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Wizards clinch playoff spot for third time in four years

Wizards clinch playoff spot for third time in four years

Months after overcoming a dreadful 2-8 start and weeks after a trade deadline overhaul for their bench, the Washington Wizards (44-28) have clinched a spot in the NBA Playoffs for the third time in four years and in the first season of head coach Scott Brooks' tenure. They punched their ticket on Friday night with a win over the Nets and losses for both the Pistons and Bulls. The Wizards are officially back in a place they feel they belong.

This is the 28th time in franchise history that the Wizards will head to the postseason and this territory is nothing new for the current group led by star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. But the expectations for this team may be higher now than they have been in decades. For the first time in a long time, the Wizards feel they can do some real damage and possibly reach the Eastern Conference Finals or beyond. 

What a difference a year makes for a team that just 11 months ago fired Randy Wittman following a 41-41 campaign that did not end in a playoff berth.

"It's great. The way we finished last year wasn't good for us," Wall said. "We wanted to go to the playoffs. We fell magnificently short of that. Then to come back, the way we started the season wasn't the way we wanted. We never threw anybody under the bus. We always stayed together as a team. I think that's the most important thing as a group, that we all figured it out. We all figured it out. We have a great run going. We just want to finish the season strong going into the playoffs."

The Wizards' turnaround began in December. They were 7-13 on Dec. 8 and had lost four of six, but since they have gone 37-15. That includes a stretch where they won 18 of 21 games before the NBA All-Star break.

Those losing days of November and December now seem like a distant memory with the Wizards on pace to win over 50 games for the first time since 1979.

"It's a journey. It's amazing to see the work that you put in," Beal said. "Last year was a disappointment for us. We wanted to be in the playoffs. This year we had no choice, we want to get in and this year we have more goals. We want to get [the] second [seed] now. Now we want to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. We want to try our best to get there."

As Beal alluded to, the Wizards still have short-term goals for the final 10 games of this season. They are 2 1/2 games behind the Celtics at third in the standings and would still like to pass them. But either way, the Wizards should enter the playoffs with an opportunity to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1978-79, a span of 38 seasons. No D.C. major sports team (NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB) has reached the semfinals of their league since the Capitals in 1998. That's the longest streak among cities with at least three major sports teams in American sports.

Each time the Wizards made the playoffs in the Wall and Beal era, they advanced at least one round. In 2013-14 they beat the Bulls in the first round, then lost to the Pacers. The following season they swept the Raptors in the first round, then lost to the Hawks after Wall broke his wrist.

Now they are back and appear well-equipped for a deep run. Both Wall and Beal are two years older, enjoying good health and the best seasons of their careers. Otto Porter has emerged as one of the best three-point shooting threats in basketball. Markieff Morris has added a new element as a stretch four with versatility on defense. Marcin Gortat is rebounding more than ever before in his nine-year NBA career.

The Wizards have had deep benches before and their current group is starting to round into form. Bojan Bogdanovic can stretch the floor and get hot from three. Ian Mahinmi is a legitimate rim protector. Kelly Oubre, Jr. has infused youth and a unique ability to guard multiple positions on defense. Jason Smith always seems to provide a spark, whether it's with midrange shooting or rebounding. And Brandon Jennings now can keep the offense moving when Wall takes a rest.

Washington has star power and depth and that should bode well in April, May and June against whomever they face.

"It says a lot about our team," Brooks said about his team's turnaround. "It says a lot about our staff, not just the coaches, but our entire staff. We just keep charging ahead and doing our jobs. I love that about our team. We want to establish a culture that we all have a responsibility to one another to work hard and give everybody our best effort. That has happened. We've got 44 wins. It's good. We want to keep getting better."

The Wizards have stated their goal of obtaining a top three seed and it won't be easy. Breathing down their neck are the Raptors, who are just a game back in fourth place. If the Wizards fall to fourth, they could risk seeing the top seeded Cavaliers in the second round. Facing the best team in the conference that early would not be ideal.

Also standing in the Wizards way are the Celtics, who they could match up with in the second round. As for the first round, they are currently slotted to face the Milwaukee Bucks, who happen to be the hottest team in the East at the moment.

The Wizards have 10 regular season games left and bigger goals in mind. But on Friday they gave themselves an opportunity they had waited two long years for.

[RELATED: Markieff Morris on his slump, looking ahead to first playoffs]

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NBA draft lottery 2020 to be held virtually amid coronavirus pandemic

NBA draft lottery 2020 to be held virtually amid coronavirus pandemic

The NBA offseason arrives later this week and will speed up soon not long after with the Aug. 20 draft lottery, which will be held virtually this year.

The news it is being held virtually, which was first reported by the Athletic, was a fairly obvious expectation. All 14 teams participating will do so remotely via a video feed. That's the way many events are being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wizards have the ninth-best odds in this year's lottery. That gives them a 4.5 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick and a 20.2 chance to select in the top four.

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The top eight teams in the lottery are the Warriors, Cavs, Timberwolves, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets. The Warriors, Cavs and Timberwolves are tied for the best odds to get the No. 1 pick.

There is no consensus top player in this draft. Mock drafts have rotated through a few players at the top. The big names include James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball.

The Wizards will need some luck to move up and have a chance to get one of them.

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Michael Jordan competes in White Marlin Open in Ocean City for second consecutive year

Michael Jordan competes in White Marlin Open in Ocean City for second consecutive year

Michael Jordan has proven time and time again that no opponent is too challenging for him.

Even in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and Hurricane Isaias, Jordan’s love for competition prevailed as he was spotted in Ocean City, Md. this past weekend competing in the White Marlin Open, a deep-sea fishing competition, for the second consecutive year. 

If basketball, football, baseball and golf weren’t enough, the six-time NBA champion has now become a regular competitor in the world’s largest billfish tournament. After he entered the competition in 2019, he was the weekend’s star even without the winning catch.

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 competition, rumors began to circulate about whether the sports icon would appear on the eastern shore again. When his plane was spotted at Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport last week and his boat Catch 23 was registered, excitement began to grow from fans and fellow anglers.

In the competition’s 47th year, Jordan’s boat was spotted as one of 433 to enter the competition. His is an 80-foot Viking, which displays the print matching his Air Jordan 3 sneakers that he wore during the 1998 NBA All-Star game.

The tournament features competitions in fishing for tuna, dolphins, blue marlins, wahoos, sharks and white marlins. Due to the effects of the hurricane, the competition spanned from Aug. 3-9, an extension from its normal five days. This year, the White Marlin Open set a record for the most money ever awarded with a collective $6.8 million distributed to the winners.

The top $1.85 million prize went to Brandon Golueke from Ocean City for a 97-pound white marlin. The fish was the third largest white marlin in competition history.

While Jordan and his Catch 23 crew were unable to bring home the top prize again this year, he has proven he has a promising future in angling. Back in June, his boat brought in a 442.3-pound marlin on the second day of the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, N.C., which earned fifth place that day and ninth place in the tournament overall. 

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