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Morning tip: Wizards finally establish a real home-court advantage

Morning tip: Wizards finally establish a real home-court advantage

There were three key reasons why president Ernie Grunfeld immediately locked in on Scott Brooks as his next coach, giving him a fully guaranteed five-year deal worth $35 million.

One of those reasons were he wanted to establish a team that actually had a home-court advantage, and that played in a way that inspired the fan base to support them in ways they didn't the previous season. 

That was a difficult task. Before the 2016-17 season began, the energy was missing likely because of the disappointment that accompanied whiffing on Kevin Durant in free agency, a 2-8 start and then the highest-priced free-agent acquistion, Ian Mahinmi, being absent for all but one game. The next highest-paid free agent, Andrew Nicholson, has devolved into a spot-minute player who has had his share of DNP-CD (Meaning, he was available but Did Not Play-Coach's Decision).

December, however, represented a major turnaround. Three consecutive quality wins, vs. the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons and L.A. Clippers, started the momentum. After a 27-point road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Wizards responded by coming back to beat them 107-102 on Dec. 26 at home.

The atmosphere has livened, and it doesn't take until free sandwich promos until the fourth quarter for the crowd to get hyper. The chants of fans for the visiting team can no longer compete. 

Wall, a three-time All-Star, had his issues defending to start the season but he has gotten better and already has 20 double-doubles. Bradley Beal, who signed a $128 million max contract this summer, is playing like he's worth every penny. Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat are playing their best basketball since coming to D.C. and Kelly Oubre looks like a first-round pick. Even among the other lesser-known names, they're playing with a heart and committment under Brook who never wavered.

"It's tremendous," said Beal after a pracitce following that win over Milwaukee. "It's amazing. Just having that support behind us, we need that energy. We need that sixth man behind us. When we go on the road it's everybody against us. We want that same feeling against these other teams."

Wall, who has led them to a 10-5 month, was one assist short of a triple-double a few days later in a win over the Indiana Pacers. He heard "M-V-P" chants repeatedly. It felt like old times, such as two years ago when his broken left hand/wrist likely kept them out of the conference finals. 

"This is what I've seen in the past, the two years I made it to the playoffs," Wall said of 2013-14 and 2014-15 when the Wizards advanced to the conference semifinals before missing out last season. "Without these guys we don't find a way to get that sense of urgency when we're down or when we're up and teams come back. ... They got to understand we enjoy that. We enjoy coming home. We don't want to feel like it's a road game. We got 41 games on the road."

And the Wizards are just 16-16. By no means have they fully turned the corner but they're progressing and have gotten themselves out of an early-season hole. They have an eight-game home win streak and are 13-6 overall.  

They're just 3-10 on the road and have a two-game trip that starts tonight, at the Houston Rockets and Tuesday at the Dallas Mavericks. Come back 2-0, and Friday's home game vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves likely will be taken to another level. 

MORE WIZARDS: Film study: What has gotten into Burke and Smith?

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Watch Rui Hachimura’s shutdown block

Watch Rui Hachimura’s shutdown block

Rui Hachimura continued his dominance in international friendlies Saturday as he put up 31 points and five rebounds in a winning effort over Germany.

After a highlight-reel performance in Thursday's loss to Argentina, Hachimura was back at it two days later.

That block at the 37-second mark is just filthy. It would also be goaltending in the NBA, but FIBA rules allow players to touch the ball at pretty much any time once it's made contact with some part of the hoop. Nevertheless, the athleticism to make this play is what stands out.

But Hachimura wasn't finished.

He looks more like Steph Curry leading that breakaway, dribbling behind his back and finishing at the rim himself than a 6-foot-8 forward.

With the international friendly schedule at its end, Japan will tip off the 2020 FIBA World Cup on Sunday, Sept. 1 against Turkey. After a matchup with the Czech Republic, Hachimura and Japan will take on his future NBA opponents when they face the United States on Sept. 5.

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Maryland native Quinn Cook tells the behind-the-scenes story of his road to the Lakers

Maryland native Quinn Cook tells the behind-the-scenes story of his road to the Lakers

Before he joined the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a blockbuster summer that saw them land Anthony Davis, before he won the NBA Finals as a role player with the Golden State Warriors, and before he averaged double-digit scoring and won the NCAA tournament at Duke, Quinn Cook was a star point guard at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md.

Cook was in town this week for his fourth annual youth basketball camp at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover. NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller sat down with the former Stag, who he’s known since the now-Lakers guard was 14 years old, on the Wizards Talk podcast.

Miller talked with Cook about why he feels connected to kids in the local community and what it was like losing his father as a teenager. One of his closest friends is fellow DeMatha product Victor Oladipo, who helped him get through the loss of his father Ted when he died suddenly in 2008 after going into a coma following a colon procedure.

“My best friend Norman and Victor, their parents took them out of school, and they were with me for two weeks,” Cook said. “At the funeral, [head coach Mike] Jones had the entire DeMatha basketball program…come to the funeral and all sit together [with] their uniforms on.”

Cook also went on to talk about his time at Duke, the viral video in which he convinced some people at the mall he was J Cole and his obsession with winning before going into how he landed in Los Angeles this offseason.

“When Golden State withdrew their qualifying offer, I became unrestricted and had some teams call me and the Lakers thing, it just happened quick,” Cook said. “I had talks with them, AD called me, [LeBron James] called Rob Palinka for me, and Coach K called them, talked to Bron and stuff and we got it done.”

Check out the full podcast below and listen to Miller talk hoops every week on the Wizards Talk podcast.

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