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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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Three things to watch for Wizards at Nets, including if Otto Porter will play

Three things to watch for Wizards at Nets, including if Otto Porter will play

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and the Washington Wizards take on Spencer Dinwiddie, D'Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen and the Brooklyn Nets. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington Plus. 

Here are three things to watch...

1. Will Porter play?: The Wizards may be getting a key player back on Friday with Otto Porter Jr. on the road back from a right knee contusion. He left Monday's game against the Pacers after suffering the injury, then missed Wednesday's game against the Celtics. The Wizards lost both of those games.

Porter, 25, was close to playing on Wednesday as a gametime decision, so it seems likely he will be available on Friday. If he does play, he will look for better success against the Nets than he has in their other match-ups this season. Through two games against Brooklyn, Porter is averaging only 7.5 points while shooting 35.3 percent from the field. He is 0-for-6 from three.

Porter, though, had been playing very well before the injury. In his previous three games, he was averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals and a block. He shot 55.3 percent overall and 47.1 percent from three.

2. Wiz need a win: The Wizards head to a Brooklyn in the middle of a slump. They have lost three straight games following a three-game win streak that happened to begin against this same Nets team on Dec. 1. 

The Wizards have found some balance recently, having gone 9-8 in their last 17 games after going 2-9 to begin the year. But real, sustained momentum has been elusive. 

The Nets are a team that they should beat. This game begins a manageable stretch that includes some good teams like the Lakers and Pacers, but plenty of potential cupcakes like the Hawks, Suns and Bulls.

3. Nets are playing well: Though the Nets (11-18) have an even worse record than the Wizards (11-17), they are on a bit of a roll. They have won three straight games, including an overtime victory over the Raptors and one on the road against the Sixers.

They held Toronto to only 105 points, including the extra period. And against the Sixers, they scored 127 points in regulation.

Spencer Dinwiddie has been leading the way, averaging 27 points and 6.3 assists during this three-game stretch. Allen Crabbe has also stepped up with 16 points and 4.3 boards per game.

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Drew Gooden describes playing with LeBron James: It was 'like a traveling rock band'

Drew Gooden describes playing with LeBron James: It was 'like a traveling rock band'

LeBron James and the media circus that comes along with him is coming to Washington, D.C., as the Lakers will face off with the Wizards at Capital One Arena.

Drew Gooden played with James for the better part of four seasons in Cleveland from 2004-08, and so he knows exactly what it's like when one of the NBA's greatest players comes to town. 

"It's only real until you actually see it," Gooden said during Thursday's edition of the Wizards Talk podcast. "We used to joke and call ourselves not the Beatles, but the 'Cleatles,' because it was almost like a traveling rock band. And everybody played their part."

Gooden recounted one particular incident during a day off in Detroit in 2006, when he, James and a couple of their teammates went to a shopping mall to buy some watches.

"When we walked into the shopping mall in Detroit, it was like Michael Jackson had entered the shopping mall," Gooden explained. "Kids were running up, grownups were running up, everybody ran into the store we were in. They had to shut it down with mall security, and wouldn't let anybody in."

"The only thing I was thinking of is like, 'How are we gonna get out of here?' Because we came on our own with no security, so we were just thinking of how we were gonna get out of the mall now. And when I saw that star power of LeBron James back in 2006, this was before he won a championship, I couldn't imagine how it is now, and what he's become in today's game."

James' star power has only grown since then, and many have already declared him the greatest basketball player of all-time.

This label in reference to James is nothing new to Drew Gooden: he heard it when they were both teenagers playing AAU baskeball. 

"Calvin Andrews, who was a sports agent of Carmelo Anthony, Calvin Andrews told me when LeBron was 15 years of age, he said, 'You see that guy right there?'" Gooden recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, what about him?'"

"'He's gonna be the best basketball player ever.'"

"So it's no surprise to me, and this is not new to me, it's just I'm more amazed that it actually happened," Gooden concluded. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, he's gonna be the best ever or he has an opportunity of being the best ever.' But I literally heard a man tell me that in Calvin Andrews, and that guy actually becoming one of the best ever, or the best ever." 

For more on LeBron James and the Lakers' upcoming visit to D.C. to take on the Wizards, listen to the full Wizards Talk podcast below.

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