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Ian Mahinmi's play through two preseason games gives hope for a timely career turnaround

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Ian Mahinmi's play through two preseason games gives hope for a timely career turnaround

After Friday's win over the Miami Heat in the Wizards' second preseason game, center Ian Mahinmi put on a blue jumpsuit large enough to fit his 6-foot-11 frame with pink and orange sneakers for a pop of color. He met the media in the middle of the locker room at Capital One Arena with a question of his own.

"I just put on cologne. Isn't it refreshing?"

Indeed it was, and so has been Mahinmi's on-court performance through two preseason games, both as a starter in Dwight Howard's place. Mahinmi has explained throughout training camp the benefits of being healthy this past summer, how that allowed him to focus on the finer details of his game. 

So far, it has been easy to see what he means.

"These last two years, I would have to wait until the second part of the season to get my rhythm. I felt like this year, having a healthy summer, I'm ready now," Mahinmi said.

The results are hard to argue with. Mahinmi had 11 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks against the Heat on Friday night. On Monday, in the Wizards' first preseason game against the Knicks, Mahinmi had eight points, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

Mahinmi, 31, is making the defensive impact the Wizards hoped for when they signed him to a four-year free agent contract worth $64 million in the summer of 2016. They wanted rim protection, not just blocks but for Mahinmi to consistently alter shots with his quick hands and agility in the paint.

Through two games and a series of practices, Mahinmi's mobility has stood out above all.

"He’s moving his best he’s moved since he’s been here," head coach Scott Brooks said.

"He came down on his weight, so he's a lot quicker," forward Markieff Morris said.

“He’s got a lot of bounce in his step. He’s like Ian in Indiana a couple of years ago," guard Bradley Beal said.

The Wizards have long been hoping for the Indiana version of Ian to show up. In his last year with the Pacers before signing with Washington, Mahinmi started 71 games and was counted on for 25.6 minutes a night. He averaged 9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals per game. 

In two years with the Wizards, Mahinmi has averaged just 5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.7 steals in 15.7 minutes. In the 2016-17 season, he missed 51 games due to injury.

If all goes well, the Wizards won't have to rely on Mahinmi as much as the Pacers did, as Howard should command a large role as the starter. But if they can get the Mahinmi of old, or 'Indiana Ian,' that could be a key ingredient for the defensive makeover the Wizards are looking for.



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Ted Leonsis maintains optimism amid harsh reality of John Wall injury

Ted Leonsis maintains optimism amid harsh reality of John Wall injury

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- It might be quite a while before we see John Wall on the court playing for the Wizards again.

It was already well-known Wall will miss extended time as he recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon, a rehab that usually takes at least 11 months. But it is starting to sound more and more like he won't play in the 2019-20 season at all.

Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis shared that harsh reality on Monday during a press conference at Capital One Arena.

"Our highest-paid player, our five-time All-Star, may not play at all next year. He probably won't play at all next year," Leonsis said.

If Wall follows the general timeline for the surgery, he could come back sometime early in 2020. A 12-month recovery would have him return in early February.

If Wall missed all of next season, he would return to start the 2020-21 campaign after a 20-month recovery. That would be nearly double the rehab time many players have taken for the same injury over the years. He would be 30 years old by then.

But Wall and the Wizards have reason to be extra patient. He is entering the first season of a four-year, $170 million supermax contract. Punting the first year, even if he is making $38 million, could be worth it in the long run if it means he returns to his All-Star form.

The Wizards are also likely to have a gap year of sorts anyways. They retooled their roster with young, inexperienced players. The odds they make the playoffs this season are lower than they have been in years. The Wizards are taking the long view and they know getting Wall's rehab right is paramount.

Leonsis and team officials currently get daily reports on Wall's progress. After making the supermax investment, they are taking extra measures to ensure he is holding up his end of the bargain. The Wizards closely monitor his weight and have a rotation of physical therapists working with him every day.

If it were up to Wall, he would be more likely to return next season. The team is the side taking extra caution.

"Trust me, nobody wants to get back to the court more than John Wall," GM Tommy Sheppard told NBC Sports Washington. 

"But I've tried to manage this with him and say there is no calendar or clock that is going to tell you to come back. You're going to come back when you're 100 percent healthy. Anybody who has watched him in the playoffs play with broken hands and all of the aches and pains he's had over the years and he still showed up and played at a high, high level. You know you need to monitor him a little more than most. That's the kind of player that is going to try to sneak back on the court any time he can."

What Leonsis said publicly has been the belief behind the scenes in the Wizards organization for quite some time. They are preparing for next season as if he won't play, 

"We have to see if John Wall comes back and how he looks and how he plays," Leonsis told NBC Sports Washington. "If John Wall can come back at 80 percent the year after [in 2020-21], I would be really happy because then we would have a great, great backcourt."


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SPOILER ALERT! Wizards make appearance in New York Times crossword on Sunday

SPOILER ALERT! Wizards make appearance in New York Times crossword on Sunday

Fans of both crossword puzzles and the Washington Wizards had a leg-up when completing the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sunday. 

The clue: "Wizards, but not witches."

The answer: 7 letters, "NBATEAM." 

This isn't the first time famous crosswords have included sports-related clues. The Washington Post and LA Times have used Bobby Orr as an answer many of times (trust me, we always have a half-finished crossword puzzle hiding somewhere in our living room). 

But athletes aren't the only answers to clues. Remember when the Post's Isabelle Khurshudyan revealed the Washington Capitals' "cult of crossword men" back in 2016?

The New York Times even published a list of the top-10 sports names to know for crossword fanatics everywhere. 

Just further proof that sports continue to permeate every aspect of life.