John Wall’s goal for Wizards next season: ‘The Finals’

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The Wizards built a playoff team before last season and then declared the playoffs their primary goal.

It was so short-sighted, maybe even detrimental to the franchise’s long-term future. That roster should have viewed the postseason as the bare minimum.

But it’s also understandable how a team in a five-season playoff drought would become fixated on ending it above all else.

Nobody bought into Washington’s postseason-or-bust mantra more than John Wall, who wrote “playoffs” on his shoes before each game. The All-Star point guard certainly did his part to lead the Wizards into the postseason with a controlled game that, more than ever, eliminated mistakes.

Now, though, Wall is ready to strive for more.

Wall, via Michael Lee of The Washington Post:

“The Finals. All you can ask for now is the Finals,” Wall said from Team USA training camp in Las Vegas when asked for his goals for the upcoming season. “We’ve been to the second round. We know what it takes to win. We know what we need to do. We know everybody needs to get better individually, and I think [the front office] just did a great job of adding pieces, great veteran guys that know what it takes to win.”

With LeBron James heading to Cleveland, the East is much more open the last four seasons, when the Heat won each year.

In the new order, LeBron’s Cavs should rank highest. Adding Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and a healthy Derrick Rose should help the Bulls. Beyond those two top contenders, the Pacers, Raptors, Heat, Bobcats and Nets have fighting chances.

And so do the Wizards.

They were the youngest Eastern Conference team, weighted by playoff minutes, to win a postseason series. And for the most part, they kept the squad together, swapping Paul Pierce for Trevor Ariza. Wall and Bradley Beal are also still young and growing as team leaders.

The Wizards certainly shouldn’t be considered Finals favorites or anything near that, but it’s possible – and encouraging to see Wall aspire to such a high goal.

And hey, last year, merely meeting their goal of making the playoffs didn’t cause the Wizards to rest on their laurels. They upset the Bulls in the first round and challenged the Pacers in the next. If the Wizards somehow make the Finals, there’s no reason they can’t keep going and win the whole darn thing.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).

 

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.