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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.


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John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

John Wall takes another step in rehab, facing teammates in practice

WASHINGTON -- The steady progress continues for John Wall in his rehab from a ruptured left Achilles tendon, as the Wizards point guard is now facing teammates in 4-on-4 drills at practice.

Head coach Scott Brooks described the games as "controlled," noting they were not full-speed or with contact and featured a 10-second shot clock. But that remains a notable step in his road back after he had previously been playing mostly against player development coaches.

"He practiced for the whole practice. He looked great," Brooks said. "There is still a ways to go. But his energy, his enthusiasm, his strength [looks good]. His shot looks better."

Wall, 29, hasn't played in a game since Dec. 26 of 2018. He had surgery on his Achilles on Feb. 12, 2019. He is currently over 11 months into what is typically an 11-to-15 month recovery.

Brooks, though, makes a point to couch positive updates about Wall with patience. The team has indicated he may not play at all this season.

"I don't know if he plays this year," Brooks said. "We can be patient and we're going to be patient because we need him to be right for a lot of years. This is his career and we know how serious that injury is. He's taking it serious."

Part of the equation is the financial commitment the Wizards have made in Wall. He is due roughly $131.5 million over the next three seasons. They want to make sure he is good to go not just for this year, but that he can be effective for the remainder of his contract.

According to Brooks, even having Wall back to this level has added some positive energy to the Wizards' organization.

"I know the excitement is around because he's around and he's looking [good]," Brooks said. "When he comes back, he's going to be the John Wall we all love."

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5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

The Wizards' 29-point loss to the Raptors on Friday night was the 41st game of the year, meaning Washington's 2019-20 regular season is officially halfway through.

With that in mind, here are five observations from the season so far; some expected and some unexpected...

They are who we thought they were

In some ways, this season has gone exactly how most thought it would. Bradley Beal has been an All-Star level player, but poor defense and an inexperienced roster around him has led to a team headed safely towards the lottery. They are 13-28 after 41 games, meaning they are on pace to win 26 on the season.

That's about what Vegas predicted, as evidenced by over/under win totals that stayed around 28.5. And that's what most reasonable forecasts had them being; a team with intriguing talent that was probably a year away from contending for the playoffs again.

Sheppard has found some guys

The early returns on the Tommy Sheppard era are good and that should be seen as one of the most important positives of this season so far. Just look at the gems he has acquired in a relatively short period of time as general manager. He drafted Rui Hachimura, a plug-and-play guy, with the ninth overall pick. He got Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga in trades basically for nothing. 

He got Garrison Mathews out of nowhere. He signed Ish Smith instead of giving more money to Tomas Satoransky. And even his minor deals with guys like Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have impressed to a degree.

It is very early in his tenure, but Sheppard is showing he has the ability to find diamonds in the rough, a skill that is one of the biggest separators between GMs.

It has also become evident on social media that Sheppard is gaining some clout among fans. Given the previous distrust in the front office, that is definitely worth noting.

The injuries have been ridiculous

Though injuries happen to every team and they are ultimately no excuse, the health of the Wizards has undoubtedly been a major part of their season to this point. They have had as many as eight players missing at times due to injury, or in other words more than half of their roster.

That has included two hardship exceptions and the players acquired as a result were even starting at times. Their best players have been hurt, even Beal who had previously played 194 straight games. Lately, they have been getting healthy, but the rash of injuries was enough to leave its mark on their 2019-20 campaign as a whole.

Beal may or may not be sold on the future

Though this season has mostly gone as expected, it has been fair to wonder how Beal has handled it all, given he is far and away their best player. He signed a contract extension to be part of this, but he's used to winning more games and it's only natural for him to be frustrated with how things have gone.

Beal backed up those theories with his comments this week about the team's culture, and the whole situation is going to be worth watching closely moving forward. The Wizards' best player appears to be a bit anxious about the franchise's future. Whether they can match their timeline to contend with his remains to be seen.

The Wall thing is going to get interesting

This was also pretty easy to call going into this season. Now over 11 months into his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, John Wall is making steady progress towards a return and the debates of whether he should come back this season or not are coming into focus. 

The discourse was taken up a notch recently with NBC Sports Washington's report about him playing in three-on-three scrimmages, and then again days after with video of those games. Though he isn't quite ready to come back, he is looking good and there are still three months remaining in the Wizards' season. 

Will he be ready one month from now, or two? Even if he is, will the Wizards bring him back or wait until next season? Those are major questions with no easy answers.