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Wizards divisional stock rising, but what about the East?


Wizards divisional stock rising, but what about the East?

Dwight Howard trade talk, done. Finally, hallelujah. By moving on from the physically gifted, but arrogantly wishy-washy center, Orlando is officially in full blow rebuild mode. As Frank Hanrahan discussed, the Wizards certainly will not beshedding a tear.Let's also not forgetAtlanta unburdened themselves of Joe Johnson's hefty contract - and in turn took likely took a step back. Factor in the improved talent pool locally and the Wizards opportunity for more than a fourth place finish in the Southeast division looks better than anytime since John Wall was a high school senior.Of course, division rank means nothing in the conference playoff chase unless you're the team in first - and Miami has that slot on lock down for years to come. The Wizards are - on paper - better than they were a year ago, no doubt. Can't imagine anyone arguing otherwise.Yet even with the upgradesplusthe changes throughout the conference, finishing second in the division might be more likely than reaching the postseason.The Wizards are not going to catch the much deeper and more athletic Celtics, let alone the NBA champs. Not only did the Nets move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, they moved from zero to near-hero in the East.Assuming Deron Williams and Joe Johnson help land one of the top four slots in the East, four other squadsvie for the final home court advantage slot.Even without Derrick Rose for much of the season, the lengthy and defensive-oriented Bulls remain a playoff team, though hardly a contender. It's possible their NBA title window has already slammed shut, but Luol Deng and company could stay ahead of Melo, Amare and Tyson-led Knicks this year. Not sure the Pacers did anything this offseason that has the top teams quaking (I'm being kind with that assessment). Maybe Paul George takes the next step, maybe D.J. Augustin finds a new level now that he's out of Charlotte, maybe.Roy Hibbert and crew could land at the bottom of this tier if Andrew Bynum is on his best behavior with the 76ers. Philly now has the bestbig man in the conference, two potential stars inEvan Turner and Jrue Holiday plus a coach in Doug Collins who coaxesout maximum effort from his players. If Bynum landed somewhere in the West, catching the 76ers might have been possible for the Wizards. Instead, they are a sneaky top four pick.That's seven teams, leavingWashington, Atlanta, Milwaukee and maybe Toronto battling for one spot (maybe the Larry Bird-less Pacers drop down, opening an extra opportunity).The Hawks still have Al Horford, Josh Smith, the point guard tandem of Jeff Teague and Devin Harris, and the understanding of what it takes to reach the playoffs. The Bucks kept Ersan Ilaysova (a good thing), added Samuel Dalembert (a size thing)and have the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis (a crazy scoring thing).John Wall, Nene and company can contend with those latter rosters - and maybe more if the frontcourt rotation gels, if Bradley Beal contributes beyond basic rookie expectations and good health is the status quo.At a minimum, there should be more success against those they face most often (let's not forget the Bobcats).Beyond that, we'll see.

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Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

USA Today Sports

Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards experienced plenty during this largely trying regular season. One aspect missing, being on the all-smiles end of a blowout victory. After Wednesday’s 119-95 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they can now check that box.

“It’s nice to experience that as well,” Tomas Satoransky said.

Washington led from start to finish and by double figures for the final 35 minutes. It set season-highs for points in a quarter (41 in the first), the first half (73) and largest halftime margin (21). The Wizards turned 24 Cavalier turnovers into 29 points. All 13 players scored. 

Quality stretches existed this season, but for minutes, a quarter, maybe a half, but rarely over the full 48. Other than a third-quarter dip when the Cavaliers (2-12) closed within 13 points, the Wizards rolled. The romp meant John Wall only played 21 minutes. None of the starters entered in the fourth quarter. That last part happened in recent games, but this time for positive reasons.

“It was great,” Bradley Beal said of a game “[We were] able to come out and get a lead and be able to sustain it and maintain it throughout the game.”

The Wizards maintained little during the opening 11 games of the regular season other than a downtrodden vibe. Their 5-9 record reflects those struggles. The current three-game winning streak signals growth. The postgame locker room smiles and comments displayed some sense of relief.

“I think we needed that, obviously,” Satoransky said to NBC Sports Washington. The reserve point guard was part of the second quarter surge that saw the Wizards outscore the struggling Cavaliers 20-2 for a 61-34 lead.

“They were on a back-to-back and they haven’t been playing well this year. We felt like with a day off after our last win we could come out aggressively, and just keep it going,” said Satoransky, who had eight points, four assists and three steals in 17 minutes. “Trying to turn the season around.”

The Wizards aren’t naïve enough to think all problems are solved. The three wins came against teams with losing records. Victories over Miami and Orlando included shaky stretches. The big picture hole remains.

“We still have a lot of work to do – we still have to get better,” said Beal, who led Washington with 20 points. “We’re still not content with where we are. We put three [wins] together, but we still have a couple more at home that we have to take care of.”

All of that is true. Numerous gloomy statistics remind the reader of the rough beginnings. Washington entered Wednesday allowing a league-high 118.5 points per game. At least now, the Wizards can contemplate their issues without the weight of the world on their shoulders. For now, the league-wide media will find another target after pillaring the Wizards for weeks. Finally, positive momentum arrived and did so with the Nets, Clippers and Trail Blazers rounding out the homestand.

“I hope we can continue winning,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “We have three more games at home. I think it’s a good moment for us to turn things around. Brooklyn has been playing well and those two [Western Conference] teams are going to be tough, but I think we’re in a good way now.

“It’s great to experience something like that [blowout]. It helps you mentally. It helped just being able to win three in a row. You can feel it. Whenever you step on the court after that you feel more confident, so that’s good.”


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Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi's first ever 3-pointer a fun, proud moment for Wizards

Ian Mahinmi is in the middle of his 11th NBA season. He has appeared in 623 total games, including the playoffs. Yet, until Wednesday night, he had never made a single three-point shot in an NBA game that counted.

With just over a minute left in the first half of the Wizards' win over the Cavs, Mahinmi stepped back behind the line in the weakside corner. John Wall drove to the elbow to collapse the defense and fired him a pass. Wide open, Mahinmi rose and released like he had done it many times before.

Technically, he had. Mahinmi has been working on his three-point shot persistently. At the end of every Wizards practice, he can be seen going around the horn popping threes.

In practice, Mahinmi makes long range shots consistently. Head coach Scott Brooks has put the number at around 70 out of 100 on his best days. Mahinmi even made a few this preseason, suggesting it might actually happen in a regular season game this year.

Sure enough, it did.

"It's something I work on. I work on threes and especially from the corners. It's good to see one finally go in," Mahinmi said.

Mahinmi had attempted two threes already this season. One clanged off the side off the backboard. The second rolled in and out of the rim.

Mahimni said the second attempt was actually a designed play to get him a three-point look. On this one, Wall called his number again.

Mahinmi said Wall told him to go to the corner. The team was up 20 points and it was late in the first half. 

The stars had aligned. It just seemed like the right time.

"Obviously, I was looking for it," Mahinmi said. "If the ball comes my way, I'm shooting it."

Brooks has expressed confidence in Mahinmi's outside shooting ability for months now. And he reiterated after Wednesday's game that Mahinmi has the green light.

"I want Ian to shoot threes if he's open," Brooks said. "He practices that every day. We see it go in every day. The league is changing. It's not just a small-ball league for the smalls."

That last point was not lost on others around the Wizards locker room. When Mahinmi entered the league in 2007, centers were expected to camp around the rim. He was asked to block shots and play with his back to the basket. 

In the decade-plus since, new species of big men have flowed into the NBA. Many of them hit threes, leap high above the rim and break down defenders off the dribble.

Mahinmi, though fully-developed at 32 years old, isn't letting that stop him. He has added a three-point shot that opponents have to at least know is possible to go in.

"He's adapted to the game and that's not easy at his position because they try to kick fives out of the league," guard Bradley Beal said.

No one expects Mahinmi to all of a sudden become Dirk Nowitzki and hit threes all the time. It was a small moment that probably won't mean much in the big picture.

Still, it was a reason for him and his teammates to celebrate.

"I'm glad to see him do that," center Dwight Howard said. "I'm so happy for him."