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Nene's presence beefs up Wizards on both ends

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Nene's presence beefs up Wizards on both ends

Playing like a team with an attitude, determined to make up for an egregious loss at the Chicago Bulls last month, the tone was far more aggressive Wednesday. As one player explained, it wasn't a change in defensive scheme that was responsible for the 117-96 victory: "No. 42 was in the starting lineup."

That would be Nene, who took over for Marcin Gortat who had "tweaked" his back in pregame warmups. Coach Randy Wittman didn't find out until just before tipoff that he wouldn't have his usual starter there.

Nene, coming off a season-high 20 points in just 16 minutes played off the bench in a 43-point blowout of the Detroit Pistons on Monday, hit the Bulls early with pinpoint passes to cutters for layups, fouls, getting to the basket himself and draining open shots. Nene had 12 points on 4 of 7 shooting and went to the free-throw line eight times alone in the first half. 

"It's a lot smoother when you post him up. He can score in the post one-on-one," said John Wall, who posted his third triple-double of the season with 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. "He knows how to make passes and make plays. It makes the offense a little bit more comfortable."

Nene only took one shot in the first quarter for three points. He had a bounce pass between the legs of Otto Porter to Markieff Morris for a layup. Several other "hockey" assists occurred, too, as Nene made an open jumper for a 15-6 lead and then beat the more athletic Taj Gibson down the floor and drew his second foul less than five minutes in. He did the same thing to Bobby Portis, forcing Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to go to Cristiano Felicio for 17 minutes.

When Nene is on the floor, Porter tends to play better with him because he'll find backdoor cutters. Gortat is more of a pick-and-roll big who won't take advantage of his size and strength in a matchup with Gibson the way Nene does. 

The Wizards have won the season series with Chicago 2-1 as the race for the postseason tightens. 

Gortat started the second half at center and finished with nine points and six rebounds. Nene only played eight minutes after the break.

"Nene, I thought, was fantastic again," Wittman said. 

When the 7-foot Brazilian is engaged at this level, the Wizards have a dimension that no other big on the roster provides. It's why moving him before the season or at the trade deadline though he's in the final year of his contract never was a serious option. Nene or JaVale McGee? Where would the Wizards be if they hadn't swapped one for the other in 2012?

Nene changed the locker room culture and though he's oft-injured the Wizards are competing to go to the playoffs for the third year in a row. McGee is on his third team since leaving. Nene being at half-speed is better than McGee on full blast. 

"Nene is terrific," said shooting guard Bradley Beal. "He is able to shoot the ball, move the ball. He is always a pass-first guy. Sometimes I hate it because I feel like he is the best big who can score for us. Whenever he is out there with the starters, it's awesome. It just spaces the floor and it just creates more havoc."

MORE WIZARDS: Gortat falls out of lineup, then makes surprise appearance

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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. We will get to the game, and we will get to many things done by the Wizards, but we begin with a moment from pregame. Apparently, it was Halloween costume night for the Blazers and Moe Harkless stole the show by dressing up as Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle's Show:

Adam Silver, if you're reading this, please institute a rule requiring every team to do a Halloween costume arrivals night. You owe us this.

2. Okay, now for the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. was one of the stars of the night with 22 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal.

Here is one of his first buckets, a shot off the glass that was not an easy one to get to go down:

3. In the first half, Bradley Beal picked up right where he left off last time he was in Portland when he dropped a career-high 51 points. He had 19 of his 25 total points in the first half, including this baseline drive after a nasty crossover:

4. Markieff Morris also had himself a night. He popped off for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and a career-high six threes. This was an athletic move around the rim you don't often see from Morris:

Was that some jelly from Keef? Not bad.

5. John Wall had a relatively quiet night for his standards with 16 points on 5-for-16 from the field with nine assists. Here was his best play, one of his signature chasedown blocks:

6. Back to Oubre. He was feeling it and even got Steve Buckhantz to drop a 'Tsunami Papi' reference on the broadcast:

For Buckhantz, as Oubre would say, "the wave is free."

7. Beal went cold in the third quarter, missing his first seven shots of the second half. But he got his groove back when the Wizards needed it most.

This three answered a go-ahead shot by Nik Stauskas and forced overtime:

Beal was super pumped:

8. Two of Morris' six threes came in overtime, including this one to help seal the victory. Morris knocked one down with only 38.5 seconds left and it put the Wizards up by four:

9. Wall helped put the Blazers down for good with a bank shot from the elbow. Some might say it was lucky, while others would say he called game:

Wall even had to hit the Blazers with a Jordan shrug. Portland has seen that before.

10. The Blazers had a chance in the final seconds, but Otto Porter Jr. put the finishing touches on the win with this block on Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater attempt. Though Porter didn't have huge numbers - he scored 16 points - his fingerprints were all over this win:

What an incredible game. We can all agree the Wizards and Blazers should play more often. Well, maybe not the Blazers. The Wizards have had a lot of fun at their expense in recent years.

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Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Wild game, huge win: Though it was just the third game of the regular season, it felt like the Wizards needed this one. They had just lost their first two games to teams missing key players and battling through the second nights of back-to-backs. And up next is the defending-champion Warriors.

Lose this one and the Wizards could have put themselves in a very tough early season hole, but they rallied to overcome a sluggish offensive start to the second half to secure their first victory of the season.

Considering the alternative, this was about as important a win could be this early in the year.

Oubre showed some life: The shots finally started falling for Kelly Oubre Jr. After shooting just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 for three in his first two games, Oubre broke out with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 3-for-3 from three in this one. He also added six rebounds, a steal and a block.

To his credit, Oubre didn't force anything out of frustration after the way he started the season. He began the night by calmly knocking down a three from the slot, then attacking the rim for a shot off the glass a play later. Oubre was aggressive getting into the lane and scored with both hands.

This was, quite easily, Oubre's best performance so far in 2018-19, including the preseason. He was active deflecting the ball on defense and played controlled, intelligent basketball on offense. 

There were many plays he made that won't show up in the box score that helped lead the Wizards to their win; deflections, a huge charge taken in the final minutes of overtime. He was absolutely locked in.

Now, there were some lowlights. Oubre let several players get by him too easily, including Evan Turner and Jake Layman. Oubre has the tools to stay in front of those guys. But all in all, Oubre made a big difference in this game and that was good to see.

Morris balled out: While Oubre had his best game in the past few weeks, Markieff Morris may have had his best performance in a Wizards uniform. The Wizards forward exploded for 28 points in 25 minutes with nine rebounds, a block and a steal. He set a career-high with six threes made on 10 attempts.

Two of Morris' threes came in overtime, including one with 38.5 seconds left to put the Wizards up by four. His role in closing out the win in Portland brought back memories of his game-winner in the same building in March of 2017.

Morris is one of the biggest wild cards on the Wizards because it's not always clear which version of him they are going to get. When he's at his best, he's hitting outside shots and playing physical defense. He did that and more on Monday night.

With Dwight Howard out, the Wizards need Morris to step up. Though he didn't exactly do that in their first two games, Morris came to play in this one.

Beal went off early: This game was billed as the return of Bradley Beal to the Moda Center where he dropped a career-high 51 points last December. It took him a bit to get going, but once he did, Beal caught fire and scored at a pace that for a while was reminiscent of that amazing night.

Beal had 19 points in the first half on 8-for-12 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. But then he cooled off a bit in the second half and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and one block. He had zero turnovers.

Beal has now scored at least 25 points in five straight games against the Blazers. Clearly, he likes playing in Portland but one reason for his success against them may deal with C.J. McCollum. 

Beyond the fact facing one of the best shooting guards in the NBA may bring the best out of him, Beal is a tough cover for McCollum because he's more athletic. He's a tick faster and can get higher on his jumpshot. 

McCollum is an underrated defender, but Beal kept him off balance with well-timed pump fakes and consistently got open off screens. Beal's points were mostly within the rhythm of the offense. He was moving consistently without the ball and using the smallest of separation to get his shots off.

Beal also deserves credit for his defense against McCollum. The Blazers star was limited to 13 points on 5-for-25 from the field and 1-for-9 from three. 

Damian Lillard also had a rough shooting night. He had 29 points, but on 7-for-21 from the field and 2-for-10 from three. Many of his points came at the free throw line where he went 13-for-15, 13 of his attempts in the first half.

Two centers are now hurt: The day began with head coach Scott Brooks sharing some bad news about Howard, who not only did not make the trip with the Wizards but is likely to miss at least several more games. Not too long into this game, they lost their backup center, too.

Ian Mahinmi was subbed out after getting two quick fouls and never returned. He went to the locker room to get treated with back spasms, leaving the Wizards perilously thin at the center position. They had to rely on Jason Smith and using forwards Markieff Morris and Jeff Green in small-ball lineups. Thomas Bryant still didn't get the nod.

Back spasms do not sound serious, but any time Mahinmi is unavailable puts a strain on the Wizards. It brings into focus the fact the Wizards have not one, but two roster spots currently vacant. 

 

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