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Wizards squeeze by Pistons 97-95: Five takeaways


Wizards squeeze by Pistons 97-95: Five takeaways

Otto Porter breathe a sigh of relief after when Marcus Morris' final heave fell short of the rim. Porter, who had a five-second violation on an inbounds play with 9.2 seconds left that put the Detroit Pistons in position to tie or win, ran out to contest the shot as the Wizards won their third in a row Saturday night.

With their star backcourt not playing their best, the Wizards rode 51 points from their bench in coming back from an 11-point deficit in the third quarter for a 97-95 victory at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Nene had 18 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals and Ramon Sessions contributed 14 points, a game-high nine assists and four rebounds. Jared Dudley had nine points and Garrett Temple, who returned to bench after starting the previous two games for Bradley Beal, had eight points and five rebounds.

The starters for the Wizards (6-4) closed out the game in the fourth quarter, with John Wall connecting with Marcin Gortat for a dunk at 1:06 for a 96-91 lead. Wall had just eight points and seven assists and Beal, playing his first game in two weeks after a left shoulder contusion, had just seven points. Gortat finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

After Reggie Jackson made two foul shots, the Wizards had to simply inbound the ball, take the foul from the Pistons (7-6) and make the two free throws to seal the outcome. But Porter waited a hair too late to ask for a timeout which awarded the ball to Detroit.

Morris had an open look, passed it up and Porter was able to run out to challenge him on the final shot. Jackson had 20 points and nine assists and Ersan Ilyasova and Morris each had 18 points. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 16.

Porter otherwise had a solid game with 17 points, five rebounds and two steals.

  • Nene opened with 14 points on 7 of 7 shooting in his first eight minutes. He realized that Aron Baynes could not defend him, so when the slow-footed big tried to step out he'd put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. But again, it's Nene's reads on defense that made the bigger difference which led to the offensive burst.  His position defense forced Baynes to travel early in the second quarter and then there was a fantastic sequence when his help created a transition basket. Dudley stepped over on a pick-and-roll to assist Sessions on Jackson. Nene, defending Drummond on the low post on the strong side, peeled off his man and jumped the passing lane from Jackson to Ilyasova in the paint. He took the steal end to end for a layup and a 44-30 lead.
  • Beal, in his first game in two weeks, clearly wasn't in sync. He was invisible for the entire first half even though he started, taking just eight shots overall. He made a big one in the fourth quarter. With the teams trading the lead late in the fourth, Beal curled around a screen from Nene for a 90-89 lead.
  • Gortat continued to have success against Drummond, who entered the game with averages of 19 points and 19 rebounds. Drummond was held to eight points and 13 rebounds, his first game without a double-double this season. Most importantly, Drummond didn't get a single offensive rebound which is a category in which he dominates in the NBA. Including three meetings from last season, Gortat averages 17 points and 12 rebounds against Drummond.
  • Sessions didn't attempt a field goal in the first half but went to the foul line six times as he kept his dribble alive and forced whistles. He scored his 14 points on just five shots because he went to the foul line 10 times total. Sessions worked extra time after practice in Friday on taking contact on drives with assistant coaches to prepare and it paid off. 
  • Officials missing calls is part of the game. It goes both ways. But there were some egregious ones late. The game clock didn't start for about 11 seconds with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter when Detroit inbounded the ball down 94-89. Then Gortat grabbed an offensive rebound and was tied up by Morris who is 6-9. Drummond stuck his hand in there, but he didn't have a grip on the ball as the scramble was happening behind him. Morris had both hands on it. When the ball was jumped, it was Gortat vs. the much bigger Drummond instead and Detroit won the tip while coach Randy Wittman yelled uncontrollably for it to fall on deaf ears. And on Morris' final shot, look at when Drummond enters the lane and how long he stays. It lasts about 5.5 seconds as he had a mismatch on the much smaller Temple (Gortat stepped out to seal off dribble penetration by Jackson). When Porter committed his five-second violation, it was in fact close to exactly five seconds. If the game is being called that tight with nine seconds left, it should be called the same on Drummond's violation in the lane. The NBA releases an officiating report on the last two minutes of games within five points or less. While it won't address the non-starting clock or the jump ball mishap, it'll be interesting to see what they say at 5 p.m. ET Sunday.

MORE WIZARDS: Nene's stellar night summed up in one posession

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players


Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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