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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. 


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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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold the Raptors under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

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Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

Scott Brooks on how journeyman veterans like Ish Smith can be leaders by example

WASHINGTON -- When identifying leaders from an outside perspective, it is only natural to look at the Washington Wizards and see Bradley Beal and John Wall, their two All-Star guards. Logic would suggest they set the tone for younger, less experienced players, that they are the ones the rookies should look up to.

But Wizards head coach Scott Brooks sees similar value in less-heralded members of his team, the journeyman veterans to whom nothing has been given. Guys like Ish Smith and Gary Payton II have bounced around the league to varying degrees. In Payton's case, that has included extended time in the G-League.

Brooks has been tasked with creating an environment for the Wizards that is conducive to the development of young players and he believes those types of veterans set an important example.

"If you're really good, you have two or three All-Stars on your team," Brooks said. "But the league is made up of guys like Ish. His story can help the younger guys make it and stay in the league. It's what the league is about. He has the grit, the fiber, the substance and the experience to share with all the players who are trying to make it."

Brooks has used similar language to describe Payton II, who was first signed by the team to a 10-day contract last season. He was let go, then returned this past December and then had his contract guaranteed for the rest of the season earlier this month.

"He's fought and he's been cut many times and sometimes those are the guys you want in your program because they have that fiber, that toughness and that anger because they know that it can go away," Brooks said.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard has said on several occasions they want Brooks to install a culture and mindset with their young roster similar to the one he helped build in Oklahoma City. Smith happens to remind Brooks of one of his former players with the Thunder.

"I love guys on a team like Ish. We kind of had that guy with Nick Collison [in OKC], just a winning player on and off the court. Ish is the same way. I look at Ish the same exact way," Brooks said.

Collison averaged a modest 5.9 points in 14 NBA seasons, but was so respected for his leadership role that his jersey number was retired by the Thunder last year. 

There is another person guys like Smith and Payton II remind Brooks of and that is himself. Before he became a coach, he was a 10-year NBA player. And he carved out that career as an undrafted, undersized point guard.

He was constantly fighting for his NBA future on the fringe of rosters and was able to stick around only because of his hard work and toughness.

Though he played with some great teammates like Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing, Brooks likes to think he left his own mark.

"I always took pride in having a relationship with the best player to the, well, myself; the worst player," he said.

"This game, it's a family and it's fun and it's about relationships; empowering and inspiring one another. You don't have to be a star player to do that. I've had great conversations with Olajuwon. I've had great conversations with players that only play on a 10-day or a year in the league. I took pride in it and I think Ish does the same thing. I think it's pretty important that we all are blessed and honored to be in the league, that now it's your job to leave your situation better than when you started it. We have a couple of guys on our team that can really carry on what we want our team to be about."

Ultimately, though, the Wizards' young players have to put in the necessary work to reach their potential. Brooks can teach them lessons directly and guys like Smith can do so indirectly.

But the players themselves have to understand the message.

"Now it's up to the younger players to listen to it. It's one thing to listen to John and Brad, but there's a great chance you're not going to be as good as John or Brad. There's a chance you're going to be a player like Ish," Brooks said.

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