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Feeling healthy, John Wall steers Wizards up East standings

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WASHINGTON (AP) As John Wall goes, so go the Washington Wizards.

With Wall showing no ill effects from offseason operations on both knees, he is averaging career highs of 23.1 points and 2.2 steals, along with third-in-the-NBA 10.1 assists, and has steered his team into the playoff picture after a terrible start.

The Wizards began this season 1-5, then 3-9, but they are 25-20 heading into their game Friday night at the Atlanta Hawks. Since Dec. 1, the Wizards are 19-9, the best record in the East in that span and fourth in the entire league, trailing only the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

“This charge, the last seven or eight weeks,” coach Scott Brooks said after practice Thursday, “is because of his ability to lead us and get to the paint and give us a lot of open shots.”

Thanks in large part to a 14-game home winning streak, Washington began the day fifth in its conference – 1 1/2 games behind Atlanta for fourth and 2 1/2 games behind the second-place Toronto Raptors.

“We finally got it down pat. We’ve got the chemistry down pat, where we know where guys are going to be. … We’re just all on one page,” Wall said. “I think we figured it out.”

He said his knees “are feeling a lot better than last season, when Washington went 41-41 and missed the playoffs. At the start of this season, Wall was under doctor’s orders to sit out the second games when the team played on consecutive nights – maybe until January rolled around.

Yeah, right.

That lasted all of two back-to-backs.

With the help of treatment that regularly includes stretching, a cold tub and “dry needling,” which Wall likened to acupuncture, he has been able to play a team-leading 36.4 minutes a night while putting up 26 double-doubles.

He’s not doing this alone, of course: Shooting guard Bradley Beal is putting up 21.9 points per game, for example, and small forward Otto Porter is averaging 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and an NBA-best 45.6 shooting percentage on 3-pointers.

But there’s no question who’s leading the way.

“We trust him with the ball in his hands, 100 percent of the time,” second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “Whenever he has the ball, we know something good is going to happen.”

After watching Wall from afar in the past, Brooks – a former NBA point guard himself – is appreciating the up-close look he gets now.

“He’s done a great job of leading us. … His shooting has improved. His playmaking. His defense. I think everything across the board is much better,” Brooks said.

“I like his toughness,” he added. “I like players that play with fire and toughness, and he brings it every night.”

While it took a while for Washington to get going this season under its new coach, the improvements are striking.

In their first 12 games, the Wizards ranked 19th in the league in points per game at 102.6, and 12th in field-goal percentage at 45.1. In the 33 games since, they’re eighth in points at 108 and fourth in shooting at 48.3.

“Right now,” Oubre said, “we’re being who we are.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Michael Beasley fouls out in 10 minutes, gets standing ovation (VIDEO)

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Michael Beasley hasn’t played all that much for the New York Knicks. The journeyman forward is 10th in minutes played for the team, and is a bench contributor at this stage in his career.

Beasley appeared to be a bit overexcited to get some run late in Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, 111-107. Having played just 10 minutes in the game, Beasley quickly racked up three fouls in the span of one minute and 45 seconds.

That earned him his sixth foul — the others were picked up earlier — and a standing ovation from the Madison Square Garden crowd after his disqualification.

Via Twitter:

Support your guys, NBA fans, even if they’re out here getting DQ’d after scoring one point and grabbing two rebounds.

Kobe Bryant gave a 30-minute pep talk to the Eagles before Rams game (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant is just about everywhere during retirement. We’ve talked before about how his post-playing career revisionism is one of the greatest works of sports marketing currently underway.

Of course, Ol’ Bean has to take some days off from being a “storyteller” and that includes cheering on his hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant was born in Philly and lived there for various parts of his childhood, of course going pro directly from Lower Merion High School, located in a nearby suburb.

So despite the return of the Los Angeles Rams, it appears that Kobe is still an Eagles fan through and through. He apparently even spoke to the Eagles for half an hour before the team practiced in California on Friday.

Bryant also gave the world a little video message.

Via Twitter:

The bummer news for Eagles fans, of course, was that it was Philadelphia QB and MVP candidate Carson Wentz who was hit high and low on Sunday, and the team fears that he has torn his ACL.

Kobe is looking pretty thick in that jersey. Maybe they should work him out and see if he can’t beat out Nick Foles for the starting job the rest of the season?

Watch Victor Oladipo score a career-high 47 points vs. Nuggets (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo was sent from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Indiana Pacers along with Domantas Sabonis as part of a major trade for Paul George.

Boy, Pacers fans have got to be glad things have turned out the way they have.

Oladipo is having a career season in terms of scoring, rebounding, blocks, 3-point shooting and field goal percentage. His advanced stats look good too, as Oladipo’s efficiency per-100 possessions in many offensive categories have seen a rise to go along with his box score bump.

On Sunday, Oladipo scored a career-high 47 points in an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets, 126-116.

Oladipo’s performance was incredible, adding seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block to go along with his 47 points. Oladipo shot 15-28 from the field, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range, and added 11 points from the free-throw line.

Watch the full highlights of Oladipo’s performance in the video above.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.