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Trey Burke, Jason Smith spearhead rise in Wizards' bench play

Trey Burke, Jason Smith spearhead rise in Wizards' bench play

Trey Burke is a long way from the misery of being on a new team, and for that matter so is Jason Smith. Both have played better lately, but Friday's performance was the cherry on top to a season that began on a sour note with the Wizards.

Smith, acquired as a free agent, was an active body behind Marcin Gortat and now knocking down the mid-range jump shots that he's known for making. Burke, acquired in an offseason trade, is a point guard by definition but actually a scorer as he filled the void left without Bradley Beal as he sat with a right ankle sprain. 

The duo combined for 37 of the Wizards' 50 bench points, a long way from what Marcin Gortat regrettably called "the worst bench in the  league" after a Nov. 12 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

"With Brad down, I knew I was going to have to come in and be a spark off the bench and be ready to play," said Burke, who shot 10-for-12, including 5-for-5 on threes, for a game-high 27 points in a 118-95 win over the Brooklyn Nets. “I got to the free-throw line early and shots just started looking good. I just got to continue to keep it up and go for it.”

Smith is developing a reputation for his hustle play. Even though he's far from the most athletic player on the floor, the effort is always there. Earlier in the season, he had confusion with Burke on defending screens-and-rolls and they were allowing drives to the basket. Burke immediately took ownership for the breakdowns.

Neither player looked confident in their role or playing off teammates. That appears to be a thing of the past now as both also look more steady defensively as well as the Wizards (16-16) are at .500 for the first time this season.

"We were thinking a little too much about the offense at the beginning of the season," said Smith, who had two blocked shots to spark the defense early and fnished with 10 points and eight rebounds in just 18 minutes. "Now that we've run it we've kind of drilled it over, over and over and it's become second nature. When it's second nature you don't really think about it. So now you can focus on your shot, following through, attacking the basket, getting to the free-throw line. Our first unit has been doing a great job all season. That second unit in the beginning had a little bit of a lag. Now we've corrected that."

While Burke and Smith have fallen out of the rotations for Scott Brooks, they've solidifed their spots. Marcus Thornton has always been a staple but his efficiency has increased. He had eight points on 3-for-6 shooting but also created with five assists. He made both of his threes. 

"We were just hoping that somebody would come in and give us 10-12 points, and to my surprise, it was 27. I know Trey can score, but you don’t expect 27," Brooks said. "I thought he played an excellent ballgame, both sides of the floor. thought he was defensively really good.

"He’s not a point guard, he’s not a two. He’s a guard. He can make plays, but he can score. Naturally, he’s a very good scorer. That’s what has changed my view of him as this season has gone. I’m starting to use him more as trying to get us some points off of some pin-downs (and) some pick-and-rolls. I think he’s done a good job of taking that role and doing well in it. Tonight was one of those nights for him. We don’t expect that every night and he doesn’t have to provide that once Brad comes back."

The reserves struggled to score half of the season-high 50 points they produced Friday. The Wizards managed to end the month 9-3 despite Kelly Oubre not appearing to be the same player since his concussion.

If Tomas Satoransky regains his confidence in his shot and Ian Mahinmi can ever get back on the court following his knee procedures, the Wizards may have a much deeper roster going into the second half of the season. Sheldon McClellan, a rookie who started for the third time with Beal out, had eight points in 24 minutes. He's getting his chance. As long as Mahinmi stays out, Daniel Ochefu will get spot minutes.

Now can the Wizards get over .500, something they failed to do repeatedly in what ended up being a 41-41 record for the 2015-16 season, and stay there? 

MORE WIZARDS: Takeways from Wizards' blowout win

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John Wall shares fear of being pulled over by police, experiences growing up with racial discrimination

John Wall shares fear of being pulled over by police, experiences growing up with racial discrimination

As people around the country continue to protest police brutality and racial injustices against black people, athletes continue to add their powerful voices and experiences to the cause.

Wizards guard John Wall joined in the conversation, discussing the fear he continues to have about being pulled over by the police. For many black Americans, the reality of racial discrimination makes the mere thought of being pulled over more daunting than it should be. Apparently that anxiety doesn’t dissipate just because you’re a star athlete.

“If I get pulled over right now, I’m terrified,” Wall said on Thursday’s episode of The Athletic’s “Hoops, Adjacent” podcast. “To be realistic. If I’m in a dark area, or a back street, I’m not stopping. I’ll go to a high-speed chase to get to a spot where it’s a grocery store, or somewhere where there’s a lot of lights at, because that’s how terrifying it is.”

To some, it may be jarring to hear a recognizable, millionaire athlete discuss his fear of the police, but the money and acclaim don't provide a shield from racism. And for many black people, the fear is instilled at a young age, either through personal experiences or those of people with the same skin color. In the age of camera phones, more and more incidents are being recorded for the world to see.

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George Floyd was suffocated and killed by a white police officer in Minnesota who put a knee to his neck for over eight minutes. Breonna Taylor was shot at least eight times and killed in her own home by police in Louisville. Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death by a white father and son while jogging in a Georgia neighborhood.

“You’re telling me if I want to be a black kid to jog in a neighborhood, and I say, ‘Ok, I want to cut through this white neighborhood, this rich neighborhood,’ and then all of a sudden, I’m targeted to get killed?” Wall continued. “Because I don’t belong there? Those are the kind of things I grew up with, like you wouldn’t go to this side of town where you wasn’t allowed. Why? We breathe the same air.”

Wall, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., said the constant acts of racial discrimination have been frustrating and that all people want to see is justice. 

“I feel like this has been going on for decades, been going on for so much longer than the time I’ve been on this earth,” he said. “But if we didn’t have social media or camera phones right now, we wouldn’t be able to see this act going on.”

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver confident one positive COVID-19 diagnosis won't derail NBA's return plan

NBA commissioner Adam Silver confident one positive COVID-19 diagnosis won't derail NBA's return plan

The NBA now has a concrete plan to return to action, but there are still obstacles that will need solving when play resumes. One of the most important will be the health and safety of players amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, the league will need to know how to handle the possibility of a positive COVID-19 virus diagnosis. With a large number of individuals destined to be in close proximity in Orlando, could one player testing positive derail the entire plan? Would that team then have to be eliminated due to the potential risk they carry?

According to NBA commissioner Adam Silver, that will not be the case.

“The answer is we don’t believe we would need to," Silver told Charles Barkley on TNT's Inside the NBA, referring to the idea of having to eliminate a team due to a positive coronavirus result.

Silver's confidence stems from the vast amount of research and preparation the league has done to get to this stage in the return process. Not only have NBA officials detailed plans of action, but SIlver and others are working closely with health experts in Florida to make sure things go smoothly.

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Based on what they've heard so far, one positive test won't be the end-all for the NBA. If a player were to be diagnosed with COVID-19, the league knows the exact procedure to keep others safe.

“The view is that if we are testing every day and we are able to trace, in essence, the contacts the player has had," Silver said. "We are able to, in essence, contain that player and separate that from his team.”

The commissioner explained that the NBA is continuing to test on a daily basis, and that won't change anytime soon. The threat of coronavirus impacting the league's return is strong, but Silver and the NBA are confident that they'll be able to overcome any issues and have the season play out in a safe manner.

"The belief is we would not have to shut down if a single player tested positive," Silver said. 

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