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Morning tip: Markieff Morris taxes defenses that fail to account for him

Morning tip: Markieff Morris taxes defenses that fail to account for him

A day off is just what the doctor ordered for Markieff Morris, who sat out the previous game at the Brooklyn Nets to recover from a sore right calf. He responded with his best game of the season Friday vs. a more significant opponent in the Indiana Pacers.

Morris' wide-open three-pointer with 50.6 seconds left held off the last push by Paul George as the Wizards (32-21) now lead the season series 2-1 and already surpass their home win total from a season ago with 23. 

"Felt good," said Morris, who shot 11 of 18, including 3 of 6 on threes. "I had three to four days off. Made some shots."

That included a dunk off a pass from John Wall that caromed, went up in the air, came down and danced into the hoop for an 18-13 lead in the first quarter; a three-pointer for a 75-70 lead at 5:24 of the third quarter; an assist to Bradley Beal for a three-pointer and a 100-96 lead with 4:02 left; and his own three that was the capper in the final minute to help the Wizards clinch it 112-107.

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' impressive win over Pacers]

As Beal missed two free throws with the Wizards up 108-102, Morris ripped away the loose ball rebound from  Kevin Seraphin and proceeded to exchange high fives with fans on the floor before the play ended. Wall would go to the line for more free throws to extend it to a three-possession game with 30 seconds left. It was Morris' 10th rebound and the type of hustle play that has boosted them to new heights in the East.

Indiana tried to defend Morris with Lavoy Allen and he was isolated and dominated at will. Whether it was being faced up or beaten to the basket for a putback, Morris' play overode Paul George's denial defense of Beal and Otto Porter's foul trouble that neutralized the NBA's most accurate three-point shooter. 

"Since the month of January, Keef has been playing great for us," said John Wall, who had a game-high 14 assists. "When teams switch he can post up and score in the post. He's doing a great job of rebounding and defending. He's shooting the three with a lot of confidence. It's paying off for us. A lot of teams leaving him open. They're not leaving Otto and Brad as much so he's the next guy they're leaving open and he's knocking down shots for us."

Morris has had to manage his right foot and ankle issues for a bulk of the season. He initially was injured in a Nov. 19 loss to the Miami Heat when he only played nine minutes before leaving. 

Morris played after that but evetually sat out a Dec. 14 game vs. the Charlotte Hornets. They won without him just like they did in Brooklyn, but the Wizards will have difficulty overcoming Morris' absence against elite teams.

Seven of Morris' eight double-doubles have come since Jan. 8 which has been key to the hot streak that rocketed the Wizards from the bottom of the East into third place. 

He had 24 points and 15 rebounds early in the season in a loss to the Chicago Bulls; 23 and 9 in a win over the L.A. Clippers; 20 and 10 in a win vs. the Milwaukee Bucks;1 7 and 13 in a win over the Portland Trail Blazers; 17 and 12 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies; 19 and 11 in a win over the Boston Celtics; 21 and eight in beating the New Orleans Pelicans; and 24 and 10 in a rout of the N.Y. Knicks. 

"I just had some fresh legs. Made some shots. John put me in great postion to make some plays," Morris said. "And Beal draws a lot of attention... I had the energy."

[RELATED: Markieff Morris not cool with 'Phoenix Outlaws' nickname]

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The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

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USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 

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As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."

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