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Wizards end season with sixth straight win

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Wizards end season with sixth straight win

WASHINGTON (AP) -- LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh watched and didn't seem to care. The final game of the regular season was meaningless, and the Miami Heat played like it.

Without their Big Three, the Heat suffered their worst defeat of 2011-2012 with a 104-70 loss to the Washington Wizards on Thursday night.

With their first playoff game just two days away, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra rested the boldface names and started Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Eddy Curry, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers. Only Chalmers usually starts, and Curry started for the first time in more than four years.

The Heat are locked into the Eastern Conference's second playoff spot and open the postseason Saturday against the New York Knicks.

Miami was blown out early. Washington led by 25 at halftime and by as many as 38, sending the Heat to their biggest loss since Jan. 20, 2010.

"If we land safely and the plane touches down in Miami, it's a victory," Battier said. "That was a nasty game. Luckily no one was injured, seriously, that's what you take away from this game."

The Heat had only two players in double figures: Norris Cole with 14 and Curry with 10.

"Obviously we're not gonna put too much weight into this game. We don't think it'll have too much bearing on the second season," Spoelstra said.

"This will be a great first-round matchup. The way the season's been we couldn't expect anything other than to play after a day. We don't need more than that. We're in the same place the Knicks are in," Spoelstra said.

"They're coming off a game as well, so everybody's on a fair fighting field right now. Let's tip it off."

The Wizards started the season 2-15 and fired coach Flip Saunders, replacing him with Randy Wittman. Washington closed with its first six-game win streak since Nov. 11-21, 2007. Three of the six wins were against the East's top two teams: one against Chicago and two over Miami.

"This was a real satisfying way to come down the stretch for this team," Wittman said.

Mo Evans had a season-high 18 points, Nene and Kevin Seraphin each scored 15, and John Wall had seven points and 12 assists for the Wizards.

Washington went on a 27-11 run to take a 33-18 lead early in the second quarter and increased it to 57-32 at halftime. It was the Wizards' biggest win since Nov. 11, 2005.

On Tuesday, Spoelstra also rested James, Wade and Bosh in a 78-66 loss at Boston.

Spoelstra had a problem that Wittman wishes he had. Wittman has no assurances from team president Ernie Grunfeld, whose contract was extended earlier this week, that he'll return as coach -- despite the impressive stretch to end the season.

"I'm not an idiot. Any time you lose a job you're disappointed. I think anybody doesn't want to lose a job or look elsewhere for a job," Wittman said. "I'll coach somewhere."

In January, the Wizards were a national punch line. In March, they traded JaVale McGee and Nick Young and acquired Nene. With the Brazilian in the lineup, Washington was 7-4.

Wall said that he liked the new tenor of the team.

"We had a lot of jokes going around the locker room. It's more serious about everything, and we're acting more like a team," Wall said.

NOTES: Washington G Jordan Crawford missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle. ... Curry's last came on March 7, 2008, when he played for New York. ... Washington F Andray Blatche, who didn't play after March 17 to improve his conditioning, said he's lost 12 pounds and admitted he regretted allowing the negative crowd reaction bother him. He let "the boos get myself down, messing with my head and not being able to go out and work as hard as I could," Blatche said.

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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