes he can step into a larger offensive role with Davis Bertans having opted out of the league's restart. If his three-point shot is indeed improved, Hachimura could make a big difference.

"I'm so excited for this opportunity," Hachimura said. "I think we have a chance to make the playoffs."

Much of Brown's focus during the break has been on the defensive end. He wants to be a more reliable and versatile defender for the defensively-challenged Wizards.

The problem there is that with social distancing in Wizards' workouts, he can't really practice defending other NBA players. So, it has required some creativity.

RELATED: BRADLEY BEAL UNDECIDED ON NBA RESTART

"I've done lateral slides with resistance bands on. More so making your body used to those quick movements and getting those twitch muscles used to sliding fast and making quick reaction times," he said.

Brown said he adjusted his diet during quarantine and dropped his body fight down to six percent, the lowest he's been since he was drafted 15th overall by the Wizards in 2018. He also feels like the time away helped him clear his head.

"For me personally, I feel like it's been a good break to take some time off mentally and regroup. I've been able to work on my body and work on stuff I normally wouldn't be able to work on," he said.

The Wizards have a lot of young players who had the chance to improve dramatically in the past few months. But their two recent first round picks certainly stand out as ones to monitor given how important they are to the team's future. In just a few weeks, we should get a sense of whether they were actually able to improve or not.

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Ish Smith on death of 11-year-old Davon McNeal, gun violence in United States

Ish Smith on death of 11-year-old Davon McNeal, gun violence in United States

During a video conference call with reporters on Monday, Wizards point guard Ish Smith was asked about gun violence in the United States, specifically in light of the recent murder of 11-year-old Davon McNeal in Southeast Washington. Smith had heard of his passing and it hit quite close to home.

"His life is cut short at 11 years. I got a nephew right now who is 11 years old. He's 11 and I know the dreams and aspirations he wants and where he wants to get to," Smith said. 

McNeal was killed by a stray bullet on Saturday while attending a non-violence cookout organized by his mother. He was in the sixth grade at Kramer Middle School in Southeast.

McNeal's death is all too familiar for Smith, who has seen far to many cases just like this one.

"What could little man have done to avoid that? Like, we gotta do better," Smith said. "To see a child taken so young; I mean, my man won't even be able to see his 18th birthday, prom, graduation. There's just so much stuff... It shouldn't be at the hand of somebody else where they can't get to where they wanna get to because of a stray bullet or a shooting; whatever the case is. My heart hurts."

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Smith, who is deeply religious, said he is "constantly praying" for the violence to stop. He tries to do his part by speaking with troubled youth in North Carolina in the offseason.

He hopes more awareness can be raised for tragedies like McNeal's.

"[Kids] have to see a better example so they know what to do and what not to do so they can see a brighter future," Smith said.

There are no suspects in McNeal's murder at this time. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is asking for the public's help with any leads.

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