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Blazers claim culture is king while Wizards search for fixes 

Blazers claim culture is king while Wizards search for fixes 

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- NBA franchises go stale. It happens.

Setbacks occur on and off the court. Some obstacles, like falling short of playoff expectations, might shake a franchise to its core. Others fall back on an established ethos that sets expectations and ideals so that when tough times arrive, restoring balance isn’t arduous.

The Portland Trailblazers believe their culture keeps them flying high.

Portland started a run of five consecutive postseason appearances in 2013 after a combined 61 wins the prior two seasons. Twice it won a round, but never more than one.

Last season seemed like a chance for another series triumph, but the No. 3 seed was stunned by New Orleans during a four-game sweep. Such frustration might send some teams into a tizzy, lead outsiders to call for heads. The Blazers kept their cool. The core remained.

Following Sunday’s 119-109 win over the Wizards, Portland (11-5) moved percentage points ahead of Golden State for first in the Western Conference. 

“I think it just shows the character of our team,” All-Star guard Damian Lillard said of Portland’s resiliency shortly after scoring 40 points against Washington. “That’s from our coaches to the training staff to players on the team. We enjoy the process of what we’re building together. We’re committed to each other. That’s the biggest thing. We all want to have success and we all know that doesn’t happen overnight.”

The turn began in 2012 with the arrival of several leaders, including Lillard, general manager Neil Olshey and coach Terry Stotts. Another foundational move came in 2013 with the selection of a second consecutive first-round guard, C.J. McCollum.

That backcourt pairing, similar to the Wizards’ duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, became the headliners, the tone-setters. They learned how to win, how to lead.

“We have a lot of good guys on the team. Damian and C.J. are good friends. They’re both very talented players,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They complement each other well. I don’t know. Maybe I just take it for granted, but I try not to. We’ve got really good culture and it’s led by those two guys.”

Forward Meyers Leonard, Portland’s second lottery pick after Lillard in 2012, also promoted the power of the franchise’s values in keeping the team from imploding when struggles arise.

“What’s expected of you every single day, both as a person and a player. Guys show up to the facility ready to work. It’s a good environment. Everyone enjoys being there. Everyone works hard. … Getting work in before practice, getting work in after practice. Being willing to compete in practice and never take anything personal because we know we want to get better. That all translates to the game.”

While the Blazers talked cohesion, the Wizards spent another evening looking for answers. Washington, which trailed 32-12 and by 21 at halftime, fell to 5-11.

“It was terrible,” Beal said.

“You don't win games by just playing, you win games by competing,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “And you win games by competing for your teammates, and you don't win games any other way. There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates. And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

Washington started the season 1-6 with its only victory coming at Portland Oct. 22, 125-124 in overtime. Markieff Morris led the Wizards with 28 points, and Otto Porter blocked Lillard’s potential game-winning shot at the buzzer. Portland’s starting guards shot a dismal 12-for-46 from the field, though Lillard still scored 29.

He wasn’t particularly efficient in the rematch either (12 for 29 field goals) but some positive aspects continued. Lillard’s tenacity showed especially Sunday with Portland coming off back-to-back losses. In both games, Lillard made 13 of 15 free throws. Whether the shots were falling or not, he decided this was a game where laying back wasn’t an option.

“We wanted to come in and be sharp. I knew that being a leader on this team, I had to come out here and kind of enforce that and impose my will and be aggressive and assertive and live with the result,” Lillard said. “That was my mindset coming in and I was going to keep my foot on that gas until there was no time left to make sure we got it done.”

They did and now sit in the reified air, looking down at Golden State in the standings. From the Blazers’ perspective, this result wasn’t about a good night’s work, but long-running connections.

“The more you connect on a personal level with your teammates, your coaches, with everybody the more success you’re going to have. The more you’re gonna want to work,” Leonard said. “The more you’re going to compete as hard as you possibly can. It all comes back to culture. When we get free agents, it’s what’s expected. It’s fun to be around. It’s fun to come to work. That’s what I would say is the biggest thing.”

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Pistons fans took their team's loss to Bradley Beal and the Wizards hard

Pistons fans took their team's loss to Bradley Beal and the Wizards hard

The Wizards' win over the Pistons featured plenty of memorable moments. 

You had ankle breakers, missed dunks, flagrant fouls and lost teeth all in one afternoon. If you're a Wizards fan, you were feeling good through most of it because your team got the win and were on the right side of said ankle breakers, missed dunks and lost teeth. 

Pistons fans, on the other hand, were not feeling too great, so we're here to compile the best of their reactions to their team falling to the Wizards on Martin Luther King Day. 

Beal crosses Drummond out of his shoes 

Bradley Beal had the nastiest crossover of the year for the Wizards causing Andre Drummond to stumble across the floor before hitting a stepback three at the end of the shot clock.

Some Pistons fans were disgusted with their big man for getting embarrassed on the court like that, while some were naturally in denial. 

"Another reason to trade Drummond," wrote @ShaySharpeSZN.

"He pushed him off then Drummond tripped over his shoe lol," said @pistonswave.

"Looks like a push off to me," per @mcbaj89.

Markieff Morris vs. Davis Bertans

Markieff Morris and Davis Bertans can't seem to get along.

This is the second time they've gotten into it this season, and this time Morris was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul for hitting Bertans across the face. He was immediately ejected leading to a storm of tweets criticizing how soft the NBA has grown. 

"Garbage officiating. Clearly a flagrant. But not a 2. This league is a joke," said @Alexdf71.

"That should only be a flagrant 1, the NBA is too strict nowadays I understand safety but that really wasn't that bad," wrote @AGK9271.

"Lmaoooooooooo weakest flagrant 2 in NBA history," said @RyanLaprade

Drummond loses a tooth

Drummond had a rough day on Monday. He got crossed up, missed a wide-open dunk and lost a tooth in the same game. 

As time wound down in the fourth quarter, Thomas Bryant hit Drummond in the mouth with his elbow and knocked one of his teeth right out. Following Morris' ejection earlier in the game, Detroit fans were upset Bryant didn't get called for a foul. Then, of course, there was the hockey fan that chimed in to give his two cents on how much tougher hockey players are. 

"No foul, bet if Drummond did it he'd be ejected," wrote @VisiblePepper. 

"Drummond just got hit in the face, lost a tooth, and didn't get a foul call. Markieff accidentally hits a guy in the face contesting a shot, Flagrant 2," said @ImMartinHi

"Andre Drummond ($28m per year) gets tooth knocked out: kicks a chair, leaves the game, whines about it on Twitter. Paul Statsny ($6.5 m per year) gets multiple teeth knocked out: Picks up his teeth and returns to the bench for the next shift. Toughen up, please," wrote @LabDetroit.

The Wizards will hit the road and visit the Heat in Miami on Wednesday for the first leg of a back-to-back. Let's see if they can repeat their surprising win from a few weeks ago and make Heat fans mad once again. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Bradley Beal passing Wes Unseld on Wizards' scoring list a reminder of his place among franchise greats

Bradley Beal passing Wes Unseld on Wizards' scoring list a reminder of his place among franchise greats

WASHINGTON -- John Wall, Bradley Beal, Wes Unseld. That's how the Wizards' all-time scoring list reads from No.'s three through five after Monday's Wizards win over the Pistons, as Beal moved into sole possession of fourth place with a good chance of passing Wall before the season is over.

Unseld remains the most accomplished player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history as an NBA champion, 1977-78 Finals MVP, 1968-69 league MVP and rookie of the year plus a Hall of Fame induction. But Beal passing him is another reminder he already has a place among Wizards and Bullets luminaries.

"That's an honor because that list is full of greats, true Wizards and Bullets legends. To be a part of that is an honor," Beal said. 

Within the context of Wizards franchise history, Beal has already separated himself as one of the best to ever suit up. In addition to being fourth in points, he is the all-time leader in three-pointers, sixth in assists, seventh in steals and 10th in win shares. He also has the single-season record for threes. That's not bad for a guy who is 26 years old. 

The Wizards/Bullets franchise, of course, doesn't have the same historic success as others like the Celtics and Lakers, but it has been around for 59 seasons. During that time 444 different players have appeared in a game for them.

The franchise goes all the way back to 1962 when they were known as the Chicago Packers. Along the way, there have been more losses (2597) than wins (2142), but many All-Stars and decorated players have come through.

Continuing to make his mark on the Wizards/Bullets franchise seems to be genuinely important to Beal. During his halftime interview with NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, he mentioned the team's Baltimore days when discussing the Unseld feat. Back when he signed his contract extension in October, he explained the decision partly in terms of creating a legacy in Washington and taking the franchise to places it hasn't been in a long time.

On Monday, he alluded to those goals again.

"I never would have dreamt of that or thought of that coming here. To still be here is an honor, too. I'm just taking it in full stride. I've still got a lot more basketball to play, so who knows where I'll end up," he said.

Beal is well on his way to being widely known as one of the best players in Wizards/Bullets history. If he plays many more years in Washington and doesn't leave on bad terms, he will likely have his jersey retired someday.

But in order to reach the true top tier of Wizards/Bullets greats, he will have to lead them to some playoff success. Getting to the conference finals, where Washington hasn't been since the 1970s, would certainly stand out.

Still, if you were putting together a roster of the best players in Wizards/Bullets history, he would already be included.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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