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Morning tip: John Wall enters MVP territory in domination of Thunder

Morning tip: John Wall enters MVP territory in domination of Thunder

Where does John Wall rank among point guards in the East is a popular topic of conversation. In a discussion with CSNmidatlantic.com last week, he didn't mince his words though he was respectful of Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. 

"I feel like I'm the best point guard. There's a lot of great guards in the Eastern Conference. Kyrie does a great job doing what he does. Isaiah does what he does," said Wall, who had his 34th double-double Monday in a 120-98 wipeout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. "We're all different type of point guards. I'm just all-around, do-everything. I'm the best point guard -- 20 points, 10 assists almost five rebounds, two steals -- play defense against every point guard on the opposing team."

The latter point Wall made is key, given that he doesn't get hidden defensively the way Irving and Thomas do against their tougher assignments at the position. But Wall's final words will end up being the most significant after his 15 point, game-high 14 assists and five rebounds had his team ahead by as many as 34 points Monday.

"You win," Wall said, "you get recognized."

The Wizards (33-21) have won 19 of 20 games at Verizon Center. They've won nine of their last 10 games overall. They're in third in the conference, just 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers.

If they hold this form, Wall may need to broaden his scope. He not only would be more widely regarded as the best at his position in the East but in the MVP conversation.

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win over Thunder]

Wall dominated his matchup with Russell Westbrook on Monday. Unlike the Nov. 30 matchup when Westbrook had 35 points (on 35 shots), 14 rebounds and 11 assists as Wall rounded himself into shape after offseason surgeries to both knees, Westbrook couldn't get to the rim to finish.

The help from Marcin Gortat can't be understated, but Wall did the job in ways that his point guard counterparts cannot against the triple-double machine. Westbrook was 5-for-19 shooting for justs 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. 

"The focus was to stop Westbrook," Wizards forward Markieff Morris said. "That's what we did tonight. We just tried to make it real hard for him, play physical. We had a great third quarter and that put the game away."

Leading 67-54 at halftime, the Thunder were outscored 34-19. Including the end of the second quarter, they had a drought of 24 consecutive misseds shots. Westbrook was 0-for-4 in the third. Wall was just 1-for-2 for three points there but he dished out seven of his assists that included a between-the-legs pass to Otto Porter in transition for a dunk. 

[RELATED: Thunder at a loss to explain 24 missed shots in a row against Wizards]

Wall has responded to every challenge of an elite point guard with a better performance. Thomas lit up the Wizards for 20 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter of Boston's win on Jan. 11. Wall, who was playing with a mangled right pinkie and a swollen left wrist in shooting 4-for-21, came back with 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a blowout of the Celtics two weeks later in the "funeral" game. 

Irving went for 29 points in a Nov. 11 win over the Wizards, and even though the Cavs won in a thriller overtime game last week at Verizon Center, Wall contributed to Irving shooting just 8-for-24.

Wall already has achieved one of his goals to be an All-Star for the fourth time. He also wants to be All-NBA for the first time, too, feeling he was overlooked two seasons ago for the more popular Irving who was on the better team.

Irving still has the better team as the Cavs are defending champions, but a lot of that has to do with LeBron James. Wall has been the best player on a team with a starting five that has scored in double figures together an NBA-leading 21 times.  

The disrespect that Wall has felt after leading the Wizards to the conference semifinals in two of the last three years -- averaging a double-double with a broken left hand in a series with the Atlanta Hawks -- likely will come to an end if he can close this season as strongly as his team has been closing out victories. 

The 29 other GMs who failed to give him a single nod among the league's best passers? They'll remember his name because the national TV dates such as this game vs. Westbrook will continue to add up, too.

"That (doesn't) really matter to me," Wall said when asked about being in the MVP conversation. "If I get there, I get there. As long as we're winning,  playing the way we are, I'm happy with that part."

Make no mistake, Wall craves to be mentioned as the East's best point guard. To be included with Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Curry on the bigger stage, however, is another level and he'll bring 14 other players with him. 

[RELATED: Wizards happy to get Brooks win against his former team]

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Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

One of the WNBA’s most dominant players is Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces. She’s unforgiving, wears her heart on her chest, and is truly one of a kind.

When the center is playing her finest basketball no one in the league can stop her. Sunday's Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Washington Mystics had Cambage playing at her finest. 

Matching her season-high, Cambage waltzed to 28 points in only 27 minutes of playing time. Several Mystics took their turn at trying to slow her down. Every Mystic had a chance to help at least at double-teaming the Ace's leading scorer. Primarily it was Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders that drew the assignment responsibility, but everyone had a role.

It did not matter in Las Vegas. Throughout the whole contest, Cambage rolled over the interior of the Mystics defense. She scored at ease as the tallest player on either roster for the Mystics and the Aces. 

The Australian knew she could not be stopped. Postgame she analyzed why she was able to command the post so well on ESPN2’s broadcast. In the process, she put several Mystics on blast. 

“They got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside,” Cambage told Kim Adams.

She’s talking about the 6-4 Meesseman, the 6-3 Sanders. But it doesn't matter whomever the Mystics put on the 6-8 Cambage, there will be a significant matchup advantage for the Aces. 

Not only does she have a clear edge in her height, but she does her build as well. Cambage possesses the ideal structure of a WNBA center. She stands at 216 pounds, 30 pounds more than either of the Mystics primary defenders on her. Sanders’ lanky frame has its advantages in the Mystics run-and-gun offense, but not what you see from a stereotypical center. Meesseman is a better matchup defensively, size-wise but she spots Cambage five inches. 

This is not an oddity though for Washington. There are a minute few in the WNBA that can walk alongside Cambage. As the third-tallest player in the league, only the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittany Griner (6-9) and the New York Liberty’s Han Xu (6-9) position higher.

Despite the clear physical dominance, Cambage is erratic at times. While she wears her emotions, those also tend to get her in trouble with her aggressive play and in dealing with officials. When frustrated, sometimes she struggles to even get a shot on rim.  

This is partly why Cambage’s play was highlighted so much in Game 3. The first two games of the series had Cambage as her own worst enemy. Visibly she was upset with some calls and non-calls by the officials. Timely fouls also limited her flow on the court. 

Neither was the case in Game 3. Fouls went her way. She even got away with a brash elbow to Meesseman’s face why trying to keep the lane clear. The non-call resulted in Mike Thibault losing his cool and getting a technical foul.

It’s also not the first time that Cambage has flailed an elbow to Meesseman. Game 2 saw her earn a technical foul for that same behavior. 

Either way, Cambage is a matchup nightmare against the Mystics. During the regular season, the Mystics – led by Sanders’ defense – kept Cambage to under 15 points in all three of their matchups. In three games in this series, the 28-year-old has 19, 23 and 28 points; progressively getting better in each game. 

Washington still holds a 2-1 lead and is a game away from returning to the WNBA Finals. However, they have to find an answer to slow down the tenacious Cambage. 

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.

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