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Takeaways from Wizards win over Hornets to clinch best record since 1978-79

Takeaways from Wizards win over Hornets to clinch best record since 1978-79

The best basketball team Washington has seen since the 1970s earned another notch on their belt Tuesday night with a 118-111 victory over the Charlotte Hornets at the Verizon Center. That pushed the Wizards to 47 wins on the season, the most for the franchise since 1978-79, also the last year they won the division and also the last time they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The number 47 may not carry the same weight as 50, a goal both John Wall and Bradley Beal have specified publicly, but it's a place this franchise hasn't been in almost four decades.

This win also came at a good time in that it snapped a three-game losing streak for Washington, which tied a season-high. It was their longest slump since Nov. 16 and the third time they have lost three straight. Now that it's over, the excuse of those three losses coming on the road against playoff-bound Western Conference teams holds more validity.

The third-place Raptors also lost to the Pacers on Tuesday night. With the Wizards' win, they are now tied with Toronto at 47-31 on the season. The Raptors hold the tiebreaker based on the head-to-head season series, but the Wizards once again are in good position to move up.

Charlotte gained momentum in the fourth quarter to cut the Wizards' lead to four with 1:30 left after Frank Kaminsky hit a corner three. But Kelly Oubre, Jr. answered with his third three of the night as the near sellout crowd of 18,614 erupted. Otto Porter helped seal the victory with a corner three with 37 seconds left, his first of the game. That put the Wizards comfortably ahead up eight.

The Hornets made a big push in the second quarter. They outscored the Wizards 20-10 in the final five minutes of the first half. The Wizards would answer coming out of the break with a 15-6 tear to cut the Hornets' lead to three and force coach Steve Clifford to call a timeout. The Wizards kept going and finished the third leading 87-81.

John Wall caught fire in the third with 14 of his 23 points. He also had six of his 13 assists in the frame. He led the charge for a Wizards team that closed their season series with Charlotte at 3-1. Washington has won seven of the last 10 meetings between the teams.

Bradley Beal was next on the Wizards after Wall with 19. Jason Smith had 17 and five rebounds. Oubre scored 15 points and grabbed five boards. Markieff Morris had 14 points, tying his most since Feb. 28, and added six rebounds. 

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 37 points. Behind him were Marco Belinelli with 16 points and Nic Batum with 13 points. Kaminsky had 12 points, five rebounds and three threes. Cody Zeller had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The win avenged an ugly loss for the Wizards to the Hornets on March 18. They shot a season-low 36.7 percent that night in Charlotte and made a season-low 29 field goals.

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- The Wizards improved to 30-11 at home. This is the first time they have hit the 30-mark since the 1988-89 season when they also went 30-11. Only three other teams - the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs - have 30 or more home wins this season. If the Wizards get to 31 wins, and they have just one home game left on Saturday against the Heat, they will have their most home wins since 1978-79.

- Like Wall, it was also in the third quarter that Beal got going. He scored eight points in the quarter, including a thunderous tomahawk slam to cut the lead to one at 69-68. Beal shot just 2-for-9 in the first half, but went 4-for-5 in the third and made his only three attempt.

- Wall set a new career-high for one season with his 50th double-double. He had 49 last season. Wall's 50 double-doubles are the most for the franchise since Moses Malone had 55 in 1987-88. Wall added six steals to tie a season-high set back on Dec. 14 against the same Hornets team.

- The Hornets couldn't be stopped in the second quarter with 39 points in the frame on 73.7 percent shooting. Most of that was Walker, who exploded for 17 points and shot 6-of-6 from the field. He was left open for several of those shots as the Wizards failed to switch on crosscourt passes. Walker was a perfect 3-for-3 from three in the second quarter and knocked down both of his foul shots. His 17 points were one more than he scored in the last meeting between the teams on March 13. 

The Hornets ended up with 63 points in the first half which made it three in a stretch of four halves going back to Friday's game vs. Utah that the Wizards gave up 60 or more points in a half. 

- Can we now call Smith a legitimate stretch-5? We knew he could hit midrange jumpers when the Wizards signed him, but Smith continues to fill it up from downtown at a rate never seen before in his career. He shot 5-for-8 from beyond the arc in the first half on Tuesday to reach a new career-high for threes made. His previous best was four set just four games ago against the Clippers on March 29. Smith made four threes all of last season with the Magic.

This was just the fifth game of his career that he's made three threes or more. Four of those games have not just come this season, but since the calendar turned to 2017. He now has 35 made threes this season, which is more than double his previous career-high of 15 set in 2014-15 with the Knicks. Smith, in fact, has made more than half of his 69 career threes in nine NBA seasons this year for the Wizards.

The Wizards hit 17 threes as a team and in doing so set a new franchise record for threes in a season at 720. The previous franchise best was 709, set last year.

[RELATED: Scott Brooks on Steve Kerr's apology, NBA's unwritten rules]

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Rui Hachimura has attracted the best athletes Japan has to offer in his rookie season in the NBA. 

From Shohei Ohtani to Naomi Osaka, Hachimura has impressed both on and off the floor, including Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. He stopped by to see Hachimura's Wizards beat the Pistons Monday. 

"That's right," Darvish said to the Wizards' Japanese website. "We are going to dinner after the game so I stopped by."

Darvish and Hachimura are represented by the same agency and are two of the biggest Japanese stars in American sports. Darvish has had two down years with the Cubs in 2018 and 2019, but he's still considered one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan. 

Hachimura, while sidelined with a groin injury, flashed plenty of potential as a rookie for the Wizards. Before going down, he was averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 48.2 percent. 

Darvish admitted he didn't know much about basketball, not even what stats are good to use. But he only cares that Hachimura is having fun. 

Selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hachimura became the first Japanese born player to be drafted in the top-10. Japan has produced a number of great baseball players but hasn't been able to produce as many hoopers. 

"You don't have to be tall or big to play baseball," Darvish said. "But when it comes to basketball, you have to be tall and athletic and contribute to the team on a nightly basis. I think what he's accomplishing is more exceptional."

Scott Brooks isn't sure if Hachimura will return before the beginning of February and the team has yet to provide a timetable beyond that. Hopefully, we'll see him back on the floor soon because an entire country outside of the US is watching and can't get enough. 

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