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Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win over OKC Thunder

Takeaways from Wizards' blowout win over OKC Thunder

The Wizards allowed Russell Westbrook to beat them the last time these teams met. On Monday, they frustrated him into one of his worst games of the season and blew out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 120-98, in the third sellout at Verizon Center in front of 20,356.

Bradley Beal (22 points) jump-started the Wizards by making 6 of 7  three-pointers while John Wall (15 points, 14 assists) orchestrated the offense as they’ve won 19 of 20 at home to avenge an overtime loss in Oklahoma City on Nov. 30. In that game, Russell Westbrook hit a three-pointer to force the extra session and win 126-115.

This time, Washington (33-21) left no doubt. The home record is 23-7, the most wins in franchise history before the All-Star break with one game remaining Thursday vs. the Indiana Pacers. The previous high was 21 in 1978-79.

Westbrook (17 points, four assists) was kept under control, shooting just 5-for-19 and and playing just 24 minutes. No other starter for the Thunder scored in double figures with Andre Roberson, Domantas Sabonis, and Victor Oladipo combining to score 12 points. Steven Adams (nine points, 11 rebounds) was their only other significant contributor.

Markieff Morris (game-high 23 points, six rebounds) and Marcin Gortat (12 points, three blocks) dominated inside. Otto Porter (18 points, 12 rebounds) had his 10th double-double while Wall posted his 34th. Trey Burke (11 points) and Jason  Smith (nine points, six rebounds) led a bench that added 30 points.

All five starters for Washington scored in double figures for an NBA-leading 21st time.

--The Wizards made 63 percent of their shots in the first half when they led 67-54. When the third quarter began, the Wizards went on a 24-3 run that was highlighted by a between-the-legs assist from Wall to Porter in transition for a dunk. Oklahoma City missed 24 shots in a row, including the end of the second quarter.

--Gortat’s help behind Wall to keep Westbrook out of the paint was exceptional. Westbrook didn’t have those runs to the rim where he dunked without traffic. The Wizards kept him angled from the rim and Gortat had three blocks in the first 24 minutes. They began the game by getting Gortat vs. Adams in isolations and he made both shots.

--Beal had the Thunder’s best one-on-one defender, Roberson, in foul trouble early. He attacked his closeout on the three-point line from the corner and Roberson had his second foul less than three minutes in.

--Morris was able to isolate at his position, too, adding to the difficulty the Thunder had in putting out the multiple fires being set all over the floor. He made 6 of 9 in the first half in his matchup with Sabonis, who wasn't strong enough and couldn't stay in front of Morris.

--Wizards coach Scott Brooks had to go back to most of his starters after his reserves played sloppy to begin the fourth. They scored 101 through the first three quarters but 23 turnovers for the game are too many. The Thunder only could turn those into 14 points.

--Wall entered the game with a sore left ankle that had kept him from practicing but only was needed for 30 minutes. Beal had foul trouble early but only was needed for 23 to get his damage done. Beal also got his 22 points on just eight shots.

[RELATED: Crowd goes berserk as Wall hits Porter with between-the-legs assist]

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Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

When the Lakers traveled to D.C. on Dec. 2, 2015, for what was Kobe Bryant’s last game in Washington, they were out to one of their worst starts in franchise history.

At 2-15, Los Angeles was in the midst of a 17-win season—still the lowest win total the franchise has ever had. But the 2015-16 campaign will always stand out in the memories of Lakers fans for being the final season of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. He announced prior to the year that it’d be his last, setting the stage for a farewell tour as he traveled to opposing arenas for the final time.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday. His death sent shockwaves across the sports landscape, prompting players, fans, coaches and team executives from across the globe to reminisce on some of his greatest moments and achievements.

During that final season, Bryant is most remembered for scoring 60 points in his final game. But those vintages performances were few and far between, as he statistically had the worst year of his career.

Washington wasn’t so fortunate to catch him on one of those off nights.

The Lakers were playing in the second game of a back-to-back, but 37-year-old Bryant wasn’t taking the night off. After receiving a tribute on the scoreboard and standing ovation from the crowd of just over 20,000, Bryant came out of the gates looking like the Mamba of old. He scored 18 points in the first half on 5-of-11 shooting (.455) as Los Angeles went into the break up 57-51.

Heading into the contest, Bryant was averaging just 15.8 points per game. His season high to that point was 24, which he scored in the season opener.

John Wall wouldn’t let the Wizards, who entered the game 7-8 on the year, go down quietly. He flirted with a triple-double, scoring a game-high 34 points with 11 assists and seven rebounds. The Wizards closed the gap and held a one-point lead with a minute to go.

That’s when Bryant took matters into his own hands.

On the ensuing possession, he found some separation and sank a three-pointer to put the Lakers up by two. Marcin Gortat forced in a layup seven seconds later, so Bryant worked himself into a one-on-one situation with Bradley Beal and hit a fadeaway jumper with the same form that had kids everywhere shouting, “Kobe!” every time they shot a crumpled-up sheet of paper into a trash can.

The shot gave Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and Bryant finished the night with 31 points—including 12 in the fourth quarter.

Washington would get its revenge, beating Bryant and the Lakers on the West Coast later that year. But of all the moments throughout his farewell tour, Bryant’s turn-back-the-clock performance in D.C. stands out as one of his best.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”

Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.

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