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Win over Celtics has things looking up for Wizards, who are surging with John Wall back

Win over Celtics has things looking up for Wizards, who are surging with John Wall back

The Wizards started playing their best basketball of the 2016-17 season in December and they may be following a similarly trajectory one year later.

With their 111-103 victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday, the Wizards are now 5-2 in their last seven games since John Wall returned from a left knee injury. That matches their best seven-game stretch of this season. Though one of those losses was an ugly one to the Nets, the other was perfectly understandable, a narrow defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers with Otto Porter sidelined for all but three minutes.

With Wall back in the fold, the Wizards are starting to rack up wins and even on nights where they clearly aren't playing their best basketball. That was the case against the Grizzlies and Clippers, his first two games back, and against the Pelicans last week when they let a 25-point lead slip away. Their last two wins, though, were their most complete victories in weeks.

The first was a 48-minute dismantling of a depleted Orlando Magic team. They won by 27 points. The second was their best game of the season, a convincing win against the Celtics on the road and in the pressure spot of an evening tipoff on Christmas Day. The whole NBA was watching as the Wizards put in their best performance of the year.

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Those tuning in to see the Wizards for the first time this season may have had no clue how inconsistent Washington has been overall. There have been some frustrating times for sure, but overall with Wall running the show this team has been quite good. The Wizards with Wall are 14-9 and without him they are 5-6.

Their record with Wall puts them at a 50-win pace. So, when at full-strength, the Wizards have been the team most of us thought they would be.

The biggest problem for the Wizards this season has been their troubles against losing teams and Wall has not been an exception. They are 9-9 against teams with losing records and tied for the most such losses in the NBA with the Mavericks (9-25) and Magic (11-23), two terrible teams. Wall was around for many of those defeats including to the Mavs, Nets and Hornets.

But after beating the Celtics, the Wizards now boast a 10-6 record against teams at .500 or better. That is the best record in the Eastern Conference and third in the NBA behind the Warriors and Rockets.

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When it comes to the Wizards' performance against losing teams, it's not crazy to expect water to ultimately find its level. They were 27-9 vs. sub-.500 teams last season and even the year before when they missed the playoffs went 23-9 in those games.

Good NBA teams generally feast off of the bad ones. The Wizards' 9-9 mark is a major outlier. At the top of the East are the Raptors, who are 16-1 against sub-.500 teams, the Celtics, who are 15-2 and the Cavs who are 16-3. If only the Wizards could just take care of business against the basement dwellers, they would be right in the mix.

The Wizards already aren't far off. As bad as things have seemed at times and as frustrated the players have been, they currently sit sixth place in the East and just a half-game out of fourth. Their 19-15 record has them on a 46-win pace. Last year, 46 wins would have put them at fifth in the East, one spot down from where they finished.

Right now the Wizards find themselves at a fork in the road between glass half-full and glass half-empty perspectives. Are they beginning to hit their stride or is this all a step forward before they take another step back?

The Celtics win has to be encouraging even for those who wonder if this team will ever reach the level they did last season. Wall, Porter and Bradley Beal all scored 20-plus points and led the Wizards to their first win in Boston after nine straight losses there. Kelly Oubre, Jr. impacted the game in a host of ways, showing just how much he's improved since the last time these teams played in May during the playoffs.

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Markieff Morris reached double figures for the fourth time in his last five games and is shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three in his last 12 appearances. He said recently he's inching closer to 100 percent health and those numbers back up that claim. The Wizards took off last December in part because Morris rounded into form, so this could be a parallel.

Mike Scott has emerged as a consistent scoring option off the bench who can play capable defense on the other end. In his last 11 games, he's averaging 13.7 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 68.8 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from three.

Tomas Satoransky has gained confidence in himself and from the coaching staff by protecting the ball and using his athleticism to affect games. He has the best offensive rating (124) on the Wizards this season. Ian Mahinmi has played in 32 of the Wizards' 34 games, already one more than he did all of last season, and Marcin Gortat quietly boasts the best defensive rating (104) on the team.

The struggles against losing teams have been the biggest thing holding the Wizards back this season, as playing up to top teams has never been their issue. They will have several chances to buck that trend in the next few weeks including on Wednesday against the 8-25 Atlanta Hawks, the worst team in all of basketball. A win there would give them three straight victories for the first time since Nov. 15.

With Wall back, things are looking up for the Wizards. If they can ever figure out the bad teams, they will be just fine.

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

The 2018 NBA offseason in just three weeks has become one of the wildest summers in the league's history between LeBron James signing with the Lakers, and all the characters that followed him, to DeMarcus Cousins surprising everyone to sign with the Golden State Warriors, to Kawhi Leonard getting traded to the Raptors.

As crazy as it all has been, two teams in the Eastern Conference stand out for so far doing very little, either by choice or circumstance. The Celtics and Sixers, the two teams most see as the favorites in the East, appear at least so far to be running it back with the same group of players.

This appears to be the Celtics' intention. After overhauling their roster last summer, they clearly see an opportunity to take a step forward as-is. Boston was one win away from the NBA Finals and will return Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving from injury. With James gone to the West, they can improve significanly just by keeping it all together.

Boston re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Their biggest addition this summer so far has been their first round pick, Robert Williams.

The Sixers, unlike the Celtics, didn't appear to plan on doing it this way. They wanted James and missed out. They reportedly had interest in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but both went elsewhere. There are no stars left to sign in free agency and the trade market may be drying up.

Philly made some minor moves like trades for Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. They may also have a deal for Kyle Korver in the works. They also had two first round picks in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet.

There's a chance the Sixers got better than people think, as many of the moves they made seem smart. But they didn't reel in a big fish and will probably come back for the 2018-19 season with a team very similar to the one that made the second round of the playoffs this spring.

The fact the Celtics and Sixers may stand pat is probably a good thing for the rest of the East. Both teams may improve naturally if they are healthier and if their young players continue to ascend. But neither made a game-changing addition, one that would solidify either as an unstoppable superteam in the conference. 

The West is overloaded with title contenders and All-NBA players. The East, meanwhile, is much more open and it may end up staying that way mainly because Boston and Philly have been quiet so far this summer.

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Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld has stayed relatively busy this summer crafting his new-look lineup for the 2018-19 season. 

One of the team's key additions, Dwight Howard, is set to be introduced as a member of the Wizards on Monday. 

NBC Sports Washington will air the introductory press conference live at 1 p.m. while also streaming it online.  

Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks are both expected to be in attendance. 

The 32-year-old big man is coming off a 2017-18 season with the Charlotte Hornets in which he averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. 

Since leaving the Orlando Magic after eight seasons in 2011, Howard has played for four different teams in the last six years. 

Howard is an eight-time all-star and a three-time defensive player of the year. 

 

RELATED LINKS: 

John Wall's take on Dwight Howard 

Wizards make Dwight Howard free agent signing official 

By the numbers: Is new Wizards center Dwight Howard still in his NBA prime?