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Morning tip: Even in defeat to Cavs, Wizards earn respect in East

Morning tip: Even in defeat to Cavs, Wizards earn respect in East

The lack of respect is an ongoing theme for the Wizards, dating to their first playoff run with John Wall in 2014, the following year with Paul Pierce and bleeding into this season following a disappointing .500 showing in 2016.

They didn't get the win Monday vs. the best team in the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the recognition is the next best thing even though it came at the expense of their 17-game home winning streak. 

"They respect us," said John Wall after posting 22 points and 12 assists in a 140-135 overtime loss. "That's the most important thing. They respect us. Throughout the game LeBron (James) was saying, 'Y'all are playing hell of a basketball (game) right now.'"

The Wizards (30-21) appeared to have this game on several occasions.

James' Hail Mary three-pointer with three-tenths of a second left tied it at 120. Otto Porter's inbound to Wall, who'd gotten free on a curl only to have the ball clang off the rim, would've been a game-winning dunk. Then James fouled out with 4:13 left in the extra session and the Wizards were creating separation with a 127-122 lead.

Then Kyle Korver happened. Then Kyrie Irving. 

The defending champion Cavs won as many expected them to do so. It just wasn't easy. These weren't the same Wizards who'd fold at the slightest sign of adversity when they went 41-41 just a year ago under then-coach Randy Wittman. 

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This group has greater resolve under Scott Brooks, and it's because they've developed more weapons than Wall.

Bradley Beal scored 40 or more points for the third time this season (41) and was a creator, too (eight assists). He also didn't have a turnover. Otto Porter had 25 points as he made 5 of 7 three-pointers. 

The season series has been won by Cleveland 2-0, with one meeting left, but this is a much different team than the one beaten at Verizon Center on Nov. 11, 104-95. Beal was hurt and didn't play.

"Just a lot of confidence, especially at home," Cavs forward Kevin Love said in describing the difference in the Wizards now vs. then. "John has been playing amazing basketball. Maybe the best of his career. Beal is healthy. You saw what he is capable of."

The home streak had to end at some point, but the Wizards are 22-7 there. They have a game Wednesday at the nine-win Brooklyn Nets, two matchups with the Indiana Pacers that could determine the season series and in between they have another national TV game before the All-Star break.

Wall, who will be a four-time All-Star but as a reserve behind Irving, showed why he's probably the best point guard in the conference. He did more than score and assist but controlled the pace and defended at a much more superior level. Beal showed why he probably should've been an All-Star for the first time in the point-guard heavy East. 

Irving had 23 points on 8-for-24 shooting to go with five assists. His team has more star power, but Wall's team is a lot more than the blue-collar lot than they were in previous years. They had dazzle and pizzaz, too. They're still one step away from being able to beat the Cavs but got their attention. The gap is closing. There is no such thing as sneaking up on anyone anymore.

"They kind of circled this game on their calendar. They were ready to play," Cleveland coach Ty Lue said. "They came out. They were juiced up. They played great. You got to tip your hat to those guys. They really fought. They competed. They played well."

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The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

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USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 

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As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."

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