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Wizards sputter in another loss to Raptors 97-88: Five takeaways

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Wizards sputter in another loss to Raptors 97-88: Five takeaways

All three meetings between the Wizards and Toronto Raptors, who they deposed in the first round of last season's playoffs, have come down to the wire -- except for what took place at Verizon Center in front of 17,064 on Friday.

The Wizards (15-19) lost their third game in a row -- and third in as many games with Toronto -- as they scored just 14 third-quarter points and committed 23 turnovers to lose control, 97-88.

John Wall (21 points, four assists, three blocks) looked more like the player he was in November than the Eastern Conference player of the month for December. Otto Porter (16 points), Marcin Gortat (12 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) for his 16th double-double and Ramon Sessions (14 points) were the only Wizards to reach double figures.

DeMar DeRozan had a season-high 35 points for Toronto (23-15). His previous high of 34 came against the Wizards, too. Kyle Lowry had 21 points and 10 rebounds.

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The offensive outburst that the Wizards had in a 39-point third quarter vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers was absent. The Raptors broke open the game with a 16-4 run to enter the fourth ahead 73-61.

  • DeRozan, who went 15-for-15 from the foul line in a 94-91 on Dec. 30, shot 12-for-13 from the stripe. His shot selection leaves a lot to be desired but he knows how to force whistles by creating contact. But this game turned because of the Raptors' defense. Bismack Biyombo made the Wizards second-guess and outright freeze when they got inside the paint. Biyombo (0 points, six rebounds, four blocks) was such a game-changer that Jonas Valanciunas played sparingly afterwards.
  • After seven turnovers in Wednesday's loss, Wall had four in the first half alone en route to seven again. One of them was a bullet to Porter cutting on a fast break that was impossible to corral. Then when Wall started to deliver more catchable passes, the Wizards had gotten the turnover bug and were fumbling everything. They had 12 first-half turnovers that produced 12 points for Toronto. Neither team was very responsible with the ball. The Wizards had 23 giveaways and the Raptors, who got by because of better defense, had 19.
  • Gortat's play will be overshadowed by a modest stat line and yet another loss. But if anyone is complaining about his play lately they're just not watching. Forget what a boxscore shows. His rotations and help have been almost flawless. In this one, DeRozan shot 5 of 14 in the first half because, in part, of Gortat's challenging over the top to alter several of his shots. On consecutive plays he forced DeRozan into an airball at the rim and changed the arc on a floater that went off the back rim. After Wall had his shot blocked, it was Gortat who hustled back and caused Lowry to change his mind at the last minute and make a bad pass for a turnover. Gortat fought Jonas Valanciunas for position before the catch in the low post, forced him off his spot and to turn away from the basket on the shot. When it went up and Gortat contested, Valanciunas barely drew iron. Lowry got into the lane early in the third quarter and it was Gortat's help by going vertical that caused him to lose the ball and produce a transition basket for Temple. The rim can be protected by good position defense (see the Boston Celtics). It doesn't require Gortat to be Hassan Whiteside. 
  • Rookie Kelly Oubre has seen his time decrease, but he was inserted for the first time with 2:19 left so Porter wouldn't pick up his third foul. Exactly a minute later with the Wizards desperate for a basket, Oubre spotted up for his only shot and made the three-pointer for their final points before the break. The Wizards went into the locker room tied at 47 but it's this sort of efficiency in spot minutes that could get Oubre time again. Right now, his chances are limited.
  • Drew Gooden returned to play for the second time since Nov. 17 and made his first field goal since Oct. 31, a three-pointer, but that was the extent of his impact being on a minutes restriction (10). Nene, playing his second game in a row, had turnover on his first possession and only could play 13 minutes because he's on a restriction, too. His physicality helped in the first half on Biyombo who didn't have a rebound in eight minutes.

MORE WIZARDS: For Gortat, it's about time Wizards feel anxious

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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds either. Eighty percent (40 of 50) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. They don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.

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Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

Wizards finally experience a blowout win for their side

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- The Washington Wizards experienced plenty during this largely trying regular season. One aspect missing, being on the all-smiles end of a blowout victory. After Wednesday’s 119-95 rout over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they can now check that box.

“It’s nice to experience that as well,” Tomas Satoransky said.

Washington led from start to finish and by double figures for the final 35 minutes. It set season-highs for points in a quarter (41 in the first), the first half (73) and largest halftime margin (21). The Wizards turned 24 Cavalier turnovers into 29 points. All 13 players scored. 

Quality stretches existed this season, but for minutes, a quarter, maybe a half, but rarely over the full 48. Other than a third-quarter dip when the Cavaliers (2-12) closed within 13 points, the Wizards rolled. The romp meant John Wall only played 21 minutes. None of the starters entered in the fourth quarter. That last part happened in recent games, but this time for positive reasons.

“It was great,” Bradley Beal said of a game “[We were] able to come out and get a lead and be able to sustain it and maintain it throughout the game.”

The Wizards maintained little during the opening 11 games of the regular season other than a downtrodden vibe. Their 5-9 record reflects those struggles. The current three-game winning streak signals growth. The postgame locker room smiles and comments displayed some sense of relief.

“I think we needed that, obviously,” Satoransky said to NBC Sports Washington. The reserve point guard was part of the second quarter surge that saw the Wizards outscore the struggling Cavaliers 20-2 for a 61-34 lead.

“They were on a back-to-back and they haven’t been playing well this year. We felt like with a day off after our last win we could come out aggressively, and just keep it going,” said Satoransky, who had eight points, four assists and three steals in 17 minutes. “Trying to turn the season around.”

The Wizards aren’t naïve enough to think all problems are solved. The three wins came against teams with losing records. Victories over Miami and Orlando included shaky stretches. The big picture hole remains.

“We still have a lot of work to do – we still have to get better,” said Beal, who led Washington with 20 points. “We’re still not content with where we are. We put three [wins] together, but we still have a couple more at home that we have to take care of.”

All of that is true. Numerous gloomy statistics remind the reader of the rough beginnings. Washington entered Wednesday allowing a league-high 118.5 points per game. At least now, the Wizards can contemplate their issues without the weight of the world on their shoulders. For now, the league-wide media will find another target after pillaring the Wizards for weeks. Finally, positive momentum arrived and did so with the Nets, Clippers and Trail Blazers rounding out the homestand.

“I hope we can continue winning,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “We have three more games at home. I think it’s a good moment for us to turn things around. Brooklyn has been playing well and those two [Western Conference] teams are going to be tough, but I think we’re in a good way now.

“It’s great to experience something like that [blowout]. It helps you mentally. It helped just being able to win three in a row. You can feel it. Whenever you step on the court after that you feel more confident, so that’s good.”

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