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State of the Wizards: 3-point defense better; LeBron never fouls out

State of the Wizards: 3-point defense better; LeBron never fouls out

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Three-point defense improving - Three-point defense was a glaring weakness for the Wizards last season when they were 28th in the NBA in opponents three-point percentage. This year those struggles continued for the first few months, as the Wizards ranked 27th in the category on Jan. 1, after 32 games. But in the month-plus since, the Wizards have gotten much better. In the 19 games since New Year’s, the Wizards are seventh in basketball, keeping opponents to a modest 34.6 percentage from three.

That improvement was put to the test on Monday against the Cavaliers, who make more threes than anyone in the East (13/g). They hit 19 of their 38 attempts (50%) against the Wizards and both LeBron James and Kevin Love hit six apiece. 

The Cavs game, however, was not indicative of how good the Wizards have been lately and that improvement has been noticed by coach Scott Brooks and his players:

Brooks: "We've done a better job of staying in front of our man and not helping as much. It's being able to contest on the catch and not a second late. There are so many great shooters in this league. A lot of the great teams spread you out all over the floor. But we've done a great job contesting the three-point line. That's something that we struggled with the first month of the season. We're better, but we still have room to improve in that area. We've talked about it the last couple of weeks, the unneccessary help we have to eliminate. There's a fine line with that, but our guards and our bigs are starting to have really good chemistry together on the defensive end."

John Wall: "I think just understanding our positions defensively. We have been switching a lot lately to try to make guys go and finish at the rim."

LeBron James never fouls out - The Wizards saw LeBron foul out just :47 seconds into overtime on Monday night. It turns out that was just the fifth time he has ever fouled out in 1,233 games, including the playoffs. The last time he did foul out was Jan. 10, 2014. Monday was just the second time he has fouled out since April 2 of 2008.

LeBron basically fouls out one every 2.8 seasons, so what Wizards fans witnessed at the Verizon Center on Monday was quite rare. Just take a look at some things which have happened more often than LeBron fouling out since he entered the league in 2003:

- MLB perfect games: 7
- MLB no-hitters: 16
- Olympics (summer and winter) 7
- NBA 60-point games: 12
- NBA 11 threes games: 11
- NBA 11-block games: 8
- NHL 6-point games: 14
- NFL 6-passing TD games: 17
- NFL 500-yd. passing games: 12

There have only been four presidential elections since LeBron entered the league, meaning he fouls out only slightly more often than the U.S. elects presidents.

(Via Basketball Reference, Hockey Reference, Football Reference, Baseball Reference)

Lue recalls playing with Jordan - Speaking of the Cavs, their head coach Tyronn Lue recalled his days playing for the Wizards (2001-03) during his pregame media session on Monday. Naturally, playing with Michael Jordan stands out:

“Just Jordan. He brought all the energy to the city, up to the games. it was sold out for two straight years. I think they had lost for five straight years and his two years being back, they made up for all of that. Just his buzz in the city, just Michael Jordan being who he is, the best player of all time, that buzz created a lot of stuff for this city.”

Lue said he still has a bunch of memoralbilia from those days:

“A lot. A jersey (Wizards/Bulls, also game-worn shoes - two pairs signed) We got it done. We got it taken care of. I earned it by playing hard every night. That’s all I could give him. That’s how I earned it. ... I got a nice museum. A really good collection, a very, very nice collection. I pride myself on that collection.”

[RELATED: Wall, Beal thank Wizards fans on Instagram after Cavs game]

Eastern Conference standings

Stat line of the week: John Wall 2/2 vs. Lakers - 33 points, 11 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, block, 8-for-10 FT

[RELATED: LeBron admits he got away with travel vs. Wizards]

Quote of the Week

"Honestly, it's the best feeling in the world seeing all the fans in yellow leaving with two minutes left."

- Bradley Beal to Glenn Consor in his postgame walk-off interview on Feb. 2 after beating the Lakers

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Schedule at a glance

Mon. - 140-135 (OT) loss to Cavs
Tue. - OFF
Wed. - 7:30 p.m. at Nets
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 8 p.m. vs. Pacers
Sat. - OFF
Sun. - OFF

[RELATED: Barkley and Shaq say John Wall is East's best point guard]

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Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

Aces' Liz Cambage tells Mystics forwards to 'get in the weight room or get out of the post'

One of the WNBA’s most dominant players is Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces. She’s unforgiving, wears her heart on her chest, and is truly one of a kind.

When the center is playing her finest basketball no one in the league can stop her. Sunday's Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Washington Mystics had Cambage playing at her finest. 

Matching her season-high, Cambage waltzed to 28 points in only 27 minutes of playing time. Several Mystics took their turn at trying to slow her down. Every Mystic had a chance to help at least at double-teaming the Ace's leading scorer. Primarily it was Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders that drew the assignment responsibility, but everyone had a role.

It did not matter in Las Vegas. Throughout the whole contest, Cambage rolled over the interior of the Mystics defense. She scored at ease as the tallest player on either roster for the Mystics and the Aces. 

The Australian knew she could not be stopped. Postgame she analyzed why she was able to command the post so well on ESPN2’s broadcast. In the process, she put several Mystics on blast. 

“They got small forwards guarding me. If they can’t handle it, get in the weight room or get out of the post. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my thing inside,” Cambage told Kim Adams.

She’s talking about the 6-4 Meesseman, the 6-3 Sanders. But it doesn't matter whomever the Mystics put on the 6-8 Cambage, there will be a significant matchup advantage for the Aces. 

Not only does she have a clear edge in her height, but she does her build as well. Cambage possesses the ideal structure of a WNBA center. She stands at 216 pounds, 30 pounds more than either of the Mystics primary defenders on her. Sanders’ lanky frame has its advantages in the Mystics run-and-gun offense, but not what you see from a stereotypical center. Meesseman is a better matchup defensively, size-wise but she spots Cambage five inches. 

This is not an oddity though for Washington. There are a minute few in the WNBA that can walk alongside Cambage. As the third-tallest player in the league, only the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittany Griner (6-9) and the New York Liberty’s Han Xu (6-9) position higher.

Despite the clear physical dominance, Cambage is erratic at times. While she wears her emotions, those also tend to get her in trouble with her aggressive play and in dealing with officials. When frustrated, sometimes she struggles to even get a shot on rim.  

This is partly why Cambage’s play was highlighted so much in Game 3. The first two games of the series had Cambage as her own worst enemy. Visibly she was upset with some calls and non-calls by the officials. Timely fouls also limited her flow on the court. 

Neither was the case in Game 3. Fouls went her way. She even got away with a brash elbow to Meesseman’s face why trying to keep the lane clear. The non-call resulted in Mike Thibault losing his cool and getting a technical foul.

It’s also not the first time that Cambage has flailed an elbow to Meesseman. Game 2 saw her earn a technical foul for that same behavior. 

Either way, Cambage is a matchup nightmare against the Mystics. During the regular season, the Mystics – led by Sanders’ defense – kept Cambage to under 15 points in all three of their matchups. In three games in this series, the 28-year-old has 19, 23 and 28 points; progressively getting better in each game. 

Washington still holds a 2-1 lead and is a game away from returning to the WNBA Finals. However, they have to find an answer to slow down the tenacious Cambage. 


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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

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Emma Meesseman struggles and 4 other observations from Mystics-Aces Game 3

The Washington Mystics lost to the Las Vegas Aces 92-75 on Sunday evening in Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals. Here are five observations from the game.

1. There is an argument to be made that the two most talented teams remaining in the WNBA playoffs are facing each other in the Semifinals, that the toughest team the Mystics will see in the postseason are these Las Vegas Aces, even if they end up advancing. Sunday served a reminder of the Aces' top-end talent, as they punched back to avoid a sweep with a Game 3 win, ensuring these teams will play at least one more time.

The Mystics had three opportunities to clinch the series, now they have two. Their next chance will be Tuesday, again in Las Vegas. If Sunday's game was any indication, they will meet a raucous Aces crowd once again at Mandalay Bay.

2. To find where things went wrong for the Mystics, look no further than the second quarter where midway through they got their doors blown off leading into halftime. Washington was up 33-31 with 5:13 left in the second quarter when the Aces closed the frame on a 16-4 run. They outscored the Mystics 24-13 in the quarter overall.

It was ugly. The Mystics couldn't hit a shot and lost control on offense. They had eight turnovers in the quarter and many of them proved costly. They scored only four points in the final seven minutes of the half. Their 37 points at halftime tied a season-low.

The trouble continued in the third, as the Mystics were outdone 32-25. But the momentum shifted in that second quarter and Washington never got it back. After scoring 102 points in Game 2, they topped out at 75 in this one.

3. The Mystics had no answer for the Aces' dynamic duo of Liz Cambage and A'ja Wilson. Cambage put up 28 points with six rebounds, two steals and a block. She shot an impeccable 12-for-15 from the field.

It was the type of performance where if you only saw this game, you would think she was the most dominant player in the WNBA. At 6-foot-9, all the Aces had to do on some plays was throw the ball up the air where only she could get it.

Wilson was a force on both ends of the floor. She had 21 points, eight boards, two blocks and two steals. She made five of her first six shots and finished 8-for-14 overall.

The first quarter saw Cambage, Wilson and Kayla McBride score all of the Aces' points. They went to work thanks to point guard Kelsey Plum's ability to penetrate and set up open shots. Plum had nine points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Speaking of Plum, people were mad online this week about an NBA writer saying she is the 'James Harden of the WNBA.' Many thought the comparison was unnecessary and also simplistic because they are left-handed guards.

Set aside the outrage and it is simply just a bad take. Harden is known for playing patiently, if slowly, while Plum is the fastest player on the court.

4. The star of this series before Sunday was undoubtedly Emma Meesseman, who was able to score even more points in Game 1 than she did in Game 2, even though she had been moved up the scouting report. In Game 3, she finally went cold, managing only six points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field and 0-for-2 from three.

Though Meesseman had eight points, three assists and two steals, she missed a series of open shots and also didn't have a great game defensively. There were several breakdowns that allowed Cambage open paths to the rim and on a few occasions Meesseman was to blame. 

Meesseman is an X-factor for the Mystics and so far the game results have matched her individual production. When she plays well, it changes everything.

LaToya Sanders, who had 17 points in Game 2, also struggled. She had only four points in 24 minutes. That wouldn't have been a problem if she wasn't taking shots, but she went 2-for-9 from the field as the Aces left her open on several occasions. 

They bet on the fact Sanders isn't usually an offensive threat, especially from the outside, and this time it worked out for them. It would be understandable if Sanders had some extra confidence after what she did in Game 2, but Game 3 was a reminder that her best role is as a defensive specialist.

Meesseman and Sanders' shooting woes contributing to an overall bad night for the Mystics. They shot 38.6 percent collectively. That's not what you expect from the most efficient scoring team in WNBA history.

5. The eight turnovers in the second quarter were an extreme, but giveaways proved a major difference. They had 13 total in this game, far more than the six they had in each of the first two games this series.

The Mystics are the best team in the WNBA at protecting the ball. And so far this series, the Aces have proven quite dangerous in transition when they can push the pace off of missed baskets or miscues. 

Washington will have to clean that up moving forward, especially Ariel Atkins, who had five all by herself. Also, Natasha Cloud had zero turnovers with 14 assists through the first two games, but had three giveaways in this one alone.