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Otto Porter will log more time as Wizards' 'stretch' option

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Otto Porter will log more time as Wizards' 'stretch' option

After 49 games, the Wizards are starting to figure out where Otto Porter fits best in the offense. If they're intent on sticking with small lineups, the slight-built small forward may be better off logging more time as a "stretch" power forward.

In Tuesday's game at the New York Knicks, Porter likely will be deployed more this way after his 20 points -- 17 came in the second quarter -- in a 108-104 loss at the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday.

"A lot of his big scoring games are from the four spot," coach Randy Wittman said Monday before the team left for New York. "Dallas comes to mind off the top of my head, playing against (Dirk) Nowitzki. I told him he's got to have the mentality. I wasn't an NBA All-Star but if I had 18 points at halftime I'm sitting there at halftime saying, 'I've got a great chance to get 36 here.'"

Porter, who has been playing through a tear in the connective tissue in his right hip most of the season, only scored two points in the second half vs. Charlotte as the Wizards squandered a 19-point lead. He began the second quarter, next to Drew Gooden at center, by making two quick three-pointers. Porter was 6 of 9 in the first half but only took five shoots, making just one, in the third and fourth quarters.

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When the Wizards (22-27) played without shooting guard Bradley Beal, who'd just gone down a few days prior with a stress reaction in his lower right leg, Porter responded with a career-high 28 points on Dec. 12 vs. the Mavericks in that matchup with Nowitzki. It was during that time Wittman had to experiment with lineups putting Porter there and even Jared Dudley as the five that they had success beating quality teams such as the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers, too.

"He definitely looks comfortable. He has a pace to his game," said Garrett Temple, a shooting guard who has started 29 games in place of Beal but has shifted to the three spot on occasion. "He's quicker than the fours he's playing against. We're not playing against any fours that are just going to post up and go to work. He's long enough to be able to get rebounds as long as he checks his man and goes after it. Him being at the four puts him at the position where he has the advantage on offense. The offensive player doesn't not have an advantage against him when he's on defense. I like him at the four for us. He feels good around that slot area catching and shooting threes too. I feel like that's his spot."

In his fourth season, Porter has had glimpses of living up to his No. 3 draft pick status in 2013. Then he has games like the 106-94 win vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. He was on the floor with the second unit and virtually disappeared. Wittman ran a play specifically for Porter to get jump-started to begin the third quarter but he finished with just five points on 2 of 8 shooting.

"I'd like to see that change in him. I'm not worried about Otto Porter, having to call him over and say, 'Son, you're trying to do too much. You're shooting too much.' I want him to think that way. That helps us," Wittman said. "He knows the game. He's a smart basketball player. Good kid. Works hard. All the things a coach wants in a player.

"Now we got to get that to be a consistent nature of his, being aggressive. That helps him at the other end. He can be a good rebounder. We need help rebounding the ball. ... When Otto's a passive guy (offensively), he's passive in almost every area of the game."

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it

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