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Morning tip: John Wall 'hopeful' about being All-Star for 4th time

Morning tip: John Wall 'hopeful' about being All-Star for 4th time

The first national TV game for the Wizards couldn't have come at a better time for John Wall, the same night he learned that he wouldn't be a starter in the Feb. 19 All-Star Game in New Orleans. 

So he showed out vs. the New York Knicks -- the same way he did on Christmas Day in a national game en route to his first selection as a starter -- by not just posting a team-high 29 points and game-high 13 assists but sealing the 113-110 win with key plays down the stretch.

"Hopefully, I’m a reserve," said Wall, who finished sixth among East guards despite having the best statistical season of his career and getting his team to 23-19. "There’s a lot of great guards that’s been playing well in the East this year.”

It's no surprise that the two starters, Kyrie Irving (Cavs) and DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), come from the two best teams in the conference. 

[RELATED: NBA All-Star Game 2017 starters announced]

Wall made 11 of 21 shots, grabbed five rebounds and had three steals in addition Thursday. It was his 25th double-double for the only East guard to average one (23.1 points, 10.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 steals). 

With the Knicks taking a 110-109 lead, Wall scored the next four points. The last two came on a rebound off a missed shot and transition basket that was a blur that knocked the air out of Madison Square Garden. 

The Wizards play well there. When Wall made that Christmas visit, the only time he's played in a showcase game on the holiday, he had 24 points, 11 assists and six rebounds. 

After that win, the Wizards were 20-8. They had such a slow start to this season at 2-8 and gained such little attention beyond D.C., not many noticed the progression with Wall as he recovered from surgeries to both knees May 5.

Among the guards who have been selected, and the others hoping to be reserves such as Kyle Lowry and Isaiah Thomas, he's the best defensively when he's playing at his best. As he has been better on that end, the Wizards have won seven of eight games and own a 13-game home win streak that's the longest in the NBA. 

NBA coaches have voted him twice as a reserve. They'll have the chance to do it again when the full teams are announced next Thursday.

"We found a way to get back into the mix of things," Wall said. "We didn't get off to a great start to the season. Hopefully I'll be able to join those guys next week."

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Knicks]

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Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

WASHINGTON -- Wednesday's practice for the Washington Wizards had to be adjusted due to a slew of injuries in their frontcourt. Without enough centers to run a full 5-on-5 scrimmage, head coach Scott Brooks led a walkthrough of plays, highlighting key areas he would like them to focus on as they prepare to go with smaller lineups out of necessity.

One key focus was screen-setting. Without Thomas Bryant for at least the next three weeks, the Wizards have to make up for his absence, as he currently ranks sixth in the NBA in screen assists per game. The Wizards fall in the middle of the league in ball screens and off-screens, but Bryant sets the majority of them.

At the moment, they are also missing Moe Wagner (ankle) and Ian Mahinmi (Achilles), so all three of their natural centers are hurt. That means rookie Rui Hachimura has to fill the void, as he did on Tuesday in the Wizards' loss to the Magic.

And that means Hachimura, though he's undersized for the five-spot at 6-foot-8, is going to have to set some screens.

"If he's the five, he has to hold the screens and be a screen scorer," Brooks said. "He's going to be able to learn that. I think he's going to pick it up tomorrow. I think today he saw it and our coaches are going to show him some film on it and I think you're going to see some improvement there." 

Brooks added that Hachimura struggled setting screens against Orlando. As Brooks described it, Hachimura was slipping out of his picks too early because that's what he's used to as a forward.

Hachimura is third on the Wizards in screen assists behind Bryant and Wagner, but he says he hasn't been a primary screen-setter since high school. Now he has to help his teammates get free by putting a body on the biggest and quickets athletes in the world.

"I have to be physical offensively," he said.

For the Wizards, these big men injuries are coming at a bad time. On Thursday night, they will see the Philadelphia 76ers, who play an unusually big lineup. Hachimura will have to set screens on players who are larger than him. Even Philly's point guard, Ben Simmons, is 6-foot-10.

Hachimura will also have to deal with center Joel Embiid on defense. Embiid may be the best center in basketball and also the most physically imposing.

At 7-feet and 280 pounds, he is a force down low. He leads the NBA in post-ups per game (7.9) and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. He is fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts this season (8.3/g) and was second in the league last year (10.1/g).

Foul trouble is one way the Wizards' frontcourt situation could get even worse. It's something to keep in mind as Hachimura awaits arguably the toughest challenge of his career so far.

"As young players, you've gotta expect the unexpected. Nobody expected we would have these injuries at the five spot," Brooks said.

"He [eventually] has to guard them all. That's what is going to make him valuable to us long-term, so this is good experience."


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Joel Embiid's 76ers are the last team the injury-riddled Wizards need to see

Joel Embiid's 76ers are the last team the injury-riddled Wizards need to see

The timing for Thursday night's clash with the Sixers could not have been worse for the Wizards. 

Not only are they going up against one of the best and biggest teams in the NBA, but they're going to have to do it with a cascade of injuries to their frontcourt. 

Thomas Bryant is out for at least the next three weeks with a right foot injury, and while Moe Wagner and Ian Mahinmi were both upgraded to questionable for Thursday night, neither will be playing at 100 percent and it would be Mahinmi's first game since March 18. 

Scott Brooks will have to rely on Rui Hachimura to continue to give him minutes at center and play more small-ball lineups, which isn't exactly the best recipe for success against Philadelphia. 

Here's a look at some players to watch on the Sixers and what the Wizards can do to slow them down.

Joel Embiid

If Mahinmi gets activated for the first time this season, Embiid would be a big reason why. He's an overwhelming force in the low post and consistently gets opposing bigs in foul trouble with an assortment of timely pump fakes and flops. 

Few players can shut him down one-on-one, so it'd be wise for the Wizards to focus on sending double teams in the right spots to force him to make plays under duress. 

One of Embiid's weaknesses is his passing and decision making when doubled. Given the Sixers' lack of shooting from the outside, Washington may be able to get away with this strategy a few times in this game. 

This is much easier said than done, especially when you look at how the Wizards' defense was unable to keep Orlando, the 29th-ranked offense in the NBA, under 120 points in both meetings this year. 

Ben Simmons

The 15-6 Sixers are still bonafide title contenders, but it has almost everything to do with their defense. Ranked third in the league in defensive efficiency, Philly has unrivaled size down low and length on the perimeter. 

Simmons may be their most important defender with his ability to switch and defend practically every player on the floor and his activity defending ball handlers. 

Add that to his ability to grab a rebound and speed down the floor in transition, and you have a sizeable problem on your hands. The Wizards are the worst team in the NBA at defending in transition. 

On the flip side, Simmons is the main reason the Sixers' offense has underachieved this season. The fact that he is a non-threat from anywhere outside the paint allows teams to pack the paint and prevent dribble penetration. 

We noted how it'd be smart for the Wizards to send double teams at Embiid. When Simmons is on the floor it'll be easier for the Wizards to do that and not give up easy looks Again, easier said than done, especially for this Wizards defense.