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Wizards show signs of life in Minnesota, take down Towns, T-Wolves for second win in three games

Wizards show signs of life in Minnesota, take down Towns, T-Wolves for second win in three games

The Washington Wizards beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 135-121 on Sunday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Though 19 games remain in the 2018-19 regular season, the Wizards are in the middle of a nine-or-so-game stretch that is likely to determine their playoff fate. The stakes are getting higher and higher as their window in the Eastern Conference standings is slowly closing. But, to their credit, they are starting to show some life.

The Wizards knocked off the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Sunday night to make it two wins in three games. That is considerable progress, as it follows a stretch of nine losses in 12 games. Washington is now 26-37.

So much work remains if they are to make the postseason. They will likely have to go 12-7 or better in these final 19 games to get the eighth seed. 

But perhaps the tide is starting to turn, if slightly. They certainly aren't dead yet. It also helps that the Magic and the Hornets, the No. 8 and 9 teams in the East, both lost on Sunday.

2. At practice on Saturday, Wizards coach Scott Brooks described Karl-Anthony Towns as a "monster." Against the Wizards, Towns lived up to the billing.

Though they had some early success against him by keeping Towns scoreless through his first seven minutes, once he got going there was no stopping him. He had 17 points in his final 10 minutes of the first half and had 28 for the game.

The Wizards tried everything. The double-teamed him, the rushed him at the three-point line with hands in his face. He just casually shot or passed over them. When they closed out, he drove by his defender and dropped in effortless hook shots. 

The Wizards, though, technically slowed Towns down. He came in averaging 38.7 points and 18.7 rebounds in his last three games. He had 28 and 10 in this one.

And though Towns got his offensively, Bobby Portis had a big game of his own. Portis went off for 26 points and 12 rebounds, with Towns often guarding him.

3. Towns helped the Wolves absolutely dominate the Wizards in the paint early on. Minnesota had 30 paint points in the first quarter alone. By halftime, they had 52, more than they average for games this season (49.5). They finished with 84.

Defending the lane has been an issue for the Wizards all season with the absence of a true rim protector. They allow the seventh-most points in the paint per game this season (51.0). Over their last 10 games entering Sunday's match-up, only two teams were giving up more paint points than the Wizards.

As I wrote last week, defense has to be the Wizards' biggest offseason priority and someone who can block and alter shots may top the list of needs. Having Dwight Howard would help, but he wasn't blocking shots during his nine-game stint this season.

4. Is Troy Brown Jr. part of the Wizards' rotation now? It sure seems that way.

He logged 17 minutes on Sunday. It was the third straight game he's played at least 10 minutes, the longest such streak of his young career.

Brown again played well. He had only two points, but five rebounds, four assists and a steal. He had some nice moments in the first half with offensive rebounds on back-to-back possessions. On one of them, he quickly scored a layup. 

It was one of those plays that showed he has impressive basketball instincts, especially for a 19-year-old. He has a great feel for the game at his age. That gift will only become more apparent the more he plays.

Whether he will keep playing, however, remains to be seen. Brooks has shown no indication he's willing to give Brown a consistent role just yet.

5. Speaking of rotation changes, Sam Dekker saw some action. It was the only the second time he's played at all since Feb. 6 and the first time not in a blowout.

Dekker played well, too. He had 11 points in 15 minutes, making the most of what has become a rare opportunity.

Dekker was a rotation mainstay until the trades to bring in Jabari Parker and Wesley Johnson. They have pushed him out of the forward mix. Johnson, though, had a rough game against Minnesota, perhaps paving the way for Dekker to get some rare floor time.

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Mike Scott is wearing your rival's hockey jersey, explained

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Mike Scott is wearing your rival's hockey jersey, explained

Former Wizards forward Mike Scott loves an NHL jersey. It's a pretty well-known thing on the internet. But with the NHL Playoffs heating up, fans are getting really mad that Scott is wading into "The Drake Curse" waters.

And they're taking it personally.

But the reality of it all: the dude just really likes hockey jerseys. 

Scott told reporters that he owns approximately 170 (!!!) custom made NHL jerseys. The NBA star ditched the classic suit and now exclusively wears a hockey jersey as part of his pre-game regimen. 

Scott even goes as far to paint them with his own creativity, adding funny catchphrases, made up words or song lyrics in place of a last name on the back.

And the list goes on.

So is your anger at Scott justified? Absolutely not.

And neither is referring to him as "worse than The Drake Curse" (as many Twitter users so graciously have). Because unlike Scott, bandwagoner Drake is actually cursed.

The Canadian-born music artist flew home after the Maple Leafs entered playoff territory. And what happened? The rapper brought bad luck to his own people, and Toronto fell 6-4 to the Boston Bruins. 

But Scott is different: he isn't pledging his allegiance to any team or even being a bandwagon fan for that matter. This guy's version of a sweater collection just lays in NHL jerseys. And he doesn't care who knows it. 

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Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Wizards 2018-19 end of season grades: Bradley Beal

Now that the dust has settled for the 2018-19 Wizards season, it's time to review the roster and hand out individual grades...

Who: Bradley Beal, shooting guard

2018-19 stats: 36.9 mpg, 25.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.7 tov, 47.5 FG%, 35.1 3P% (2.5/7.3), 54.0 eFG%, 80.8 FT% (4.4/5.5), 113 ortg, 114 drtg

Best game: 1/13 vs. Raptors - 43 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, three steals, two blocks, 6-12 3PT

Grade: A+

Season review: One could argue that nobody deserves a higher grade in the Wizards organization for their 2018-19 season than Bradley Beal, who had by far the best individual year of any player on the team. He had high expectations coming into the season and exceeded them, taking the next step from an All-Star to a legitimate All-NBA candidate.

Beal also continued to represent the organization well in public. He spoke for the team after many difficult losses with poise and maturity. And he brought positive attention to the franchise for his charitable efforts, recently being named as a finalist for the league's community assist award.

Beal's on-court performance was a shining light amid a disastrous season overall for the team. He set career-highs in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw attempts. He played in all 82 games for the second straight season and never complained despite leading the NBA in minutes.

The most impressive part of Beal's season may be how he responded when John Wall went down due to injury. Wall last played on Dec. 26 and in the next 47 games, Beal averaged 27.2 points, 6.0 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 steals. 

Beal's final numbers put him in elite company. He became the first 25-5-5 player in Wizards/Bullets franchise history. He was one of only six players to reach that mark this season, a list that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

Even as the season was winding down and the Wizards were well out of playoff contention, Beal gave an honest and consistent effort. That stood out in a year in which some of his teammates did not play hard and were called out by head coach Scott Brooks and team leaders for doing so. 

Now Beal, of course, had many reasons to keep giving 100 percent. With the numbers he has put up, he could make All-NBA in late May and, if he does, will qualify for a supermax contract. That could mean tens of millions more on his next deal, if he chooses to sign back with the Wizards.

As Beal looks ahead to this summer and next season, another question is how much better he can become. He took a significant step from the All-Star year he had in 2017-18. What if he makes another, similar leap?

Beal upped his scoring average by three points year-over-year. Another jump like that could put him in the MVP conversation, depending on how the Wizards finish in the standings.

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