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Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets present a new challenge Wizards haven't faced in months

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets present a new challenge Wizards haven't faced in months

Now 72 games into the 2018-19 regular season, the Wizards will finally get their first look at one of the most improved teams in the NBA. On Thursday night, the Wizards welcome the Denver Nuggets to town for a 7 p.m. tip on NBC Sports Washington. 

That means the Wizards will face off with star center Nikola Jokic for the first time this season. Jokic, 24, is likely to receive MVP votes with averages of 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. He is a certified superstar with the team results to back up his resume.

He and the Nuggets are in contention for the top record in the Western Conference. They trail the Warriors by just a half a game as they ride a four-game winning streak.

The Wizards, meanwhile, are nearing playoff elimination. After losing three of their last four, they stare at a 5 1/2 game gap between them and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. At this point, it may be a matter of when and not if they will make the postseason, as the Miami Heat have taken firm control over the No. 8 spot.

The Wizards are likely safe to plan their summer vacations, but they may be able to put up a respectable fight against Denver. The Wizards are particularly good at home with a 22-14 record in Washington compared to an 8-28 elsewhere.

They also, for whatever reason, happen to be very good in the second game of back-to-backs. After losing on Wednesday night in Chicago, they are 2-12 in the first games, but they boast a 9-4 record in the second ones.

Denver wouldn't be the first good team the Wizards have beaten on zero days rest. They have wins against the Heat, Nets, Sixers and Pacers in those scenarios.

The Nuggets, though, are better than all of those teams. In addition to Jokic, they have Jamal Murray (18.2 ppg, 37.5 3PT%), Gary Harris (13.5 ppg), Paul Millsap (13 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and a deep bench.

Denver is good on both ends of the floor. They are third in offensive rating (114), 10th in defensive rating (108.9) and they allow the sixth-fewest points (107/g).
At 47-22, the Nuggets are on pace for 56 wins. That would mark their second-best season since the 1970s.

The Nuggets are one of the fastest rising teams in the NBA. The Wizards, at least this season, are trending in the other direction. It may be the biggest challenge Washington has faced in months.

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Why (and how) your NBA Cares Community Assist Award vote should go to Bradley Beal

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Why (and how) your NBA Cares Community Assist Award vote should go to Bradley Beal

Voting has officially begun for the season-long NBA Community Assist Award, and Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal is a finalist. 

Chosen by fans and an NBA executive panel, the award honors a player’s strong commitment to positively impacting his community through sustained efforts over the course of the season.

In December, Beal visited Ron Brown College Preparatory High school in D.C. to give away two pairs of shoes to every member of the JV and varsity basketball teams.

It didn't stop there. Beal took his role as a mentor to the next level by checking in with the kids multiple times a month to make sure they are on the right track in both athletics and their academic studies.

Later on in February, Beal invited 10 students from RBHS on a private tour of the National African-American History and Culture Museum.

The seven-year NBA veteran also made a point to donate game tickets to community groups and toys to the Salvation Army during the holiday season. 

Here's some key information about the voting process: 

  1. Voting begins: Wednesday, April 24th at 12:01 p.m.
  2. Voting ends: Sunday, May 5th at 11:59 p.m.
  3. How does voting work? Through the above date range, every tweet posted using both of the hashtags #BradleyBeal and #NBACommunityAssist counts as one vote.
  4. Retweets of tweets using the above hashtags also count as one vote

This all comes following another All-Star season that saw the 25-year-old finish with career-highs in points (25.6), rebounds (5.0), and assists (5.5). He played in all 82 regular-season games. 

The winning player will receive $25,000 to their charity of choice, a donation from the NBA and Kaiser Permanente.

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The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

The next Damian Lillard will be drafted this June, Ja Morant

On Tuesday night, Portland guard Damian Lillard broke #NBATwitter with his 37-foot, series-clinching buzzer-beater against Oklahoma City. 

It's not the first time we've seen him do that, but it's by far the biggest impact his play has had on the NBA world to this point.

Fair or not, Lillard's image has always been the overlooked underdog.  Even after being named All-NBA First Team last season, it's rare you hear his name mentioned among the NBA's most popular players. 

That attitude is what fuels the Portland Trail Blazers though. It's what the entire roster uses as motivation every game. It's a mindset every team in the NBA should be emulating too, and it starts with their star. 

If you're an organization in the middle of a rebuild, you should be looking no further than Ja Morant if you want this same organizational mindset going forward.

Ja Morant is the next Dame Lillard.

Ja Morant is going to be a star. 

The Wizards are one of those teams, and with the NBA Draft Lottery coming May 14, if the ping pong balls land in their favor, Morant needs to be their pick at No. 2 in the NBA Draft.

Don't worry about any other point guards on the roster and what that means. Don't pass on Morant.

Obviously, No. 1 would mean Zion Williamson, and anything past No. 2 means both are probably off the board, so we'll stick with that No. 2 pick in this case.

Both Lillard and Morant come from small schools in Weber State and Murray State, respectively. Both were under-recruited with Lillard being just a two-star and Morant not even being ranked by recruiting services ESPN, 247Sports, or Rivals.

Lillard was the better three-point shooter coming out of college, but Morant still has range, and can jump out of the gym.

Neither has a ton of size (Lillard 6-2, 185 lbs., and Morant 6-3, 175), but both aren't scared of the spotlight, and step on the court ready to eat the other team alive.

In a star-driven league based so much around player's brands and recognizability, there's something to be said for the guys that have the talent, but haven't been given the stage to show it yet. You get that combination of "chip on their shoulder" mentality with the star potential and work ethic biggy backing it. 

One of the best movie lines ever spoken was in Remember the Titans when Julius tells Gerry "attitude reflects leadership", and it's a mantra any successful team, business, volunteer group, club, or literally any collection of people should follow. 

If you want the right attitude in your locker room, you want leaders that can create it. 

Morant and Lillard share that same leadership, and the results are there to prove it. 

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