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Morning tip: Noticeable loss of toughness without Nene

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Morning tip: Noticeable loss of toughness without Nene

As the Wizards were spiraling out of control during a three-game losing streak, hemorrhaging turnovers and leading the coach to clash with his starting center, more than one person close to the situation pointed out the fix they needed. Nene, who had missed a game with back spasms, is the rock on which the revitalization of the franchise -- and its last two playoff appearances -- was built.

Saturday, in a 108-99 victory vs. the Orlando Magic, the mesaurables said this: nine points on 4 of 8 shooting, six rebounds, three assists and one block in 20 minutes. The unmeasurables: Defense to slow down Nikola Vucevic, rotating properly to seal off baseline drives to help perimeter teammates, the inability of the Magic to collapse on him with the ball because of how he always makes the right reads with the ball and, of course, toughness. The latter is a word that's rarely used in relation to the 7-footer who has moved from starting power forward to backup center.

"His physicality is key. That's what he's always had. He's one of the strongest guys from that type of standpoint of being moved," coach Randy Wittman said. "If I got the spot, you're not moving him off that spot. I thought he came in that first quarter, we were kind of teetering there midway through and I called a quick timeout. When he came in, he got us solidified better defensively there."

The Magic shot 60% in the first quarter when Vucevic was 5 of 7. But only one of those field goals came when Nene entered for Marcin Gortat at 4:29.

Immediately, Nene snatched a rebound in traffic away from guard Elfrid Payton then assisted Gary Neal with a nice bounce pass for a layup on a give-and-go to tie the score at 21. When the Magic's defense sucked in on him in the mid-post, Ramon Sessions cut to the basket and Nene found him with a pass over the top for a layup. 

With 3:34 left in the second quarter, Vucevic made one more field goal on a 17-foot fadeaway, but the Brazilian went strong to the basket himself for a finger-roll layup. 

In other words, because of how Nene bodied Vucevic off of his spot, he was relegated to taking shots farther from the rim. Nene, who played in a pace-and-space offense when he spent all of his career with the Denver Nuggets before being traded to Washington in 2012, couldn't be more comfortable in this role and got to the rim at will. Even if it didn't result in a basket for him, it broke down Orlando's defense.

"Nene's probably our best passing big. Someone that when you give him single coverage that can score one-on-one which is huge and he's a physical defender. He's someone if you come across the lane, he's going to put a little wood on you. He can rebound the ball. You saw he dunked a couple people today," said forward Jared Dudley who comes off the bench with Nene. "You need that. You need an enforcer down there, especially with the second unit.

"With the second unit what we try to do is we go small with myself and we try to space the floor. It gives them more of a lane. Defensively we lose a little bit when it comes to rebounding and that's when you need him, myself. Try to box out as best we can so we can get out and run a little bit more."

After not playing well in the season opener in Orlando, a game the Wizards still won 88-87, Nene has been steady. He has shot 19-for-30 in the last six games in which he has played. He wasn't available for the 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, a game in which Wittman lamented his team allowing themselves to be pushed around. 

That doesn't happen with the Brazilian. There's so much nuance to his game. He seals multiple defenders with his box outs and enormous wingspan, preventing them from getting loose balls and rebounds so his own teammates can have a clear path for recovery. Nene doesn't complain about his numbers because he realizes that his sacrifices are key to the Wizards winning. His teammates realize it, as do his coaches, though most on the outside looking in don't see it. 

“He’s a lot different than Marcin," said point guard John Wall. "Marcin uses his height. Nene uses more of his hands and quickness. Nene uses his power against guys. Vucevic is a heck of a player. I feel like he can be an All-Star in this league at any time. A lot of guys on their team can make plays and they’re one of the toughest teams to play because they’re always playing hard.”

Nene, 33, played harder. He just can't play starter's minutes anymore. The only question is if he can play a full season given his repeated health issues. 

MORE WIZARDS: Always will be spots in NBA for players like Garrett Temple

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Bradley Beal receives zero All-NBA votes, which itself is a snub

Bradley Beal receives zero All-NBA votes, which itself is a snub

On Thursday the NBA revealed the All-NBA teams for the 2017-18 season.

Not surprisingly, Bradley Beal and John Wall did not make it to one of the three five-player teams. Of the two superstars, only Wall has been recognized once in his career.

What is surprising is that neither Beal nor Wall received a single vote in the whole process, especially Beal.

The 2017-18 season was without question the best in Beal’s career. He played in all 82 games, coming right off of the heals of his All-Star recognition. Beal seems to agree in his snubbing, tweeting this minutes after the teams were announced:

Looking at the list of players who made the top three teams, it shouldn’t be an issue, but these three guys got more votes than the Wizards' duo combined: Steven Adams, Trevor Ariza, and Dwight Howard. It is not surprising that Beal and Wall did not make an All-NBA team. It is odd that Beal didn’t receive a vote.

Here is a list of the full All-NBA Teams:

ALL-NBA FIRST TEAM: 

LeBron James (Cavaliers), James Harden (Rockets), Anthony Davis (Pelicans), Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers), Kevin Durant (Warriors)

ALL-NBA SECOND TEAM:

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), Russell Westbrook (Thunder), Joel Embiid (76ers), LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors)

ALL-NBA THIRD TEAM:

Stephen Curry (Warriors), Victor Oladipo (Pacers), Karl-Anthony Towns (Timberwolves), Jimmy Butler (Timberwolves), Paul George (Thunder)

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