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Five observations from the Wizards' loss to the Toronto Raptors, including Bradley Beal's historic shot

Five observations from the Wizards' loss to the Toronto Raptors, including Bradley Beal's historic shot

The Washington Wizards lost 117-113 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Here are five observations from the game.

Rough start 

Those bad losses that defined the Wizards' fateful 2017-18 season, the ones against undermanned teams on what look going in like schedule losses; yeah, those are still a thing.

Through two games this season, the Wizards have suffered two of them. They fell to the Heat, who were down a host of rotation players and were playing on a back-to-back, in their opener. And on Saturday, they lost to the Raptors, who where missing Kawhi Leonard and Delon Wright and who had just played the Celtics the night before.

The Wizards may be without Dwight Howard, but it's hard to excuse those types of defeats. They are the ones that teams kick themselves for later in the season when playoff seeding is determined. They are the ones that keep teams from winning 50 games and reaching their full potential. Unfortunately, this all sounds too familiar.

The good news is that it's extremely early. The bad news is that the Wizards now head out on the road to play away games at the Blazers, who finished third in the West last year, and then the Warriors, who are gunning for their third straight championship. If they are to bounce back soon, it will have to be against one of the best teams in basketball.

Beal made history

Bradley Beal accomplished something on Saturday that was a long time coming. He entered the season just seven threes away from the Wizards/Bullets franchise record, and in the fourth quarter, he got there.

With his fifth three of the game, Beal knocked down his 869th career triple. That bests Gilbert Arenas, who hit 868 in a Wizards uniform. 

Beal, who is only 25, is only getting started. He's probably going to double that number, it's just a matter if all of them will come with the Wizards because he's got a long career ahead of him.

Speaking of threes, the Wizards took 39 of them. That tied a new franchise mark for three-point attempts in a game. They weren't joking about committing more to the long-ball this season.

Howard still out

The Wizards were without Howard once again due to his piriformis muscle strain, which has now been a storyline for going on a month. On Saturday, he got a lengthy workout in before the game, but didn't seem all that close to playing, despite the fact the Wizards insist he is a gametime decision.

Head coach Scott Brooks was asked before the game if Howard would definitely play on the upcoming five-game road trip and he stopped short of saying he would. That could be pure gamesmanship. He may be just keeping his opponents guessing. 

But if he does, say, miss Monday's game against the Blazers, it will become harder to believe that he's as close as the team keeps saying he is.

Howard's absence was felt once again on the glass. Much like in their first game, the Wizards were absolutely worked on the boards, this time to the tune of 52-to-37.

Howard will help their rebounding cause a lot when he comes back, but clearly the rest of the team has some issues there, at least early this season.

Brooks, by the way, was ejected in the third quarter. After Beal got a technical, Brooks charged towards halfcourt and got T'd up twice. It's not often we see Brooks get that hot.

Porter was more selfish early

There has been so much talk about Otto Porter Jr. needing to shoot more often that it's clear Brooks, John Wall and Porter himself are tired of being asked about it. Brooks has been resigned in recent days to some blunt honesty about it mostly being Porter's problem, that he needs to be more selfish in looking for his own shot.

The message apparently got across because Porter was much more assertive early against the Raptors. After shooting only seven field goals in the season opener on Thursday, he had seven by the end of the first half. And after not attempting a single three against the Heat, Porter had three shots from long range in the first four minutes.

The problem is that Porter then disappeared. He only had two shots in the second half and one was on a final heave at the buzzer. Porter had 11 points and one rebound. Not great.

Raptors are going to be a problem 

We knew the Raptors would be good and potentially even better this season with Leonard in the place of DeMar DeRozan. As good as DeRozan is, and he's very good, Leonard is even better.

What many may be sleeping on is the potential of the rest of their roster. Danny Green was a nice pickup in the Leonard trade and they have a host of young guys who continue to get better. O.G. Anunoby is a rare athlete who already makes a big impact on defense and has an improving feel for the game on offense. 

Fred Van Vleet, now with a new contract, can change games with his quickness and smarts. Already a force on defense, Pascal Siakam is starting to develop some clever offensive moves. 

Siakam had one play in the fourth quarter that was particularly surprising. He got the ball in the slot, drove to his left and threw down a two-handed, and-1 posterdunk.

The Raptors may be deeper than they were last year because they have so many young players on the rise and they were one of the deepest teams in basketball in 2017-18.

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For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

WASHINGTON -- Dwight Howard’s official return to the Wizards practice facility came with a new job description: Mentor.

“Since he can’t be on the practice court or the game floor, he’s going to have to share his wisdom,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the 14-year veteran.

Howard stepped onto Washington’s practice court Thursday for the first time since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30. The veteran center began his rehab work in his native Atlanta before rejoining the team.

“He feels great. Said he has no pain,” Brooks said of Howard. “That’s good. That’s part of the process.”

For now Howard remains limited to non-contact work and is perhaps weeks away from game action.

Brooks intends on putting him to work regardless by having Howard impart his NBA insight onto Washington’s young big men, Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.

“The guy has a lot of experience. A lot of years under his belt,” Brooks said of Howard, an eight-time All-Star. “Now he has the ability to be around our guys every day. [Bryant and Portis] have to be a sponge. They have to pick everything up.”

Bryant, 21, replaced the injured Howard as Washington’s starting center. The Wizards acquired Portis, 24, on Feb. 6 in a multi-player trade that sent Otto Porter to the Chicago Bulls. Bryant and Portis, both restricted free agents this summer, represent Washington’s best interior options now and perhaps key building blocks going forward.

“You get better in this league by being around good veteran players that want to share their knowledge,” Brooks said, “and Dwight is going to be a guy that’s going to be able to do that for the next how many weeks until he gets on the court.”

Basic movements – sitting, for example – were issues for Howard pre-surgery. Brooks said he was not sure how much running Howard would do this week. He will start on the court solo. Eventually, a coach or three will work with Howard for 5-on-0 drills. Full contact practice with teammates comes later.

Howard was seen shooting free throws after practice concluded. Injured players are not required to speak with the media until participating during an official practice.

For now, the coach took pleasure in welcoming the projected opening game starter back to town.

“It was good to see him, good to have him back,” Brooks said. “He did some treatments and then did some work on the court, light shooting. That’s about it. It’s good to have him back. He has a good way about him. He’s always positive, always has a good spirit about him.”

Integrating the low-post presence into the small-ball approach Brooks leaned with Howard sidelined becomes a curious topic. That’s for later, perhaps weeks away, as the coach suggested. The playoff-pushing Wizards must forge on without Howard, who has played in only nine games this season.

Washington (24-34), 11th in the Eastern Conference and three games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot, has 24 games remaining in the regular season.

Howard will stay behind when the team opens the post-All-Star-break phase Friday at Charlotte, but likely travels with the team going forward, Brooks said.

“He’s happy to be back,” Brooks said of Howard. “Now it’s just a phase of getting him on the court. I don’t know how long that’s going to be.”

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Scott Brooks on Zion's shoe explosion: 'I've seen it many times'

Scott Brooks on Zion's shoe explosion: 'I've seen it many times'

When Zion Williamson's shoe exploded in the Duke-North Carolina game on Wednesday night, the video quickly caught fire on Twitter, spreading far and wide as fans all over reacted to something most had never seen before. Shoe technology has reached a point where someone basically running through their seams is almost unheard of.

That is, unless you are a professional athlete or around them all the time. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and forward Jabari Parker each said it's not as uncommon as those reacting on social media may have believed.

"There's a lot of powerful athletes and I've seen it many times throughout my career," said Brooks, who was a 10-year NBA veteran player before joining the coaching ranks.

Parker, 23 and in his fourth NBA season, has both seen it and experienced it.

"It happened to me in practice, but the shoes that I had were much older," Parker said. "It's usually like older shoes. But yeah, that's a first for a new shoe."

Williamson is a star freshman at Duke, not unlike Parker once was. He went second overall in the 2014 NBA Draft after one year with the Blue Devils. Parker was in a similar position, playing out one season in the college ranks before jumping to the pros, as most expect Williamson to do.

That one year in college can carry some risk. Fortunately, Williamson appears to have avoided serious injury. But the now-infamous play certainly reminded everyone that one split-second can change everything, especially for an athlete with millions of dollars and what his hopefully a long NBA career in his future.

Parker has twice torn his ACL, so he is no stranger to serious knee injuries. He could tell right away that Williamson wasn't seriously hurt.

"Just looking at it, I didn't think it was that bad. His body really stayed in line, he didn't really go outside of himself. He just slipped," Parker said.

And after processing it all, Parker wasn't all that surprised Williamson would break through a shoe. Parker has done it and so have others he has played with. And though he's around explosive athletes all the time, Williamson is on a different level.

"He's like a Bo Jackson-like athlete. He'll break through his gear, that's how powerful he is," Parker said. "You've gotta remember that. It's not a matter of his body being weak in spots, it's about the product that he's using around him."
 

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