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Wizards 'unstoppable' if this is Markieff Morris' NBA playoff form

Wizards 'unstoppable' if this is Markieff Morris' NBA playoff form

Two years ago, Markieff Morris played for a 39-win team headed nowhere in the Phoenix Suns. At best he was a spectator as the Wizards, then the No. 5 seed and starting Nene at power forward, upset the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of the conferrence semifinals only to then have Paul Millsap say this: "Internally, we felt like we won the game."

Fast forward to Sunday, when Morris was playing in his first playoff game in six NBA seasons. It was his first full season in Washington. A matchup problem for Millsap whenever they're matched up this season, Morris dominated. Though statictisally it didn't look lopsided, it was indeed. 

Millsap isn't getting under their skin as much as Morris appears to be getting under his.

 "The ball is like gold now. Every possession counts, so I'm going head-first every play," said Morris after 21 points on 8 of 19 shooting, seven rebounds and four blocks. "We're going to jostle the whole series and that's what it's going to be."

Morris picked up his first foul 17 seconds into the game on Millsap's move to the basket. Despite that, he was able to stay out of trouble and on the floor. Millsap had the better first half in terms of scoring with 12 points, but Morris closed strong.

He made all three foul shots after Millsap ran into him on a three just before the halftime buzzer and had words with his foe on the way out. Then Morris emerged from the locker room more edgy than when the game started, when he had consecutive blocks on Millsap and Dwight Howard in the second quarter.

"We've been telling him in the second half of the season, he's not going to get open unless he creates opportunities to get open," coach Scott Brooks said. "He's been doing that the last couple of games of the season." 

[RELATED: John Wall took over vs. Hawks, kicked offense into high gear]

Morris' three, then a jumper and floater put the Wizards ahead for good as they erased what had been an eight-point first-half deficit for good to win Game 1, 114-107, at Verizon Center. 

The edge Morris had goes beyond numbers. When Atlanta allowed Howard to defend him, Morris can pull him so far away from the basket it opens up the floor for the willing passer. Howard tends to be reluctant to vacate and that's how Morris made one of his three-pointers. 

Nene was valuable for the Wizards, particularly three years ago when they won their first playoff series. Then-first-timers John Wall and Bradley Beal didn't play well and he carried them. But when the Wizards went up against the Hawks the next year, the aged 7-footer was playing out of position trying to chase around Millsap. Drew Gooden wasn't up for the task. And when the Wizards tried to to make Kris Humphries and Jared Dudley stretch fours, they didn't match up well with Millsap, either. 

Morris does. The biggest mismatch with Atlanta comes when Ersan Ilyasova tries to stay in front of Morris who is too good off the dribble and facing up. He can get to his spots at will and it forces Atlanta to help. Kelly Oubre's three-pointer to give the Wizards a 95-83 lead in the fourth came off such a play, when Morris reversed the ball to Brandon Jennings in the opposite corner who then found Oubre spotting up. 

"Like I said last year when we first got him, I was excited. He changed everything right away for us," Wall said. "We didn't have to go big in the post anymore. If any team had a four man that could score, we could go right back at him and he can score on their man in the post. He changed our team a whole lot and he understands that. But most importantly, he was one of those guys that bought in. He had never been to the playoffs before. He shied away from getting a lot of shots at times but he's doing everything to help our team win."

Morris doesn't require such help if he's defending Ilyasova, who also can stretch to the three-point line, or Millsap. That means the Wizards don't have to leave shooters open to compensate for a deficiency like they used to do. Millsap had four turnovers, a key one to start the third quarter as Morris inspired a game-changing run. He went up to draw contact that Morris avoided, left his feet and came down with the ball for a traveling violation. A 48-45 halftime deficit became a 57-52 lead three minutes into the third and the Wizards would never look back. 

"It's incredible, man. He's been telling me that he's been ready for this moment since he was drafted," Oubre said of Morris. "He hadn't had the opportunity for seven years, but now that the opportunity is here, it's time to go take it. It don't matter if it's your first or your seventh year, when you make it to the playoffs you're going to make a name for yourself. That's what he's doing. That's what we're all trying to do."

Wall had his career-playoff high with 32 points and 14 assists. The entire starting five seemed to be back to their pre-All-Star break form. Each scored in double figures. 

"When he's playing as well as he did today for us," Wall said of Morris, "we're unstoppable."

[RELATED: Oubre on Morris vs. Millsap: 'Keef is better than him']

 

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards battle Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, D'Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Wizards are on a roll

Say what you will about the opponents they've beaten, but the Wizards are heating up. They have won three straight games with their last one a blowout over the Cavs. This is their longest win streak of the season.

Four in a row would be a nice number. The Wizards only had two win streaks of at least four games last season. One stopped at four and the longest ended at five. 

Nets have their number

Speaking of last season, the Wizards had a heck of a time facing this same Brooklyn team. They lost two of their three meetings in 2017-18 with the lone win coming in overtime. One of their losses was by 35 points.

The Nets, though they haven't won 30 games in each of the past three seasons, are now pushovers. They are well-coached by Kenny Atkinson and are known for trying very hard despite their lack of talent. The Wizards generally have problems with those types of teams. Winning this game could help them prove this is a new year.

Nets have some players now

Brooklyn has been ridiculed in recent years as the Boston Celtics have reaped the benefits of their high draft picks stemming from the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. But along the way, the Nets have done a decent job of finding young talent without hitting the lottery.

Caris LeVert was probably the best example of that, though he is now nursing a serious ankle injury and will miss this game. But Brooklyn also has guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who this year is averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three. They also have Joe Harris, who is putting up 13.4 points on a ridiculous 52.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from three. 

Then there's Jarrett Allen, who was acquired using a first round pick the Wizards sent Brooklyn in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal. At just 20 years old, he's turning into a nice young player. This year he's averaging 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

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USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."

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