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John Wall, Bradley Beal and defense keying Wizards’ 12-game home streak

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WASHINGTON (AP) The same fans who John Wall once joked get more excited for a free chicken sandwich when an opponent misses two free throws than a victory are now being treated to something even better: A winning streak.

Wall and the Washington Wizards have won 12 in a row at home heading into the midpoint of the NBA season and haven’t lost at Verizon Center since Dec. 6. Better starts and improved defense and bench play have sparked this run, pushed Washington to fifth place in the Eastern Conference and made home feel pretty sweet.

“We like playing on our home floor, there’s no question we have a comfort level,” coach Scott Brooks said. “The baskets, everything seems to be good for us. I think our guys are comfortable, they like playing here. We want to make this a special place. Crowd’s been great. We just got to continue to give them something that they can be proud of.”

Brooks tells his players that Wizards fans don’t expect perfection but want 48 minutes of great effort. After a disappointing .500 season last year depressed turnout, this retooled team plays a more exciting, up-and-down brand of basketball that’s worth watching.

The Wizards have eclipsed 100 points in 17 of their past 20 games with Wall on pace to set a career high in points and steals. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal is also on the way to a career-high scoring season, but he points to the other end of the floor as the reason for Washington’s success and home winning streak.

“In terms of us, it’s just been our defense and just us getting after it and playing with energy,” Beal said. “It makes everything easier on offense when we get out and run. That way we don’t necessarily have to call plays all the time, we just get out and flow, and it works. In order to do so, we have to play defense and defend, and we can’t do that if we’re always taking the ball out.”

Brooks wanted the Wizards to become a defensive-minded team that could score instead of an offensive team that defended when it felt like it. Second-year guard Kelly Oubre showed that progress with on-ball defense by locking down the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on Monday and said that aspect of the game is better now with more familiarity of scouting reports.

Beyond starters Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, the second unit led by Oubre, rookie Tomas Satoransky, Trey Burke and Jason Smith is coming along.

“Guys know their roles now,” Oubre said. “We’re a solid defensive team. We’re getting better. … We have a good home-court advantage coming on now. We got 12 in a row? We’ve got to keep that rolling, man. These fans want to see wins. We’re here to give it to them.”

Wall took some heat last year for suggesting that the free fast-food chicken sandwich fans get if an opponent misses both free throws in the fourth quarter generates the most excitement. It’s oftentimes the loudest cheer of the night, but not lately thanks to the Wizards winning.

He definitely notices a difference.

“We start to win, we go to the starting lineup, the gym is kind of packed more than empty and not getting packed later on,” Wall said. “There is a lot of excitement, and it’s great to know that when they call our names they are cheering for us. It’s something we can use as an advantage.”

After the finale of this home stand Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards play five of their next six games on the road. Their challenge now is to adapt the home winning recipe to winning in less-friendly confines.

“We have to now view it the same way, respect our opponent no matter who it is and just come out with energy knowing that the crowd is against us, nobody’s there to cheer for us,” Beal said. “It’s us against everybody. Just having that same mindset in our approach to the game is probably all we need to do.”

2017 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of each move

Associated Press
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Already the 2017 NBA Draft has been crazy — the No. 1 pick was traded for only the seventh time in NBA history. The No. 2 pick from a couple years ago has already been moved to make way for the next No. 2 pick coming to Los Angeles.

Now it is likely to get even wilder.

This is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the course of the night — it will be live with a quick analysis of every pick and how they fit in with the team that took them. We’ll also be on top of trades and everything else happening around the NBA tonight. About the only thing we know is what’s happening now with the No. 1 pick, so let’s put the Sixers on the clock.

 

 
Sixers small icon 1. Philadephia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, 6’4” point guard (Washington). The Sixers hope they have their big three rounded out with Fultz. One scout I trust told me this was a one-player draft at the top — Fultz was clear and away the best guy available. What doesn’t he do well offensively? He can score off the pick-and-roll from all three levels: He makes threes, can hit mid-range pull-ups, or attack and finish above the rim. He can make plays in transition, makes good decisions off the pick-and-roll, uses both hands, and had great body control and footwork. The concerns are he can be passive, lets the game come to him a little too much, and can be a lazy defender (despite elite physical tools). Stlll, he was the clear No. 1 for a reason.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, 6’6” point guard (UCLA). You can’t teach his court vision and passing skills, which remind one of a LeBron/Ricky Rubio level of passer. With those skills, he is amazing in the open court. Yes, his shot is awkward (because of it he can’t pull up going to his right well), but in catch-and-shoots the ball goes in. Concerns about his shot – and his father — are overblown. The real questions are how he defends at the next level (he was disinterested for long stretches in college), and can he create in the halfcourt (he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-rolls, and on them 75 percent of his drives ended with a pass, he has to be more of a scoring threat).

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Chicago Bulls are sending Jimmy Butler to play with his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota (plus the 16th pick in this draft), in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick in this draft. That is a great deal for Minnesota. They now can start Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and they look like a playoff team.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, 6’8” forward (Duke). Maybe the player most ready to contribute offensively immediately in this draft, Tatum is a fantastic isolation scorer. He has a diverse offensive skill set, and he blew by bigger defenders in college with a strong face-up game, but will that translate to the NBA where everyone is more athletic? Can he score against NBA wings? His perimeter shot is improved but needs to get better still. He also was not a consistent defender in college, he needs to be much better now, especially if he wants to play much for Brad Stevens. Still, this guy can help right now, which is good for Boston.

 
Suns small icon4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, 6’8” forward (Kansas). Physically, and with his explosiveness, he reminds one a little of Andrew Wiggins — and Jackson has the same issue of a very inconsistent shot. Effort is a skill and one Jackson has plenty of, he outworks everyone, and could become and elite wing defender in the NBA. He had success offensively in college overwhelming opponents as a small-ball four, and he works well off the ball with cuts or getting out in transition. While his shot found a groove late in the season he needs more consistent mechanics, that shot needs work. Plenty of scouts think he has one of highest potential ceiling in this class.

 
Kings small icon 5. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, 6’4” point guard (Kentucky). Kings’ fans, check out our feature on Fox to learn more about him. He climbed draft boards through the season and more once he got to workouts. Fox is incredibly fast with and without the ball — elite NBA level fast, and that makes him dangerous, particularly in transition. He’s a good (not great) passer, but his shot needs work (reports from workouts are that it is improving). He is a good defender (just ask Lonzo Ball) with the potential to be great. He needs to get stronger, and he needs to polish his offensive game, particularly running the pick-and-roll.

 
Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic:

Report: Bulls trading Jimmy Butler to Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, No. 7

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Jimmy Butler trade rumors heated up on draft night last year.

This year, they reached fever pitch.

Now, the Bulls are actually dealing him.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

This isn’t nearly enough for Butler, a true star. He’s 27 and locked up for two more years.

Zach LaVine is a nice young player, but overrated due to his inflated points-per-game number. Kris Dunn looked passive on both ends of the floor as a rookie. The No. 7 pick comes in a relatively strong area of this draft, but Chicago is just trading up nine spots – not even acquiring an extra pick.

And the Bulls couldn’t have agreed to this trade before Dwyane Wade opted in and locked into a high salary that inhibits rebuilding?

Whether Chicago should have stuck with general manager Gar Forman or then-coach Tom Thibodeau a couple years ago has been debated and re-debated since the Bulls fired Thibodeau. This trade certainly indicates Thibodeau, now Minnesota’s president-coach, better knew what he was doing.

Markelle Fultz’s draft day shoes were made out of basketballs (VIDEO)

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Markelle Fultz was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night, but what may have just stole the show were his shoes.

Fultz, 19, Showed up in New York dressed to the nines while also rocking some pretty unique sneakers. When asked what inspired him, Fultz said he just wanted to go with something crazy.

The shoes are apparently made out of real basketball leather, so I can’t imagine they breathe very well. They sure do look pretty sweet.

Probably better than any Big Baller Brand shoe.

Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall in 2017 NBA Draft

ESPN
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The Philadelphia 76ers have selected Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

We’ve known this was coming for some time after the Sixers moved up in the draft and swapped picks with the Boston Celtics. Philadelphia originally had the No. 3 overall pick, but traded rights to their selection in order to take the Washington Huskies point guard.

Philadelphia would now appear to have a solid core in place after stockpiling young players for years under former GM Sam Hinkie’s leadership. Hinkie is no longer with the team, but the results of his process have created one of the strongest young teams in the Eastern Conference.

Fultz joins a core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Jahlil Okafor in Philadelphia. At 6-foot-5, Fultz is a tall young guard who can bring not only a pick-and-roll game to the Sixers, but some shooting as well. That bodes well given how much ball-handling duties we expect to see from Simmons, who is an elite passing talent but has not shown the ability to shoot the ball just yet.

The Sixers still need to add some kind of shooting element to their roster, but having Fultz not only as a lead ball handler but as an off-the-ball option might just take some of the pressure off of Bryan and Jerry Colangelo when it comes to finding another shooter on the wing.

Fultz Played just one season for Washington, scoring 23.2 points and dishing out six assists per-game. He shot 41% from 3-point range and even averaged 8.8 rebounds per 100 possessions. Fultz was named to the PAC 12 all-freshman team and all-conference team for 2017.

The real question for Philadelphia moving forward of course is the health of their previously drafted hopeful stars. Yes, That the Sixers have eight seemingly embarrassing amount of riches on their roster is a great thing for fans who have watch a team continue loosely lose for nearly half a decade. But Embiid Has been plagued with leg injuries, and Simmons missed his entire first season with a foot injury.

Fultz perhaps caps this incredible run in the NBA draft for the Sixers given his draft position and the needs of the roster. Philadelphia is in an excellent position to succeed in the Eastern Conference, which still doesn’t have a true challenger to LeBron James. But Fultz, Simmons, Embiid, and the Sixers will need to not only advanced together on the floor, but stay on the floor in order to make that happen.

Drafting Fultz is a great step for the Sixers. After years of trusting the process, fans in Philadelphia won’t be the only ones hoping to see them succeed now that their faith has been verified.