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Wizards save best basketball of season for playoffs

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Wizards save best basketball of season for playoffs

As Paul Pierce walks off the court to a standing ovation, it's only at 3:28 of the third quarter of Sunday's Game 4 vs. the Toronto Raptors. The 15th sellout crowd at Verizon Center knows they won't see him again as the Wizards would transform that 23-point lead into a 125-94 victory to complete their best stretch of basketball of the season.

Leave it to Raptors coach Dwane Casey to put in perspective what happened in this first-round series: "Hats off to Washington. I think they had one of their best games I have ever seen them play. They hit every shot. I thought we were just emotionally drained and gave in. I was surprised but I kind of saw it coming. With how hard we played in the first game and overtime, emotionally I though we were just drained. Once they hit us with the haymakers, we didn't have enough emotional fortitude to sustain it."

Indeed. The Wizards set a franchise playoff record by making 15 of 26 three-pointers, or 57.7%. They shot 55.4% overall at 41 of 74. John Wall had 14 points on just five shots. Pierce had 14 on seven shots. Marcin Gortat scored 21 points on nine shots. Ramon Sessions came off the bench for 15 points on seven shots. The Wizards, who stole Game 1 in overtime in Toronto, improved with each game. The Raptors got worse. Pierce was the constant. 

With the Wizards ahead 66-50 at halftime, the Raptors had one last chance to turn around a game. They were encouraged because though they trailed by 20 in the first half, they'd managed to cut it to eight. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, their All-Star backcourt, each shot at least 50% from the field. 

Less than two minutes into the third quarter, Pierce buried a pair of three-pointers. Then with the shot clock running down after Gortat gathered an airball shot by Nene, Beal had to treat it like a hot potato. He short-armed it 32 feet away with no expectation that it would go in, but after taking a revolution around the rim it did. The lead was 77-55 and the game effectively was over.

MORE WIZARDS: WALE TROLLS DRAKE AFTER WIZ FINISH SWEEP

"I think the turning point for this series was winning Game 2," Pierce said of that 117-106 victory when Wall and Beal combined for 54 points at Air Canada Centre. "When you go into a hostile environment and get two games, one is hard enough, but to get two games it really boosted our confidence to be able to come out after that and finish it off. 

"Playoffs are a different game. The intensity goes up, more is on the line. That's when you see the stars become superstars and that's what you saw in this series tonight from John and Bradley Beal."

While it wasn't backcourt vs. backcourt, that debate had been kicked around all seasons. There should no longer be one when it comes to these teams. Lowry stayed in foul trouble. DeRozan is a volume shooter. They combined to shoot 14-for-28 for 35 points but also had nine turnovers.

Beal had a game-high 23 points, five assists and foul steals. He also made 11 trips to the foul line. Wall shot 3-for-5 but manufactured seven points from the stripe because of his aggressive tone attacking the paint. He added 10 assists which puts him at a 12.5 average for the series. They had six fewer turnovers in Game 4. 

The closeout game is supposed to be the hardest one of all, especially against Toronto which won the season series 3-1 last year and 3-0 this year. But this wasn't. 

"I needed to see that we were the desperate team tonight, that we were going to come out like our backs were against the wall and lay it out on the line and these guys did right from the start," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That was a workman-like four wins for us. ... It started right with John. For a guy who control the game like he did tonight with five shots and orchestrated us, his pace at the start of the game was incredible."

The Wizards will be off Monday and use it for treatment and get back to practicing Tuesday. They'll play either the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks or the No. 8 Brooklyn Nets. 

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Aaron Holiday

School: UCLA
Position: Point guard
Age: 21 (turns 22 in Sept.)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 187
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 33

2017/18 stats: 20.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT% (2.7 3PT/6.2 3PA), 82.8 FT%
Player comparison: Darren Collison
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 19th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report 23rd, Sports Illustrated 23rd

5 things to know:

*Holiday played big minutes in all three seasons for the Bruins. As a junior, he broke out as an elite scorer, averaging 20.3 points while also dishing 5.8 assists per game. Holiday scored in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he averaged 5.8 attempts per game and knocked them down at 82.8 percent.

*He is a terrific three-point shooter, one of the best in this draft class based on his college numbers. He hit 42.9 percent of his shots and on 6.2 attempts per game. Holiday shot 42.2 percent from long range in his three-year college career and never shot below 41 percent in a season. He had some games where teams just couldn't stop him from long range. He made four threes or more in 13 college games. Twice he went 5-for-5 and he once made six threes against USC.

*Though he has the skillset to play off the ball as a shooting guard, his size will limit him at the NBA level. Holiday is just under 6-foot-1 in shoes and doesn't have the vertical leap to make up for it. He does, however, have a plus wingspan. At this point, Holiday seems to be solely a point guard, though as long as he's good at the position there is nothing wrong with that.

*Holiday worked out for the Wizards at Capital One Arena. He was part of their first week of predraft workouts and by all accounts had an impressive visit. He hit a lot of shots and fared well in the interview process.

*Holiday has two brothers currently in the NBA. Jrue is a former All-Star who starts at point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Justin is a shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. His sister-in-law, Lauren, is a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards already have a point guard in John Wall, so Holiday would have no long-term path to starting. That said, he would shore up a need the Wizards have been trying to address for years.

Backup point guard has been a real void for the Wizards for most of Wall's tenure. This past season they tried out all sorts of options between Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. Though Satoransky remains on the roster, the Wizards don't appear content with their depth at the position.

Holiday's ability to hit threes is very attractive to the Wizards who could conceivably play him off-the-ball alongside Wall, or even Satoransky. Given Wall (6-4) and Satoransky (6-7) are taller than most point guards, they could theoretically guard shooting guards on the other end.

Holiday would add smarts and shooting to the Wizards' bench in the short-term. In the long-term, he could help lengthen Wall's career by taking some of his workload away and also give the Wizards more options once Wall enters his 30s.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Moritz Wagner

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Moritz Wagner

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Moritz Wagner

School: Michigan
Position: Power forward/center
Age: 21
Height: 7-0
Weight: 241
Wingspan: 7-0
Max vertical: 34

2017/18 stats: 14.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 52.8 FG%, 39.4 3PT% (1.6 3PT/4.1 3PA), 69.4 FT%
Player comparison: Mehmet Okur
Projections: NBADraft.net 33rd, Bleacher Report 29th, Sports Illustrated 40th

5 things to know:

*Wagner is one of the best shooting big men in this class. He measured in at just about 7-feet at the NBA Combine, yet he shot nearly 40 percent from three this past year in college on 4.1 attempts per game. He projects to be a stretch-4 or stretch-5 at the next level and those guys are increasingly valuable in today's NBA.

*He had a decorated college career at Michigan as the best player on the 2017-18 team that reached the NCAA Tournament final game. They lost to Villanova, but Wagner was a driving force of one of the best years in school history. He averaged 15.0 points per game while shooting 38.5 percent from three in their six tournament games. That earned him All-Tournament honors.

*Wagner is a capable rebounder, though not a dominant force on the glass. He averaged 7.1 boards as a junior and 4.2 as a sophomore, his first year with extended minutes for the Wolverines. It doesn't seem like Wagner will be an elite rebounder at the next level, at least early on. He has the size and mobility to get boards, but will need to develop other skills to average double-digit rebounds.

*His weaknesses would include rim protection, free throw shooting and passing. Despite his size, Wagner only averaged a half-block per game this season. Though he can knock down threes, he only made 69.4 percent of his free throws. And despite being a big part of Michigan's offense, he averaged less than one assist per game. Assists aren't a major category for big men, but that is remarkably low. Marcin Gortat, for instance, averaged 1.8 assists per game in the 2017-18 season. Big men can make a significant impact with their passing if they commit to the craft and Wagner isn't exactly Nikola Jokic when it comes to setting up his teammates.

*Wagner is originally from Berlin, Germany and idolized Dirk Nowitzki growing up. It's easy to see in watching Wagner play how he has modeled parts of his game after the Mavs legend. They are of similar size and Wagner can stretch the floor with a smooth outside jumper.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards like Wagner a lot. He impressed in his workout at Capital One Arena and would give the Wizards several things that they don't currently have.

Wagner is a mobile big man who can run the floor fairly well and has good footwork moving without the ball on the offensive end. Though he doesn't have a huge vertical leap, he can get up there and finish with power at the rim.

Most importantly, Wagner can stretch the floor and the Wizards do not have a player his size who can do that consistently. If he played center, the Wizards could roll out lineups of five players that can hit threes.

More specifically, Wagner could add a pick-and-pop element that the Wizards haven't really had in John Wall's tenure. He has had pick-and-roll partners, but no one has been able to set a screen and then reliably step out to knock down threes.

It would be a brand new dimension and it could make Wall even more dangerous, not to mention the shooters they have in Bradley Beal and Otto Porter who would then have more space to operate off the ball.

The only problem in terms of fit for Wagner and the Wizards is that he is likely to fall somewhere in between their two draft picks. They pick 15th and 44th and he is expected to go late first round or early second round.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!