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Why Dwight Howard's continued absence likely increases chances he returns for Wizards next season

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Why Dwight Howard's continued absence likely increases chances he returns for Wizards next season

WASHINGTON -- The latest injury update for Dwight Howard reads similar to previous versions with one exception: Time is running out.

That is essentially what Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said before Monday’s home game against the Utah Jazz when asked by a reporter whether the team planned on shutting down Howard.

“Not officially,” Brooks said.

The eight-time All-Star last played on Nov. 18 and underwent back surgery on Nov. 30. After returning to Washington for additional rehab work, Howard suffered a hamstring injury in early March.

If he’s going to tack on to the nine regular season games played this season for the Wizards (30-41), Howard’s final chance comes Apr. 9 against Boston.

“He’s still getting is work in,” Brooks said of Howard, who has participated in non-contract drills. “The hamstring problem hasn’t yet turned the corner for him. We still have three weeks or so. The season, as I said a couple of days ago, is winding down. It’s going to be tough, but you never know. You never know.”

Based on these updates, it would be surprising if Howard returned this season, which increases the odds he chooses to remain with the team going forward.

Howard signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Wizards in July, which included a player option for the 2019-20 season. The odds of Howard, 32, opting into the second season seemingly increase with each passing day he remains sidelined.

Washington created some salary cap space last month by trading Otto Porter to Chicago before the Feb. 7 league trade deadline. Howard’s $5.5 million salary would eat into that room and potentially alter the team’s thinking entering the off-season.

The Wizards have center Ian Mahinmi on the books for the final year of his 4-year, $64 million contract. Center Thomas Bryant and forward Bobby Portis, who Brooks has primarily used at the 5, are restricted free agents.

Howard returning to action would give everyone in the league a chance to gauge his physical status. That includes Howard. Maybe just a handful of games convinces him the progress made with his back is sincere and he opts out either for a potentially larger payday or to sign with a team considered a title contender next season.

The Wizards’ forecast is complicated by John Wall’s torn Achilles that likely keeps the point guard out for the majority of the 2019-20 season. The longer Howard remains sideline seemingly increases the chances he’s at least on the books in Washington next season.

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

Bradley Beal sees a young John Wall in the Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant

WASHINGTON -- It is not often you see a rookie find initial success in the NBA to the degree Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has, already with borderline All-Star numbers at the age of 20. And oftentimes, opponents are careful throwing out player comparisons for guys his age, wanting to see more before they anoint anyone.

Morant, though, is a different case and questions from media members at Wizards practice this week as the team gets set to face him for the first time naturally led to parallels to great players. On Thursday, Brooks brought up unprompted how much Morant reminds him of Russell Westbrook, his former player in Oklahoma City.

And on Friday, Bradley Beal invoked a teammate of his when breaking down what makes Morant so good.

"He loves to get up and down. He's really fast with the ball. It reminds you of John [Wall] in a lot of ways. He plays with his pace," Beal said.

Through 19 games this season, Morant is averaging 18.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He is shooting 42.2 percent from three on 2.2 attempts.

The threes have been surprising to most, as he shot a relatively modest 36.3 percent his final year in college at Murray State. But also surprising maybe just how lethal he has been at attacking the rim.

Sure, that was a big part of his game in college. But this is the NBA where athletes are much bigger and stronger. And he isn't the biggest guy either, weighing in at 175 pounds according to Basketball-Reference.

But despite lacking in size, he has shown an ability to finish through contact rarely seen from any player.

"I think he has a no-fear type of mentality. So, you have to respect his aggressiveness," Beal said. "He'll get respect from a lot of players in the league, a lot of refs in the league because of his aggressiveness and... with all the posters he has. So, he's an assassin. You gotta respect his game."

Beal likely won't draw the defensive assignment on Morant. That will probably go to Ish Smith and back-up point guard Chris Chiozza, who is with the team while Isaiah Thomas recovers from a left calf injury.

Beal knows it is going to be tough for the whole Wizards team to contain Morant. He said the trick will be trying to stay in front of him, though he knows that is easier said than done.

Really, Morant is such a unique player that the Wizards can only gameplan and prepare so much until they actually experience facing him for the first time.

"He's gonna be a handful," Beal said.

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