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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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John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

WASHINGTON -- The steady progress continues for John Wall in his rehab from a ruptured left Achilles tendon, as the Wizards point guard is now facing teammates in 4-on-4 drills at practice.

Head coach Scott Brooks described the games as "controlled," noting they were not full-speed or with contact and featured a 10-second shot clock. But that remains a notable step in his road back after he had previously been playing mostly against player development coaches.

"He practiced for the whole practice. He looked great," Brooks said. "There is still a ways to go. But his energy, his enthusiasm, his strength [looks good]. His shot looks better."

Wall, 29, hasn't played in a game since Dec. 26 of 2018. He had surgery on his Achilles on Feb. 12, 2019. He is currently over 11 months into what is typically an 11-to-15 month recovery.

Brooks, though, makes a point to couch positive updates about Wall with patience. The team has indicated he may not play at all this season.

"I don't know if he plays this year," Brooks said. "We can be patient and we're going to be patient because we need him to be right for a lot of years. This is his career and we know how serious that injury is. He's taking it serious."

Part of the equation is the financial commitment the Wizards have made in Wall. He is due roughly $131.5 million over the next three seasons. They want to make sure he is good to go not just for this year, but that he can be effective for the remainder of his contract.

According to Brooks, even having Wall back to this level has added some positive energy to the Wizards' organization.

"I know the excitement is around because he's around and he's looking [good]," Brooks said. "When he comes back, he's going to be the John Wall we all love."

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5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

The Wizards' 29-point loss to the Raptors on Friday night was the 41st game of the year, meaning Washington's 2019-20 regular season is officially halfway through.

With that in mind, here are five observations from the season so far; some expected and some unexpected...

They are who we thought they were

In some ways, this season has gone exactly how most thought it would. Bradley Beal has been an All-Star level player, but poor defense and an inexperienced roster around him has led to a team headed safely towards the lottery. They are 13-28 after 41 games, meaning they are on pace to win 26 on the season.

That's about what Vegas predicted, as evidenced by over/under win totals that stayed around 28.5. And that's what most reasonable forecasts had them being; a team with intriguing talent that was probably a year away from contending for the playoffs again.

Sheppard has found some guys

The early returns on the Tommy Sheppard era are good and that should be seen as one of the most important positives of this season so far. Just look at the gems he has acquired in a relatively short period of time as general manager. He drafted Rui Hachimura, a plug-and-play guy, with the ninth overall pick. He got Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga in trades basically for nothing. 

He got Garrison Mathews out of nowhere. He signed Ish Smith instead of giving more money to Tomas Satoransky. And even his minor deals with guys like Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have impressed to a degree.

It is very early in his tenure, but Sheppard is showing he has the ability to find diamonds in the rough, a skill that is one of the biggest separators between GMs.

It has also become evident on social media that Sheppard is gaining some clout among fans. Given the previous distrust in the front office, that is definitely worth noting.

The injuries have been ridiculous

Though injuries happen to every team and they are ultimately no excuse, the health of the Wizards has undoubtedly been a major part of their season to this point. They have had as many as eight players missing at times due to injury, or in other words more than half of their roster.

That has included two hardship exceptions and the players acquired as a result were even starting at times. Their best players have been hurt, even Beal who had previously played 194 straight games. Lately, they have been getting healthy, but the rash of injuries was enough to leave its mark on their 2019-20 campaign as a whole.

Beal may or may not be sold on the future

Though this season has mostly gone as expected, it has been fair to wonder how Beal has handled it all, given he is far and away their best player. He signed a contract extension to be part of this, but he's used to winning more games and it's only natural for him to be frustrated with how things have gone.

Beal backed up those theories with his comments this week about the team's culture, and the whole situation is going to be worth watching closely moving forward. The Wizards' best player appears to be a bit anxious about the franchise's future. Whether they can match their timeline to contend with his remains to be seen.

The Wall thing is going to get interesting

This was also pretty easy to call going into this season. Now over 11 months into his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, John Wall is making steady progress towards a return and the debates of whether he should come back this season or not are coming into focus. 

The discourse was taken up a notch recently with NBC Sports Washington's report about him playing in three-on-three scrimmages, and then again days after with video of those games. Though he isn't quite ready to come back, he is looking good and there are still three months remaining in the Wizards' season. 

Will he be ready one month from now, or two? Even if he is, will the Wizards bring him back or wait until next season? Those are major questions with no easy answers.

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