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Wizards frustrating someone other than Randy Wittman


Wizards frustrating someone other than Randy Wittman

No NBA team has ever come back to win a playoff series after falling behind three games to nothing -- everyone knows that. The Toronto Raptors certainly didn't need reminding after a 106-99 loss to the Washington Wizards Friday night at Verizon Center. 

Business was conducted at funereal volumes inside the visiting locker room. Trainers and staff shuffled around with their eyes trained on the carpet while players sighed and stared straight ahead. 

At the locker closest to the showers, one Raptor slumped forward with his elbows on his knees, peering down at the bucket of ice water where he'd sunk his feet. On the surface floated a printout of the final box score. 

That player cursing under his breath was Kyle Lowry. His stat line for the night read like so: 15 points, four rebounds and seven assists. 

He'd finished Games 1 and 2 with seven and six points, respectively, so his performance might have constituted improvement over the last two contests if not for the fact that he'd attempted more than twice as many shots. 

Tracking Lowry's field goal percentage over the series paints a much bleaker picture: 20% (2 of 10) in Game 1, 30% (3 of 10) in Game 2 and 23% (5 of 22) in Game 3. 

For perspective, the All-Star guard finished the regular season with 17.8 points per game on 41% shooting. He'd averaged 15 attempts per game, not 22. And against the Wizards he'd been even more efficient, hitting 45% of 13 attempts per game. 

Field-goal-percentage-itis wasn't just a Lowry problem. The Raptors as a whole took 23 more shots than the Wizards did Friday, yet finished with only one more made field goal. 

Lowry's face, at least the parts of it visible behind his hands, showed how acutely he understood the futility of his 15 points. 

He'd been sniffling and coughing off and on, prompting at least one Toronto reporter to opt out of the scrum in front of his locker (to paraphrase, everyone else could take their chances holding mics up to Lowry's face, but this guy would rather wait for the transcribed quotes than risk getting sick). 

When asked whether the flu-like illness had affected his play, Lowry insisted it had not. 

“It’s nothing to worry about, I know that. At the end of the day, I still have to go out there and play. And yeah, I don’t worry about [being] snake bit or whatever it is, because it's part of why we get paid to play.”

The guard didn't have as firm an answer when asked about the Raptors' struggles on offense.

“[Washington] did a good job of forcing us to take shots contested like they’ve been doing all series, but we got some open looks and we missed some shots. I had some open threes that I missed and DeMar [DeRozan] had some open looks, two-pointers, that he missed ... But yeah, our offense hasn’t been on the same [level] as it was earlier in the year."

He attributed at least some of Toronto's issues to inconsistency, especially in terms of pace. "You know, we’ll have a good quarter and a bad quarter and [the Wizards] have been finishing the halves out extremely well the last three games," he said. "We have to find a way to just keep it going, be consistent. Either we play fast or we play slow, one of the two. And just find a way to maintain it.” 

Lowry acknowledged that his team had never been in a more difficult or stressful position than in this playoff series. 

"We’re down zero to three and everyone knows the history of it, but we have to just take it one game at a time and at least try to get it back home. 

"We’re still professionals and it’s not over. They still have to get another win," he said. "We just have to go out there and do our job and make it fun. If we’re going to go down, we have to go down having fun. Go down the way we know how to go down, playing hard."

By the looks of things, that's exactly where this series is headed. 

MORE WIZARDS: Morning tip: Pierce-to-Porter transformation almost complete

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."


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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it