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Wizards mount biggest comeback of NBA season so far to beat Knicks

Wizards mount biggest comeback of NBA season so far to beat Knicks

The Washington Wizards beat the New York Knicks 118-113 on Wednesday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Major comeback: For two quarters on Wednesday night it looked like the Wizards had already checked out for the All-Star break with one eye on their respective planned vacations. At halftime they trailed by 21 points to a New York Knicks team that entered the matchup having lost 20 of their previous 26 games.

But the Wizards didn't let up, they didn't stop fighting with a long break just two quarters away. No, they mounted the biggest comeback in the 2017-18 NBA season so far.

The Wizards roared back from down 27 points to snatch a victory from the Knicks and enter the All-Star break having won seven of their last nine games since John Wall got injured. Since Wall went down, the Wizards have shown exceptional resolve and this win was a great example of that.

Bradley Beal was the key to all of it with 36 points, seven assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Ian Mahinmi also had a huge night with a season-high 17 points off the bench to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks. Tomas Satoransky was pivotal with a career-high 11 assists and three blocks.

The Wizards enter the break 33-24, a 47-win pace. They will take that given all that went down in the first half of the season. 

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Big third quarter: The Wizards must have heard some halftime speech - or rant - from head coach Scott Brooks because a different team emerged in the third quarter. After allowing 72 points through the first two frames, the Wizards outscored the Knicks 39-15 in the third.

Beal led the charge with 12 points in the third quarter. Markieff Morris had nine of his 13 points and four rebounds. Marcin Gortat had six points and five rebounds in the third.

Some of the third quarter numbers are just absurd. The Wizards shot 81 percent from the field compared to just 20.8 percent for the Knicks. The Wizards outrebounded New York 19-2 in the frame.

The Wizards were a sleeping giant on Wednesday and once the Knicks woke them up, it was Washington's game to lose.

Hardaway was a problem: The biggest reason why the Wizards went down so big in the first half is because they had no answers for Knicks guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. He is the team's leading scorer with Kristaps Porzingis now done for the season and, man, was he good in this one.

Hardaway was on fire from the opening tip with 17 points in the first quarter and 32 by halftime on 12-for-14 from the field and 5-for-6 from three. Beal guarded him for much of the first half, but he was getting killed on pick-and-rolls as the Wizards team defense continued to break down. Even when they were all over him, he knocked down shots through tight windows.

The Wizards finally had some success against him in the second half. They held him to 2-for-10 from the field and just five points. Still, he finished one short of a career-high with 37 points on the night.

Their defense on Hardaway in the first half was a disaster, but they deserve credit for ultimately figuring him out. If they didn't, they would have had no chance of winning this one.

Injuries are mounting: The Wizards were not playing at anything close to full strength. Already without Wall, they were also missing backup point guard Tim Frazier, who is sidelined following the nasal fracture surgery he had on Sunday. That left Washington with one healthy point guard.

The Wizards were also without Jason Smith, who was sick. It was so dire they called up their two-way rookie Devin Robinson just because they needed players. Still, they had enough to win.

Beal made history: Beal became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 800 career threes with his second make from long range on Wednesday night. It came at a good time as Beal is set for the All-Star three-point competition on Saturday night. He continues to establish himself as one of the best three-point shooters of this generation and a three-point contest crown would look nice on his résumé.

Up next: The Wizards are off for a while for the All-Star break. They don't play for the next seven days before returning to action on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Reeling Wizards hope to shift momentum in playoff race as they host red-hot Pacers

Reeling Wizards hope to shift momentum in playoff race as they host red-hot Pacers

The Wizards' playoff hopes just keep taking hits. Washington fell on Friday night in their first game back from the All-Star break, making that eight losses in 11 games. Meanwhile, the eighth-seed Pistons won, pushing the Wizards to four games back from a playoff spot.

With 23 games remaining in their season, the odds are increasingly stacked against the Wizards making the playoffs, a goal they maintain despite the injuries that have plagued them so far. 

Basketball-Reference.com handicaps postseason chances and the Wizards currently hold a higher likelihood of winning the draft lottery (7%) than they did making the playoffs (4.8%). 

If teams maintain their current course for the remainder of the regular season, the threshold to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference should fall somewhere close to 39 wins. The Pistons are on pace for 38.8 wins as they sit in the final spot.

At 24-35, the Wizards need to go 15-8 from here on out to get to 39. That's a .652 win percentage. Basically, the Wizards would have to play at a 53-win pace for more than a quarter of a season.

For a team that has shown no signs recently of going on an extended run, that seems highly unlikely. For it to happen, they would need a sudden defensive overhaul.

Their offense, even in this 11-game skid, has been fine. During this stretch, they have been third in the NBA in points per game (118.8), second in field goal percentage (49) and eighth in offensive rating (114).

The defense has been an unmitigated disaster. They have surrendered more points than any team (123.4) and the highest field goal percentage (49.5) and three-point percentage (42). 

The Wizards found salary cap relief in their deals before the trade deadline, but didn't add much in the way of a defensive upgrade. 

Jabari Parker is known for his scoring and made headlines earlier this year about how teams don't pay players for defense. Bobby Portis, though a capable rebounder, doesn't block a good deal of shots. 

Looking at their current roster, it's hard to see where the defensive upgrade will come from. Guys like Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza can't stop teams on their own.

The Wizards did not get off to a good start after the All-Star break with their loss to the Hornets, but will get another chance quickly as they host the Indiana Pacers for a 7 p.m. tip-off on NBC Sports Washington.

The Pacers, who hold the No. 3 seed in the East at the moment, charge in having won seven of their last eight games. Technically, it represents an opportunity for the Wizards to punch back against a playoff team, though they will take a win against anyone at this point.

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Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

Bradley Beal’s outrageous outing vs. Hornets highlights both good and scary for Wizards

All-Star Bradley Beal returned from the break Friday night with an All-NBA performance.

The Wizards still lost 123-110 at Charlotte.

Within those two sentences there's hope and fear for this season and beyond.

Beal destroyed the Hornets for a season-high 46 points. His work over 42 minutes included high-level efficiency – 16 of 25 from the field, sank all 10 of his free throws plus seven assists and one turnover – and powerful moments. 

Beal scored 26 points in the second half, including 10 of Washington’s 23 in the final period. The Hornets knew where to focus their defensive effort. Washington’s leading scorer couldn’t have cared less and turned in arguably his best all-around game of the season.

When viewing a Wizards team going forward this season and especially next year for however long the injured John Wall sits, performances like this from Beal offer hope. Add starter-worthy help this summer, let Beal’s vibe lead the way and perhaps the team isn’t climbing uphill from the start next campaign.

Finding steady assistance now is the dilemma. If the Wizards intend on bringing back many of the current pieces, that dilemma could linger.

The non-Beal’s made only 10 more baskets than Beal and finished 26 of 72 (36.1 percent) from the field. Their collective assist-to-turnover numbers (17-12) explain some unsteady moments, especially during the second quarter when Charlotte rallied after Washington led 38-27. They tried. They just didn’t offer enough as Washington lost for the eighth time in 11 games.

Washington insisted veteran forward and 2019 unrestricted free agent Trevor Ariza remains in its plans beyond this season. That’s understandable based on Ariza’s historically strong two-way play even if his age (33) and possible contract demands (earned $15 million this season) offer potential downside.

The Wizards haven’t received the full-throated version since the trade with the Suns sent Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix. Ariza had 10 points on 4 of 13 shooting (2 of 7 from deep) against the Hornets. Usually a viable perimeter threat, Ariza entered Friday shooting 31.9 percent on 3-pointers. Oubre, a consistent clank during his four-year career, is hitting 32.4 percent from beyond the arc. 

Ariza’s addition offers more than just scoring, and some aspects are not easily quantifiable. Some numbers that attempt that feat are not in love. Ariza’s PER (13.1) trails Oubre’s (16). 

Chasson Randle and Wesley Johnson are not Washington’s most curious backup guard tandem this decade. They might be close, however. Other contenders usually played behind Beal and Wall, thus limiting the downside.

Johnson missed all five of his field goal attempts against the Hornets, while Randle played a basic 13 minutes. The Wizards' bench was outscored 38-21.

Head coach Scott Brooks resorted to a big lineup with Beal as the lone guard. This maneuver worked easier with Otto Porter or, at least defensively, Oubre on the court. Neither lives here anymore.

Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant offer Brooks two energetic interior options. With their size, mobility and shooting range, they seem like a viable pairing. For a team battered on the boards all season, using Bryant and Portis together conceivably boosts Washington’s rebounding chances. 

Brooks skipped using them together much before this game. Their defensive struggles against Charlotte showed why. Washington was outrebounded 53-43 all the same.

This team looks nothing like the one Brooks coached during his first two seasons. Only Beal, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi played for the team that came within one game of the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. 

Ideally, Brooks’ patchwork lineup generates needed momentum while a playoff berth remains in reach. Washington (24-35), now a season-worst 11 games under .500, fell four games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff berth. 

Conceivably, this core returns next season. Washington opened salary cap space by trading Porter’s hefty contract. Keeping Ariza, Jeff Green, Satoransky, Portis and Bryant eats up much of that space. Growth from 2018 first round pick Troy Brown and the arrival of a player with a 2019 first round selection increases the upside. The hope for a turnaround comes from those that faced Charlotte Friday night.   

The non-Beal’s can do more now. Asking extra from Beal is outrageous, even if the shooting guard suggests that’s possible.

“I wish I could pinpoint on one thing,” Beal told reporters postgame when asked how this team finds a winning path. “But I just have to elevate my play, that’s all I know I can do is elevate my play and my leadership to do whatever it takes.”

That Beal believes more is possible is why he’s a keeper. None of us should doubt him considering the strides made during his second All-Star season. His determined approach is the kind found with contenders.

Even two-time All-Stars need help. Beal’s teammates must provide some quickly to keep hope alive this season as the organization ponders plans for the next one.

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