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Game 1 showed how much Wizards need a healthy Otto Porter to win vs. Raptors

Game 1 showed how much Wizards need a healthy Otto Porter to win vs. Raptors

Otto Porter has demonstrated a knack for playing through and ultimately getting past injuries this season and the Wizards now need that to be the case more than ever.

The sharpshooting small forward left the team's penultimate regular season game with a right lower leg strain and missed the finale. In the Wizards' Game 1 loss against the Raptors, Porter looked hobbled by the injury, especially after landing awkwardly on his right leg early in the first quarter.

RELATED: DON'T BLAME WIZARDS' GAME 1 LOSS ON THE REFS

Porter, 24, has battled a right hip injury for years and it cropped up several times throughout the 2017-18 regular season. He would periodically leave games or miss practice, but would always bounce back quickly. Two full off-days between Games 1 and 2 should help that cause this time around with this particular injury.

The Wizards certainly hope so because they saw in Game 1 just how much they need Porter at full-strength. He is invaluable in several areas of the game where the Wizards struggled against Toronto, including shooting threes and defending them.

Porter finished third in the NBA this season in three-point percentage. He shot 44.1 percent on 4.1 attempts per game. In Game 1, Porter went just 1-for-3 and the Wizards made only eight threes. They averaged 9.9 per game during the regular season.

The Raptors allowed less three-pointers (8.9/g) than any team in the league and were second in preventing three-point attempts (25.0/g). Porter can help the Wizards break through the Raptors' perimeter defense, but he has to be healthy to do so.

RELATED: HAS BROOKS LOST TRUST IN HIS BENCH PLAYERS?

Porter's game relies heavily on him moving without the ball, cutting to and from the basket and rolling off screens. He isn't the fastest guy to begin with and can't afford to lose the mobility he has. 

Porter topped out at nine points in Game 1 and attempted only seven shots. He had only one field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, a missed three-pointer with 5:18 to go. The Wizards were outscored by Toronto 28-21 in the final frame and lost by eight points.

John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to shoot 2-for-8 in the fourth, as the Wizards kept going back to them down the stretch. Porter was not a factor and it's one of the reasons their offense stalled late in the game. The mere threat of him shooting threes can space the floor and open up their offense.

The Wizards also need Porter for three-point defense. It is an area the Wizards have improved in significantly in the two years under head coach Scott Brooks and Porter has played an important role. He does a good job navigating screens to pressure perimeter shooters and has the length and timing to alter shots. 

RELATED: WALL TALKED TRASH TO DRAKE TO HIS FACE

Porter was third on the Wizards this season in contested three-point shots per game (2.3). Beal is one of the best in the NBA in the category with 4.1 contested threes per game and Kelly Oubre, Jr. was second on the team at 2.9. Those three lead the charge for the Wizards, who were sixth in opponent three-point percentage (34.9) and 12th in three-pointers allowed per game (10.2).

Those numbers did not hold up in Game 1. The Raptors went off for a franchise playoff record 16 threes and shot 51.7 percent from long range. That's not all on Porter, of course, but he is one of their best answers to make adjustments.

Porter's play is even more important than usual at the moment also because Oubre is struggling. Brooks only played Oubre 16 minutes in Game 1, 11.5 less than his season average.

The third-year forward has been mired in a shooting slump. He shot 30.6 percent from the field and 18.9 percent from three in his final 10 regular season games. He went 1-for-4 in Game 1.

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Oubre is also not as consistent as Brooks would like him to be on defense and he committed a costly turnover with 6:36 left in the fourth quarter that led to a timely three for the Raptors. If Brooks wants to go away from Oubre like he did at times during last year's playoffs, he needs Porter at full capacity.

Porter is indispensable for the Wizards in all scenarios and especially now given the stakes of the playoffs and how he can help specifically against this Raptors team. How he rebounds from Game 1 and from this injury could determine plenty as the Wizards hope to extend their season.

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

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USA TODAY Sports

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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