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Less than two years after Game 7 in Boston, almost everything is different for Wizards

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Less than two years after Game 7 in Boston, almost everything is different for Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Tomas Satoransky months ago looked at the locker to his left and pondered. Before the start of his third season, Satoransky already had gone through two teammates in that spot because “Meeks” recently was removed from the nameplate spot and replaced with “Howard”. He was asked to recall everyone else who cycled through that locker since he arrived from Europe in 2016. He rattled off some names and knew one thing: Kelly Oubre Jr. had always been to his right. 

Friday, John Jenkins, nearing the end of a 10-day contract, took temporary shelter under bulbous headphones at what used to be Oubre’s locker. Even Oubre had long ago left Satoransky following a mid-December trade to Phoenix. Sam Dekker dressed in what was Jason Smith’s spot. Howard’s locker remained empty. Jordan McRae had a light pregame meal at the next locker over. John Wall’s stall at the end of the row had a tomb-like feeling. Only a small batch of socks, practice jerseys and shorts dangled together, tethered onto a hanger above two pairs of unused shoes. The Larry O’Brien photo hanging on the locker’s back wall was obscured by the clean laundry.

Satoransky was the lone constant on his side of the locker room. Bradley Beal and Ian Mahinmi were the only multi-year occupants on their side. Just four players -- Beal, Satoransky, Mahinmi and Wall -- remain on the roster from Game 7 against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, played less than two years ago. Only two -- Beal and Satoransky -- play with any regularity. The Wizards have undergone a massive shift in roster and trajectory since the night that closed a 49-win season with a reasonable argument more could have been, and would be, expected. 

“[That’s] how the league’s going,” Satoransky told NBC Sports Washington. “Still getting used to that. So much trades this year. We changed everyone. I actually saw a tweet that we are the last four players from that season -- Ian, John, Brad and me. It’s kind of crazy. You don’t even think of that because you’re still going. Season doesn’t stop because of that. But when you look around, and you just remember, it’s kind of crazy how much we’ve changed.”

No two teams since that night exemplify the shifting of NBA rosters more than Boston and Washington. Of the 13 players available to the Wizards on May 15, 2017, the aforementioned four remain. Despite reaching the Eastern Conference Finals that season, only four players -- Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier -- are still playing for the Celtics. The combined groups couldn’t produce a full starting lineup. 

Otto Porter and Markieff Morris were the last pieces removed from that Wizards group following trades last week. Morris’ “FOE” sticker (Family Over Everything) was peeled off the top of his locker after he was dealt to New Orleans for Wesley Johnson. Bobby Portis has taken Otto Porter’s old locker, providing a slight linguistic and enormous personality twist in the spot. Jabari Parker now sits in the corner Marcin Gortat occupied for four seasons, but has been used as a revolving home in 2018-19.

All of the tumult and turnover combined with Wall’s injuries to alter the path of the team since they walked out of Boston. That night, Scott Brooks, Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis met outside the Wizards locker room after the game. Their conclusion? “We’re close.” They felt small changes could push them into the conference finals for a swing at LeBron James. Beal and Wall deemed the season a failure at the time because it stalled in the semifinals. 

Washington came up with six fewer wins the following year and a quick first-round exit at the hands of the Toronto Raptors. Wall missed half of the season. After last weekend’s consecutive wins over two of the league’s wayward teams, the Wizards are now 24-32, again without Wall for the rest of the year and trying to scratch their way into the back end of the playoffs.

“It’s totally different,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington of now vs. the end of the Boston series. “I don’t think there’s anybody...me...Me, John, Sato and Ian. Crazy. That’s crazy. That’s the league. Guys come and go. Especially when we weren’t having that much success after that. Having 49 wins, making it that far -- the last year and a half, two years, has been kind of rocky for us. Now, it’s a totally different team. A lot has changed. I’m kind of thrown into a position now where I have to be an ultimate leader. I’ve been embracing it. It’s been a challenge but it’s been fun, too.”

He’s working without Wall, something Beal first became accustomed to -- or at least dealt with -- for an extended period last season. The ball is in his hands much more. His time as a pseudo-point guard has it moments, in both positive and negative directions. “Now I know what John deals with all the time,” Beal said before the season began. 

Only Wall knows how much the last two years have weighed on him. An arthroscopic debridement of his left knee in January of 2018 was followed by heel surgery to remove bone spurs a year later. A slip tore 95 percent of Wall’s tenuous Achilles tendon three weeks after the bone spur surgery aimed toward preventing that specific injury. Asked if he is surprised by the massive roster changes since Boston, Wall, his left knee resting on the padded seat of a purple scooter with a gray boot framing the end of his leg, looked around at the nameplates in the locker room. 

“Mmmm,” Wall said as he glanced across the room. “No, not really. I’m so used to having so many new teammates every year, it’s kind of like nothing new. ... I think when I got injured, kind of missed a lot of time last year, they kind of had to go a different way and try to get under the [luxury] tax so they can make some moves throughout the summer. No, I’m not [surprised]. It’s great that they added these pieces and Brad’s going to continue to lead these guys.”

Even for those who remain, much has changed since the loss in Boston. Beal is no longer solely Wall’s backcourt partner. Instead, he is the team’s lone All-Star representative, it’s voice, motor and lead rope-puller. The injuries stalled Wall’s ascension following his first season of All-NBA recognition and filled his future with questions. Mahinmi rarely plays. Satoransky has acquitted himself well for the second straight season as the starting point guard with Wall out. He didn’t play in Game 7 against the Celtics. But the memory of being on the cusp and recognition of massive change remains.

“I remember leaving that place with feelings like we didn’t take care of the advantage we had there, not only Game 7, but [also] Game 2,” Satoransky said. “We feel like we should [have won] those games. It was like opportunity that passed by us, we all felt very disappointed. We felt disappointed because it was going well. Then, you don’t think about it, but now that you remind me, it’s crazy how much everything has changed. But I guess this is how NBA goes now.”


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The Wizards are keeping a very close eye on John Wall in his recovery, and he prefers it that way

The Wizards are keeping a very close eye on John Wall in his recovery, and he prefers it that way

This week is Wall Week at NBC Sports Washington. We are rolling out content each day centering around the Wizards' five-time All-Star point guard. Today, we examine how the Wizards are closely monitoring his rehab from a ruptured left Achilles...

With $170 million committed to John Wall over the next four years, the Washington Wizards will do everything they can to make sure they get his rehab from a ruptured Achilles right. The future of their franchise depends on it.

So, in order to certify that things are going well, there is a team of people at work. Jesse Phillips, the Wizards' director of player performance and rehabilitation, has spent much of his summer in Miami, FL where Wall makes his offseason home. Steve Smith, the team's senior director of health wellness and performance, flies in to be with Wall Monday through Thursday.

Wizards assistant coach Alex McLean leads Wall through his on-court workouts, which at this point feature only light basketball activities. General manager Tommy Sheppard and head coach Scott Brooks have also made the trek to South Florida to check on Wall. And Dr. Daniel Medina, the Wizards' new chief of athlete care and performance, has been involved, making sure all of those playing a role in Wall's recovery are on the same page. 

Wall also has his own people who are Miami-based. He has a physical trainer, Dr. Brett Fox, who counts many professional athletes as his clients including Wall's former teammate Jeff Green and NFL wide receiver Allen Hurns. And Wall has a personal trainer, Andy Luaces at Core Fitness, who has worked with Green, Hornets point guard Terry Rozier and many college and pro football players who reside in the Miami area.

There are a lot of people working with Wall and monitoring his progress. His rehab is being so closely managed that he joked at a recent charity event: "I feel like I'm in solitary [confinement]."

Keeping tabs on Wall's recovery goes beyond simply having people there to see it. Phillips and Smith prepare reports on Wall's daily progress. Those notes, sometimes paired with video, are sent to top executives in the organization including managing partner Ted Leonsis. 

Leonsis doesn't just skim past them in his email inbox, either.

"I used to start my day reading the Washington Post. Now I start my day reading [and watching] my daily John Wall exercise video," Leonsis said.

Part of the reports include Wall's weight. He weighs in towards the beginning and end of each month to track his progress. 

All of it makes for a painstakingly detailed process. But despite being the subject of all that attention, Wall doesn't mind being micromanaged.

"It’s great for me, to understand that the organization I give my all to and the city I give me all to has my full support and believes I can come back to be the player I am," Wall told NBC Sports Washington. 

"That’s the best-case scenario. I’ve seen guys who have been with organizations that didn’t really stand by those guys. To have Ted and Tommy and all those guys, Coach Brooks, the whole D.C. community or DMV, has my support, it means a lot to me."

"John knows that. We text and talk all the time," Leonsis said. "I think great athletes think that’s fantastic. We care about him."

Wall, who turns 29 next month, is entering his 10th NBA season. He has been around long enough to have undergone several significant injury rehabs. He has made plenty of friends in the league and has heard how other organizations have treated their injured players.

Wall believes the Wizards are doing things right and in part by expressing almost extreme patience. Everyone from Leonsis on down has said that Wall has no defined timeline to return. They will be understanding even if he has to miss all of the 2019-20 season to make a full recovery.

Wall says that patience isn't there in other situations.

"To know they have my back and that I don’t have to rush back, it’s the best [situation] ever," Wall said. "A lot of guys have been in this position and they have to rush back from injuries. I don’t have to do that. I can take my time."

How much time Wall will end up taking seems to be very much up in the air. Leonsis said at a press conference last month said that Wall "probably won't play at all next year." But in order for that to happen, Wall's rehab would stretch to an unusually long amount of time.

The return timeline for a ruptured Achilles is generally 11 to 15 months. The 11-month mark is in January when three months of the season will still remain. He could even take 13 months, one month longer than most players have had in the past, and still return to play 15-20 games.

Missing all of next season would mean Wall waits 20 months following his surgery to return to NBA game action. That is a long time, especially considering Wall is in a precious window of his athletic prime.

But Wall, at least at this point, insists he is in no rush.

"I’m enjoying it. It’s a fun process," he said. "It’s not boring like a lot of people told me it would be. I love the challenge."

What may ultimately be tough to balance is that patience coupled with Wall's competitive drive. When the regular season is in full swing and the Wizards are where they are in the standings, will Wall be willing to stay on the sidelines?

Because as much as Wall says the right things about taking the long view and being understanding if doctors say he should sit out all of next year, he can't help but also issue warnings to his critics, the stuff that suggests he has some urgency to get back in due time.

"I love to hear everybody talking about ‘oh he will never be it again, John Wall is done.’ That motivates me more every day," he said. "I wake up and say ‘I’m going to prove somebody wrong.’"


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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

WASHINGTON – Shey Peddy rarely gets to see the floor as a part of the WNBA-leading Washington Mystics. Sunday was only the 10th game of her WNBA career, playing in garbage time of what was going to be another dominant Mystics victory. 

She only managed three points on one made basket, but it was perhaps the biggest basket of the night. As Peddy, 30, caught a pass at the wing in her right hand, she quickly squared up and delivered a 3-point basket for Washington. It was the Mystics’ 18 such basket from range on the day, a new WNBA record. 

This is just the latest in the plethora of record-breaking performances for the Mystics in 2019. A massive 107-68 victory over the Indiana Fever is starting to feel habitual for those in the Entertainment and Sports Arena. More records falling on a daily basis.

Which, by the way, winning by 39 points also gave the Mystics their 11th win of 20 points or more to build on their current WNBA record. There are seven games still left on the schedule.

“When you shoot 39 threes and make 18 of them and you have 30 assists for the game, coach has to be pretty happy,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “The world looks really good when you’re making shots.”

Even more impressive is that the Mystics accomplished such a feat without one of their star players Kristi Toliver. Entering the contest she had made the second most 3-point baskets on the team and did so at a 36% clip. But had the Mystics had Toliver, Peddy would not have been in the lineup. She recently signed a seven-day player contract with the team to fill Toliver’s roster spot. 

Production was from all corners of the roster to set the 3-point mark. Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers both had four each from long range as the bench added six.  Emma Meesseman, who came off the bench, led the unit as they combined for 36 points. 

In total, nine of the 11 eligible players on the gameday roster made a 3-pointer, with all 11 scoring a point. The only one who didn’t get one long ball attempt was center LaToya Sanders.

While the team was unaware of the record, they consciously knew that Sanders was the only one who didn’t shoot a 3-point shot.

“We’re going to get [LaToya] to shoot one. I’m going to give it to her real late in the shot clock, watch,” Natasha Cloud said postgame. 

The center has attempted two threes in her entire seven-year career. 

Like all games throughout the season at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast D.C., there was a match lit underneath the Mystics (20-7) in the opening moments of the contest. They jumped out to a 24-4 lead over Indiana and held the Fever without a basket from the floor for the first seven minutes. 

An admirable 13-0 run by the Fever (9-17) momentarily made it a game in the second quarter. However, right after the spark the Fever’s top player Candice Dupree exited the game with a finger injury. She spent the rest of the game courtside sporting a splint. 

Elena Delle Donne contributed to three of the team’s recording-breaking 3-point baskets. She also recorded her 11th game with 20-plus points as she led all scorers with 25. 

In addition to the setting the WNBA’s 3-point record, having nine separate players hit one also set another record. Recording 30 assists put them two shy of another single-game high. 

It all came as the Mystics closed their toughest stretch of 2019: three games in five days. Their next goal? Rest, and they’ve earned it on their six-game winning streak.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas no matter what. Once we clinched a playoff spot, we didn’t come into this game thinking ‘alright let’s relax.’ We came into this game, ‘okay let’s continue to separate ourselves.'”