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Isaiah Thomas joins Wizards with rivalry squashed, opportunity with John Wall out

Isaiah Thomas joins Wizards with rivalry squashed, opportunity with John Wall out

LAS VEGAS -- For Isaiah Thomas and the Wizards, there is plenty of familiarity that precedes the one-year free-agent deal he signed to join them. Thomas and John Wall go way back, before Wall "blew up," as Thomas describes it. 

There is also some irony in Thomas playing for the Wizards, the last team he was himself against. He lit them up in the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, back when he was with the Boston Celtics, but in the two year's since has battled a nagging hip injury as he tries to reclaim his All-NBA form.

Those Thomas-led Celtics were more than just a playoff opponent for the Wizards. The two teams sparred in a brief, but spirited rivalry, a feud that included both teams wearing all black to symbolize funeral games.

“It was never personal. It’s weird to say that I am a Washington Wizard," Thomas said. "I was competing with them two or three years in the Eastern Conference and we’re battling, it felt like we hated each other."

Much has transpired for Thomas since. The torn labrum in his right hip required surgery. He has bounced around between the Cavaliers, Lakers and Nuggets. Last season in Denver, he played only 12 games and shot 34.3 percent.

Thomas played through the injury when it first occurred during that 2017 playoff run with the Celtics. He put his body on the line and lost a lot of money for doing so. While he was once an MVP candidate and about to be paid like one, the drop in production has led to him signing minimum contracts the last two summers.

Thomas, though, says he's the healthiest he has felt since 2017. There is a marked change in how he feels from the last two offseasons. He believes he has a real chance now to restore himself as a legitimate starting point guard.

“I took a bullet. That's in terms of max contracts, all that. People not playing to get their max deals. I took a bullet for sure," Thomas said of playing through the hip problem.

"I was going through other stuff at that time, so basketball was the only thing that was helping me through that time off the court. But I feel like yeah, especially with the Kawhi Leonard thing, he sat out for a reason. He seen my situation, for sure he seen it. The list goes on. Load management I think is smart for players."

Thomas, now 30, thought the opportunity for redemption would come in Denver last season. But, as he tells it, the team was better than anyone expected. They were set at guard with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Monte Morris. Thomas used that time to get his body right, but never saw meaningful minutes.

He believes there is an opening for him in Washington. With Wall out for at least 50-plus games next season due to a ruptured Achilles, Thomas could secure a starting job. He has to beat out veteran Ish Smith, but if he's healthy, that is certainly possible.

"It's not great news, but with John being out most of the year, it gives me an opportunity to come in and play right away," Thomas said. "When I met with the Wizards last week, it was like they really wanted me and it was like a genuine want, and that’s all I want."

Thomas has known Wall since he was in high school, right before he became the top recruit in the country. They met at a basketball camp long before they were in the NBA. By now, they have been friends for more than a decade.

Thomas wants the best for Wall, but won't mind taking advantage of the opportunity presented by him being out.

"I want to win and I think that was one of the most important things in the Wizards meeting was like' I’m coming here to win,'" Thomas said. "I don’t know any other way and they felt the same way."



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Loss to Magic shows how Wizards have few ideal options on defense

Loss to Magic shows how Wizards have few ideal options on defense

Wizards assistant coach and defensive specialist Mike Longabardi referred to them as "dare shots" on the NBC Sports Washington broadcast. Head coach Scott Brooks said after the game the Wizards were "playing the percentages." Basically, they gave Markelle Fultz and the Magic distance when playing defense, asking them to earn respect for their range. Orlando, to be fair, entered the game shooting 29 percent from three, dead-last in the NBA, and Fultz is a career 20-percent three-point shooter.

But the whole plan backfired. The Wizards instead met an unintended consequence in their 125-121 loss to the Magic on Sunday night. Fultz and his teammates not only made threes early, they kept it up all night, apparently finding a rhythm as a result of taking what the defense was offering. 

Fultz, the former No. 1 pick maligned for his so-called broken shot, sank two from the perimeter to tie a career-high. The Magic as a team made 15 threes, tying a season-high, and shot 39.5 percent from long range.

The Wizards went under screens and played off of Magic players they felt were unlikely to beat them with outside shooting, and it cost them. On one hand, it is easy to kick the Wizards while they are down. They didn't properly respect an opponent that, after all, is still an NBA team. 

Even guys who supposedly can't shoot can make them if left open. Even non-shooters practice and make threes all the time outside of games. Show up early to any NBA game and watch warm-ups and you can see that for yourself. 

But in a sense, the Wizards' reasoning can be understood. Even against a team like the Magic, a team that entered Sunday night averaging only 100.3 points per game (29th in the NBA), they may have to get creative.

That is because the Wizards have been and likely will continue to be a bad defensive team. They currently rank 29th out of 30 teams in defensive rating (114.4) and are dead-last in points allowed (120.1/g.). 

Without prototypical defensive personnel, the Wizards will need to think outside the box to get stops. Overloading one way or the other based on percentages may be the answer on a given night. 

The problem is that the Wizards didn't do their job in other areas. In addition to giving up too many threes, they didn't shore up things on the backend, either. Even with their manpower shifted closer to the rim, they still couldn't protect it.

The Magic had 42 points in the paint and outrebounded the Wizards 52-38. That included Orlando center Nikola Vucevic pouring in 30 points to go along with 17 boards all by himself.

The early goings of this season have demonstrated how the Wizards have no easy answers on the defensive end. The good news is that they do have a high-powered offense. While their defensive rating ranks second-worst in the league, their offensive rating is the best of any team and they are third in points scored.

Right now, the only way the Wizards can win is if they score a ton of points, as even broken Metro cars make more stops than them.


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Bradley Beal becomes 5th Wizard to reach 10,000-point milestone

Bradley Beal becomes 5th Wizard to reach 10,000-point milestone

Bradley Beal joined an exclusive group Sunday night. 

His 34 points were enough to reach the 10,000-point milestone, climbing up to fifth in the all-time franchise scoring ladder in the process. 

He scored his 19th point in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points in that frame alone. He hit some smoothly-stroked 3-pointers in a comeback attempt that came short. After scoring 44 points in two straight contests, his 34 against Orlando came as no surprise. Now, only Elvin Hayes, Jeff Malone, Wes Unseld and John Wall have scored more points for Washington.

Beal's accomplishment comes one game after he passed Wall and Gilbert Arenas for the most 40-point and 10-assist outings in Wizards history with three. He fell two assists and six points shy of extending that record even further. 

Beal joins Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis from the 2012 NBA Draft class as players to reach the historic feat. He's taken the scoring load on his shoulders this season, and it wouldn't be shocking if he continues to climb the scoring charts. Given his long-term commitment to the team following his two-year max contract extension in the offseason, Beal certainly has a chance at scoring more points than any Wizard when all is said and done.