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Wizards put themselves, credibility on line with all-black ploy vs. Celtics

Wizards put themselves, credibility on line with all-black ploy vs. Celtics

For the Wizards to wear all-black as a statement for tonight’s game (6:30 p.m. on CSN) with the Boston Celtics seems like quite a reach. This is just Game No. 45, but Bradley Beal insisted that they do it.

A 13-game home winning streak is on the line and so is the advantage in the season series which is tied 1-1.

These teams just can’t stand each other. The Jan. 11 game ended with an altercation between Jae Crowder and John Wall and the league fined them both.

Crowder instigated by getting in Wall’s face after the final buzzer and poked him in the nose. Wall countered with a quick left-hand slap to his jaw. The NBA fined Crowder more for what happened, an indication that he deserved the larger share of the blame.

There are a lot of key moments and subplots between these teams, too: Wall and Isaiah Thomas are fighting for reserve spots on the East All-Star team; Beal received a technical foul in the last game for getting tangled with Marcus Smart, who broke his nose and gave him a concussion with a blow to the face last season; Wall was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul after blowing out the Celtics in the first meeting; Crowder bad-mouthed the Wizards in the offseason and got in an argument with the bench that drew a technical a year ago, too; Wall had an emotional win over the Celtics that he dedicated to a young cancer patient he befriended; and Crowder hit the game-winning layup on Washington off an inbounds play.

Wall has felt disrespected at every turn, from the Wizards not getting much national attention, finishing sixth in All-Star voting despite being the only one in the East averaging a double-double, not getting a single vote from 29 other GMs in a preseason survey of the NBA’s best passers and the list goes on

This decision to treat a regular-season game like Game 7 of the playoffs has brought the attention that they've all craved, but now they’re under pressure to produce. 

That type of confidence has been absent since Paul Pierce’s one season in Washington, when he called the Toronto Raptors soft – a team they couldn’t figure out in the regular season -- before a playoff series as the Wizards proceeded to beat them into submission via sweep.

[RELATED: Celtics not impressed with Wizards wearing all black: 'That's cute']

Following that up with a 41-41 season when players admittedly checked out on then-coach Randy Wittman long before it ended contributed to the lack of belief in who they were at that time.

Starting this season 2-8 added onto what could’ve been a dumpster fire under new coach Scott Brooks. But this gesture suggests the Wizards are being incredibly naïve or will fully turn the corner before the All-Star break.

To think that for the home opener vs. Toronto, after losing winnable games at the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies on the road, it was considered an overstatement by Marcin Gortat to call that a must-win game.

The frequent complaint about today’s game is that good old-fashioned rivalries and animosity are gone. That players are too friendly with one another.

But Brooks has emphasized all season that he’d prefer his players treat every game equally. He doesn’t want them to play harder against the Celtics, for instance, than they do the Philadelphia 76ers. In theory, that’s how it should be but human nature tends to win out.

Wall wears his emotions on his sleeve which is why he has nine technical fouls which is fourth-most in the league. Beal is trying to prove he’s worth the $128 million he was paid in the offseason and make his case for being an All-Star, too, with DeMar DeRozan of Toronto being the only shooting guard reasonably ahead of him.

Beal emerged from his 1-for-21 three-point shooting funk in Charlotte last night to go 4-for-9. He was the hot hand in the 117-108 loss to Boston when he had 16 points in the first quarter. 

Only 23 total fouls were called then (10 on Boston), Brooks was openly irritated by the officiating and for the first time this season cracked about the inconsistency in how some games are called. By comparison, the Wizards were called for 23 fouls alone in beating the Hornets on Monday. 

Both teams did their share of trash-talking in game that went unpunished which likely contributed to the postgame heat that required police presence between the locker rooms at TD Garden.

It'll be safe to assume that there will be significantly more whistles tonight, and one of the three officials will be Marc Davis. It was Davis who ejected Wall at the end of the Wizards' early-season loss to the Houston Rockets after bumping him during a timeout.

Playing with emotion can be a double-edged sword. A convincing victory will make more people want to watch the Wizards on a wider scale. An epic fail will result in a "nothing-to-see-here" response. The latter, by far, is the worst-case scenario.

If the Wizards want to put themselves on the line like this to prove a point this early in the season, let them. If it's a rivalry and it's real at least to them, then it's real. 

Make no mistake, wearing all black indicates a funeral. The Dallas Mavericks wore it before Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals and put the Miami Heat out of their misery. The N.Y. Knicks did it in 2013 vs. the Celtics for Game 5 and lost though they did get the job done in Game 6. 

The Mavericks kept their gesture private until the series was over. The Knicks didn't. That's why the Wizards are going out on a limb by putting the pressure on themselves to win.  It's just one game. Then again, with this context, not really. 

[RELATED: Have the Celtics become the Wizards biggest rival in the East?]

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

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