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Wizards and Cavs duke it out in overtime instant classic

Wizards and Cavs duke it out in overtime instant classic

The Verizon Center on a night in the first week of February is not where you expect to witness what an NBA lifer would afterwards describe as "an instant classic." It's the home of the Wizards, an upstart team still trying to find out how good they are. They knew Monday offered an opportunity to measure up against the NBA's best in the defending-champion Cavaliers. But not even they could have guessed what the matchup ultimately delivered.

Playing in front of a sold out crowd and a national TV audience, the Wizards and Cavaliers took turns dazzling the basketball world. All of the attention was on them and they responded with a 53-minute war of wills that ended up a 140-135 Cavaliers victory capped off by superstars making superstar plays.

LeBron James set a career-high with 17 assists and sent the game to overtime with a last-second, fadeaway heave from three that banked in off the glass. John Wall had 22 points and 12 assists and made big shots down the stretch.

Bradley Beal scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including two timely threes, and five points in overtime. Kyrie Irving scored 11 points in overtime after LeBron fouled out, including a swished three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to essentially put the Wizards down for good. Kevin Love dropped 39 points. 

Both teams set season-highs in scoring. The stars were out and they delivered in key moments time and time again.

“It was an instant classic—a great basketball game by two really good teams," head coach Scott Brooks said.

"It is probably one of the best games of the year," point guard John Wall said.

[RELATED: LeBron denies Carmelo for Love trade report, calls reporter 'trash']

It's hard to compare what transpired on Monday night to playoff games of Wizards' past. It doesn't measure up in craziness to Gilbert Arenas' buzzer-beater to sink the Bulls in the 2005 postseason. It certainly falls short of Paul Pierce's "I called game" moment, or his would-be buzzer-beater that ended their season in the 2015 playoffs.

But Monday night was one that may be remembered for a long time, for as long as an NBA regular season game can be recalled. It stacks up with any of the wildest regular season games in Wizards' history - from Michael Ruffin literally throwing the game away to the Raptors, to anything Arenas or Michael Jordan did in town. 

The moment that will stand out is LeBron's miracle shot. The Wizards were up 120-117 with 3.4 seconds left after Wall sank two free throws. Kevin Love threw the in-bound pass from the other end of the court, a 60-foot toss that LeBron caught near the Wizards' bench. He turned, shot it over Beal, off the glass and in.

“Have to chalk it up to the basketball gods. He's the greatest player in the league, so he's going to hit stuff like that," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said.

"James [hit] an amazing shot, a fall-away three off the board and I didn’t think I heard him call it," Brooks joked.

LeBron may have gotten a little lucky on that one, but there is no taking away from what Irving did to cement the victory. Also with Beal guarding him, Irving pulled up off the dribble and drained a three from almost the same exact spot 26 feet out where he hit his famous shot against the Warriors in the Finals last summer. That put the Cavaliers up 136-133 with :35 seconds left and the Wizards couldn't answer.

How long a regular season game can stand the test of time is hard to predict. But this one, which snapped a 17-game home winning streak for the Wizards, may have the chops.

[RELATED: 5 (10) must-see moments from Wizards' loss to Cavs]

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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.

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Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

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