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Morning tip: How Celtics flipped the script on Wizards in Game 5

Morning tip: How Celtics flipped the script on Wizards in Game 5

BOSTON -- The way the pendulum swings decisively from one side to the other in the East semifinals between the Wizards and Boston Celtics continues as each game is decided by large margins. Game 5, won 123-101 by the home team at TD Garden, wasn't any different. 

The Wizards kept Isaiah Thomas to fewer than 20 points for the third game in a row, but the result was different because the role players such as Avery Bradley (29 points), Jae Crowder (18) and Al Horford (19) made them pay.

"They had a lot of energy coming out in the first quarter," Markieff Morris said after his Wizards took a 4-0 lead only to submit to a 16-0 run by Boston. "They adjusted a little bit and by the time we picked up what they was doing they already had a 16-point lead.

"They were leaking out. They made an adjustment when the ball goes up. ... We're going to make that adjustment. We made it in the game and we stopped it but we were already down 16."

The Wizards smothered Thomas who was just 5-for-13 shooting but created better with nine assists. The shooters around him were open. And if they weren't spotting up around the three-point arc they were getting Boston out to a 15-0 edge in fast-break points.

"We took shots. We didn't do a great job of getting back," John Wall said. "Our guards and bigs didn't do a grat job of getting back and they were just running out for layups and threes."

The Wizards' transition defense was in shambles from the start. Otto Porter took Bradley as he pushed the ball up the floor and Wall didn't position himself to cut off Crowder's angle to the basket on the cut. Bradley made a simple pass for a layup and a 13-4 lead. 

Thomas, who is 5-9, set a pindown screen on Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal to clear the real estate for Horford to step into a three-pointer. These breakdowns came in the first quarter, so fatigue can't be blamed. It was lack of focus.

Every time Wall drove, his defender (Bradley) would hand him off to the bigs in the paint and then he'd sprint to the other end for the outlet. No one shifted to the top to cover Wall upon his dribble penetration to prevent it. 

"They kind of surprised us," Wall said. "They made adjustments. It's something they must've seen ont he film and they killed us in the first quarter."

Morris didn't like how disengaged they were without allowing cutters off the ball to get unobstructed to the rim. When the ball is being trapped out of Thomas' hands, it's inevitable that seams will be created behind the defense. That's where the weak spot is going to be but second effort and recovery can close those off.

"We (weren't) physical enough. We were letting guys cut through the lane without touching them," Morris said. "We know they were going to do that. We were prepaared for that. We did a great job on I.T. but we let too many guys make plays and make shots."

Beal didn't make any of his four three-point attempts. The Celtics had nine more makes from long range with 16, giving them 27 more points than the Wizards in that category. 

"They're doing a good job of changing up their defense a little bit," Beal said. "Try to put I.T. on me a little bit, kind of throw the rhythm of the game off. We take him into the post, we try to hit him and run him off screens as much as possible but they do a good job of knowing my ball screens. They're up, the weakside is pulled over. Isolations? The same thing, the weakside is pulled over. We got to move, get the ball moving. Myself included."

The series heads back to Verizon Center for Game 6 on Friday. If the Wizards can force Game 7, it'll be Monday here. The Wizards would have to win at a venue where they've been unsuccessful since 2014 to advance to the conference finals.

"They beat our ass," Morris said. "We just beat their ass two times in a row. It comes with the game."

[RELATED: Celtics fans chant Oubre's name during Game 5]

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Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener


Dwight Howard improving, but status still unknown entering Wizards' season opener

Dwight Howard may play in the Wizards' regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, but the team will not know until the day of the game and likely won't announce the decision either way until head coach Scott Brooks addresses the media about two hours before tipoff.

Howard only has three practices under his belt but has made significant progress throughout this week after missing all five of the team's preseason games due to a strain in his piriformis muscle.

Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard has looked good in those three practices but has a lot of missed time to make up for.

"I think he's definitely winded at times, but that's part of it," Brooks said.

Brooks added that Howard is not getting the same lift when jumping that he's used to. Howard, 32, is used to playing above the rim and his vertical leap is an important part of his game.

The Wizards play their first two games at home, the second on Saturday against the Raptors. They then embark on a Western Conference road trip beginning with the Blazers on Monday.

Brooks said Howard will "definitely" make that trip with the team, which gives a good indication of how close he is to returning to game action. When Howard is ready to play will be left up to the team's medical staff.

If Howard does miss time, the Wizards are expected to rely on his backup Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Jason Smith would then become the No. 2 center on the depth chart, though they could use forwards like Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at the five-spot.

Howard signed a two-year free-agent deal worth $11 million to join the Wizards in July.


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John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

John Wall and Bradley Beal will depend on each other more than ever in year 7

The Wizards will only go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal take them. There's just no other way around it.

The chemistry between Wall and Beal has been the dominant topic for years surrounding this team, and the magnifying glass will only be pushed closer this season, despite all of the other additions the Wizards made this offseason.

It's all about the backcourt. 

Luckily, both Wizards All-Stars understand and embrace the pressure. 

"We're opposites, but we're the same in a way," Beal told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. "He's more loud and outspoken, I'm more chill and relaxed, but you put us together, it's peanut butter and jelly."

Have you noticed that peanut butter and jelly always seems to be the go-to "good combination" for people? At least Beal didn't say something weird like tuna and bananas, although to each his own if that's what you like.

Anyway, more importantly, Wall understands this sandwich dynamic just as much as Beal does. Especially when the topic of a championship comes up. 

"I couldn't get it without him, and he couldn't do it without me," Wall said.  "I think that's the bond we have built, and it's gotten so much better each year."

One of the biggest reasons for divorce that we see in pro sports is ego. So many players don't understand what Wall alluded to. No matter how good you are, you can't do it alone. You need your wingman.

There were certainly rumblings or worries that Wall and Beal had their issues chemistry-wise earlier in their careers, but we're seeing two young stars grow as each season passes. 

That doesn't mean there still won't be times where they don't click. That's natural.

Keep in mind though, this is the seventh season the two will play together. The NBA is known to chew up and spit out young, inexperienced teams. The grind is part of the journey. Wall and Beal have had playoff success and failures, but they went through it together.

Now comes the time where those learning experiences become something they grow from, and use it to fuel a push to their ultimate goal – a championship.

And maybe a better peanut butter and jelly sandwich.