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Takeaways from the Wizards' first road win of the season at Magic

Takeaways from the Wizards' first road win of the season at Magic

ORLANDO -- This is no holiday joke: The Washington Wizards can feel thankful for what happened Friday night.

They won. On the road.

Having John Wall certainly helped.

The All-Star guard missed Washington's previous and unsuccessful trip to Orlando earlier this month, but in the rematch had seven of his 26 points in the final 98 seconds and 10 assists as the Wizards downed the Magic 94-91 at the Amway Center.

Otto Porter scored 19 points and Bradley Beal had 14 points and eight assists for the Wizards (5-9), who were winless in five previous road games including an 88-86 loss at Orlando on Nov. 5. Washington and Philadelphia were the only NBA teams without a road win this season.

Wall sat out that game due to Washington not using the point guard in back-to-back games at that point in the season following his two off-season knee surgeries. With Washington leading 86-85 after letting a 19-point cushion evaporate, Wall's craftiness and speed led to two layups. The point guard then hit three free throws in the closing seconds to clinch Washington's second straight win.

Serge Ibaka led the Magic (6-10) with 19 points. Nikola Vucevic had 17 points and 17 rebounds, but was quiet late.

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Washington's 12-game winning streak over Orlando ended that previous November night as the Magic closed by outscoring the Wizards 27-16 in the final period. It was a similar scene after the Wizards led by 17 in the first quarter and 48-38 at halftime.

The Magic whittled the lead to 72-68 entering the fourth and pulled ahead for the first time at 77-76 on Evan Fournier's 3-pointer with 8:17 remaining. Neither team scored again until D.J. Augustin's 3-point play with 6:22 left put the Magic up 80-76, but Porter's back-to-back 3-pointers and two Marcin Gortat layups had Washington on top 86-83.

Key Stat: The presence of Wall boosted Washington on both ends. The Magic only had nine turnovers in the previous game, but 19 Friday and the Wizards turned those into 17 points. Wall, whose activity led to easy looks whether in half court or transition, and Markieff Morris each had three steals. All nine Orlando players that entered in the first half committed at least one turnover.

Quick start: Washington's defense turned Orlando over repeatedly in the first quarter especially during a 17-1 run for a 26-7 lead. The Magic chipped back, but their 15 turnovers and Wall's all-court performance sent Washington into halftime leading 48-38.

Heavy minutes: Wall played 39 and Beal 37 as Washington returns from the Thanksgiving break with a back-to-back set. Each played the entire third quarter as coach Scott Brooks couldn't find a chance for rest with Orlando rallying. Each sat for around two minutes of the fourth with one remaining on the court.  All five starters played at least 32 minutes.

Up next: The Wizards are back in Chinatown Saturday where they receive their first look at the Tim Duncan-less San Antonio Spurs (13-3). Kawhi Leonard had 25 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs in Friday's 109-103 win at Boston. San Antonio improved to 9-0 on the road this season despite trailing 14 points in the first quarter.

[RELATED: VIDEO: OUBRE AND BIYOMBO MIX IT UP, 4 TECHNICALS DOLED OUT]

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Reeling Wizards hope to shift momentum in playoff race as they host red-hot Pacers

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Reeling Wizards hope to shift momentum in playoff race as they host red-hot Pacers

The Wizards' playoff hopes just keep taking hits. Washington fell on Friday night in their first game back from the All-Star break, making that eight losses in 11 games. Meanwhile, the eighth-seed Pistons won, pushing the Wizards to four games back from a playoff spot.

With 23 games remaining in their season, the odds are increasingly stacked against the Wizards making the playoffs, a goal they maintain despite the injuries that have plagued them so far. 

Basketball-Reference.com handicaps postseason chances and the Wizards currently hold a higher likelihood of winning the draft lottery (7%) than they did making the playoffs (4.8%). 

If teams maintain their current course for the remainder of the regular season, the threshold to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference should fall somewhere close to 39 wins. The Pistons are on pace for 38.8 wins as they sit in the final spot.

At 24-35, the Wizards need to go 15-8 from here on out to get to 39. That's a .652 win percentage. Basically, the Wizards would have to play at a 53-win pace for more than a quarter of a season.

For a team that has shown no signs recently of going on an extended run, that seems highly unlikely. For it to happen, they would need a sudden defensive overhaul.

Their offense, even in this 11-game skid, has been fine. During this stretch, they have been third in the NBA in points per game (118.8), second in field goal percentage (49) and eighth in offensive rating (114).

The defense has been an unmitigated disaster. They have surrendered more points than any team (123.4) and the highest field goal percentage (49.5) and three-point percentage (42). 

The Wizards found salary cap relief in their deals before the trade deadline, but didn't add much in the way of a defensive upgrade. 

Jabari Parker is known for his scoring and made headlines earlier this year about how teams don't pay players for defense. Bobby Portis, though a capable rebounder, doesn't block a good deal of shots. 

Looking at their current roster, it's hard to see where the defensive upgrade will come from. Guys like Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza can't stop teams on their own.

The Wizards did not get off to a good start after the All-Star break with their loss to the Hornets, but will get another chance quickly as they host the Indiana Pacers for a 7 p.m. tip-off on NBC Sports Washington.

The Pacers, who hold the No. 3 seed in the East at the moment, charge in having won seven of their last eight games. Technically, it represents an opportunity for the Wizards to punch back against a playoff team, though they will take a win against anyone at this point.

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Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

All-Star Bradley Beal returned from the break Friday night with an All-NBA performance.

The Wizards still lost 123-110 at Charlotte.

Within those two sentences there's hope and fear for this season and beyond.

Beal destroyed the Hornets for a season-high 46 points. His work over 42 minutes included high-level efficiency – 16 of 25 from the field, sank all 10 of his free throws plus seven assists and one turnover – and powerful moments. 

Beal scored 26 points in the second half, including 10 of Washington’s 23 in the final period. The Hornets knew where to focus their defensive effort. Washington’s leading scorer couldn’t have cared less and turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season.

When viewing a Wizards team going forward this season and especially next year for however long the injured John Wall sits, performances like this from Beal offer hope. Add starter-worthy help this summer, let Beal’s vibe lead the way and perhaps the team isn’t climbing uphill from the start next campaign.

Finding steady assistance now is the dilemma. If the Wizards intend on bringing back many of the current pieces, that dilemma could linger.

The non-Beal’s made only 10 more baskets than Beal and finished 26 of 72 (36.1 percent) from the field. Their collective assist-to-turnover numbers (17-12) explain some unsteady moments, especially during the second quarter when Charlotte rallied after Washington led 38-27. They tried. They just didn’t offer enough as Washington lost for the eighth time in 11 games.

Washington insisted veteran forward and 2019 unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza remains in its plans beyond this season. That’s understandable based on Ariza’s historically strong two-way play even if his age (33) and possible contract demands (earned $15 million this season) offer potential downside.

The Wizards haven’t received the full-throated version since the trade with the Suns sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. Ariza had 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting (2 of 7 from deep) against the Hornets. Usually a viable perimeter threat, Ariza entered Friday shooting 31.9 percent on 3-pointers. Oubre, a consistent clank during his four-year career, is hitting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc. 

Ariza’s addition offers more than just scoring, and some aspects are not easily quantifiable. Some numbers that attempt that feat are not in love. Ariza’s PER (13.1) trails Oubre’s (16). 

Chasson Randle and Wesley Johnson are not Washington’s most curious backup guard tandem this decade. They might be close, however. Other contenders usually played behind Beal and Wall, thus limiting the downside.

Johnson missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Hornets, while Randle played a basic 13 minutes. The Wizards' bench was outscored 38-21.

Head coach Scott Brooks resorted to a big lineup with Beal as the lone guard. This maneuver worked easier with Otto Porter or, at least defensively, Oubre on the court. Neither lives here anymore.

Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant offer Brooks two energetic interior options. With their size, mobility and shooting range, they seem like a viable pairing. For a team battered on the boards all season, using Bryant and Portis together conceivably boosts Washington’s rebounding chances. 

Brooks skipped using them together much before this game. Their defensive struggles against Charlotte showed why. Washington was outrebounded 53-43 all the same.

This team looks nothing like the one Brooks coached during his first two seasons. Only Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi played for the team that came within one game of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. 

Ideally, Brooks’ patchwork lineup generates needed momentum while a playoff berth remains in reach. Washington (24-35), now a season-worst 11 games under .500, fell four games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff berth. 

Conceivably, this core returns next season. Washington opened salary cap space by trading Porter’s hefty contract. Keeping Ariza, Jeff Green, Satoransky, Portis and Bryant eats up much of that space. Growth from 2018 first round pick Troy Brown and the arrival of a player with a 2019 first round selection increases the upside. The hope for a turnaround comes from those that faced Charlotte Friday night.   

The non-Beal’s can do more now. Asking extra from Beal is outrageous, even if the shooting guard suggests that’s possible.

“I wish I could pinpoint on one thing,” Beal told reporters postgame when asked how this team finds a winning path. “But I just have to elevate my play, that’s all I know I can do is elevate my play and my leadership to do whatever it takes.”

That Beal believes more is possible is why he’s a keeper. None of us should doubt him considering the strides made during his second All-Star season. His determined approach is the kind found with contenders.

Even two-time All-Stars need help. Beal’s teammates must provide some quickly to keep hope alive this season as the organization ponders plans for the next one.

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