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Markieff Morris remembers Rasual Butler, whom he looked up to growing up in Philly

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Markieff Morris remembers Rasual Butler, whom he looked up to growing up in Philly

The NBA world was shocked and saddened by the passing of former player Rasual Butler and his wife Leah LaBelle last month in a single-car accident in California.

The news hit close to home for Wizards forward Markieff Morris, who had followed Butler's basketball journey long before he was playing in the pros.

Butler, who played 13 years in the NBA, grew up in Philadelphia and starred at Roman Catholic High School before playing four years at LaSalle University.

Butler was making his name in Philly when Morris was a young kid with big basketball dreams.

RELATED: BEAL AND PORTER REMEMBER RASUAL BUTLER

Butler showed how far the game could take you, no matter where you are from.

"He paved the way for guys like me coming out of Philly, man," Morris said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast. "He was from South Philly. He went to La Salle University where I work out a lot at."

Markieff's twin brother, Marcus, shared similar comments to MassLive.com soon after Butler's death and following a Celtics win over the Knicks.

"Rasual was one of my good friends," Marcus said. "I kind of dedicated this game to him. That kind of hit home because he was one of the guys that showed us the way in Philadelphia."

RELATED: NBA WORLD REACTS TO BUTLER'S PASSING

Butler set the example for the Morris twins growing up in Philly and they now do the same for young kids in the area through their play on the court and work in the community outside of basketball. The legacy lives on.

Markieff knows the pain many in Philadelphia have been feeling these past few weeks.

"That's a tough loss for us," he said.

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For more from Markieff Morris, listen to our interview with him on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Yes, Bobby Portis once bowled a 285 and that's another reason to strike up affection for the new Wizard

Yes, Bobby Portis once bowled a 285 and that's another reason to strike up affection for the new Wizard

WASHINGTON -- Spare your outrage upon hearing Bobby Portis’ take. 

The Wizards power forward believes his game, one honed in Chicago that includes a striking hook shot, is the NBA’s best. 

“I want to say I am. I’m pretty damn good. I’m not cocky at all about anything," Portis said, “but bowling is one thing I’m really confident with.”

Don’t split after that lede. At least wait until finding out more about an honor the Arkansas native received during the All-Star break that frames his high school career forever. There’s also the potential with the Wizards just two weeks after a trade X’d out the stretch-4’s time with the Bulls.

That deal also interrupted league play. 

Portis showed up every Wednesday to Diversey River Bowl in the Logan Square section of Chicago, at least when the Bulls’ schedule permitted.  At first, Portis just wanted to keep his skills sharp. You don’t roll a 285 by accident. 

“I’m a very active bowler. I loooove bowling,” Portis explained to NBC Sports Washington. “It’s something I do each and every day in the summer.”

The former University of Arkansas standout fell hard for the game back in his native Little Rock. He and a group of friends would battle with push-ups at stake.

He arrives at the alley with a 14-pound, bowling ball. The trusty multi-colored orb helps the NBA big man do damage in the lane.

“I throw the hook, man,” Portis proudly stated. “Bowling takes a lot of skill and exercise and a lot of relaxation. You can’t just go out there and throw it hard.”

Portis moved to Chicago after the Bulls selected him 22nd overall in the 2015 NBA Draft. After he settled into his new professional life, he went searching for a game.

The initial plan involved an incognito approach that was a real gutter ball.

“I tried to have my hood on the first time I went so nobody would notice me,” the 6-foot-11 NBA player admitted, “but after that, it was a wrap. Taking pictures all damn night.”

Portis got to know some of those picture takers. “Just random dudes,” he said. 

Soon Rajon Rondo and Lauri Markkanen weren’t his only teammates. 

“I would go just practice my game and found these dudes I was cool with,” Portis said. “I exchanged numbers with them. We starting hanging out a lot. Started bowling. Then they invited me to their little league. I was bowling in their league ever since.

His now famous “crazy eyes” bulged during the reminiscing.

“It’s a really cool league,” Portis said. “You see a lot of old people there. They’re really good. They bring their balls. I never really knew people loved bowling like that until I joined their league.”

The trade to Washington put the bowling league on hold. 

Portis did not quite know what to make of the deal initially. He entered his fourth season with a goal of being named Sixth Man of the Year. Suffering a right knee injury during Chicago’s fourth game derailed those hopes. Portis missed the next 23 games, returned for five and then sat out an extended stretch with an ankle issue.

The 2019 restricted free agent found his touch in January, averaging 14.2 points while shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. The trade occurred three days after Portis scored 33 points on Feb. 3 and moments before Chicago hosted New Orleans.

 “It was a crazy experience,” Portis said. “Had my jersey on, was ready to play.”

With time for reflection, Portis now sees the positives with Washington.

“I get more time on the court, show what I can do,” Portis said. “I’m just happy to be a Wizard. …Trades happen. I’m over it now. Have a chance to fight for the playoffs.”

Portis made quite the impression on his new team after four games, averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 29.3 minutes off the bench while sinking a staggering 54.5 percent of his 3-pointers.

“He surprised me how good of a 3-point shooter he is for his size and his position,” Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky said. “I think it’s going to be fun also playing pick-and-roll, pick-and-pops with him.”

That fun could continue into next season if the Wizards retain Satoransky, another RFA, and Portis, who plays minutes at center with Washington.

“I can’t predict the future, whether I’ll be here or whether I’ll be somewhere else,” Portis said. “I know I can control the now. Now is me putting the work in each and every day.”

Back in the day Portis first gained notoriety playing for Little Rock’s Hall High School. He led the Warrior to four state championships. Those accomplishments plus his subsequent work in college and the NBA led to the school retiring Portis’ jersey during the All-Star break.

“When you’re a kid growing up playing the game of basketball, you’re just playing for the love of the game,” Portis said. “I never knew I would get my high school jersey retired. Man, it was a surreal moment for me and my family.”

Despite the honor, Portis is not the school’s most notable basketball alum.

“I think Sidney Moncrief is more famous than I am,” Portis said about the five-time NBA All-Star currently up for nomination to the Basketball Hall of Fame. 

More famous than Portis, sure. Better bowler, probably not. 

Among current NBA players, Portis only imagines another known bowling fanatic, Rockets guard Chris Paul, as competition. 

Perhaps someone should organize a game of one-on-one.

“Might have to,” Portis said, “especially since the All-Star game is in Chicago next year.” 

If that happens, expect a bunch of random dudes to spare some time for a former teammate back in town. 

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Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Eight full days will have passed between games for the Wizards when they tip off against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington). That week-plus gave plenty of time for the Wizards to rest up and reset for the final 24 games of the season.

It also offered time for reflection and for where they currently stand in the playoff race to set in. While the game-by-game churn before the All-Star break allowed the team and their observers to get lost in the rhythm of the season, the reality is they have lost seven of 10 and are three games out of a playoff spot.

The Wizards will come out of the break hoping the time off shifted their momentum in the other direction. While teams that were on winning streaks aim to keep it rolling despite they layoff, the Wizards will look for a fresh start.

It won't be easy to make up the necessary ground in time before the regular season runs out, but they have a real opportunity against the Hornets. Charlotte is seventh in the Eastern Conference and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards in the postseason hunt. 

A win against the Hornets would allow the Wizards to inch closer in the standings and give them a second victory against Charlotte this season. Head-to-head records can determine playoff tiebreakers and the Wizards won the first of four meetings between the teams back on Dec. 29.

There are four total games between the Wizards and Hornets this season. The final two are both in March. If the Wizards win on Friday, they will have two chances to take the tiebreaker.

There is some irony in the timing of the Wizards' match-up with the Hornets. It was this Charlotte team that Washington began their initial surge without John Wall against.

They learned Wall would be done for the season the day of their first meeting with the Hornets. That night, they beat Charlotte and went on to win eight of 12 games. 

The Wizards will need at least one more run like that if they are to climb back into the playoff race. They have to get hot and sooner than later.

Working in their favor will be the return of Tomas Satoransky to the starting lineup. The point guard missed the final two games before the break due to the birth of his first child

Perhaps they can get things going once again by starting with the Hornets, just like they did nearly two months ago.

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