Otto Porter Jr. shines, Wizards win fourth straight game (VIDEO)

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) If the Wizards come back from the All-Star break without missing a beat, the nation’s eyes will soon be glued to Washington, D.C.

Something special is happening in our nation’s capital – the Wizards are just five games behind the defending champion, first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, and they are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA over the past six weeks.

“I’ve never been this close to winning this many games in my career,” guard John Wall said. “Even after a bad start (to the season) – we had an opportunity and had a lot of home games and took advantage of that. We’re a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence and playing (well) on both ends of the floor.”

Wall scored 20 points and added 12 assists, Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers, finished with 25 points and eight rebounds, and the Wizards won their fourth straight, 111-98 over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.

Washington (34-21) is 18-5 since the beginning of January. On Thursday night, the Wizards scored 100 points for the 22nd consecutive game.

Markieff Morris scored 21 points and Bradley Beal finished with 19, as each of the Wizards’ starters finished in double digits in scoring. Washington’s starters outscored Indiana’s 97-59, highlighting the lone takeaway from the Pacers’ performance on Thursday night – Indiana should be thankful its bench came to play. If not for the Pacers’ reserves tallying 39 points, the game would have been even more ugly for Indiana, which is currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak – the longest skid of the season for the Pacers.

Washington’s performance couldn’t have been any more dominant. The Wizards’ first three baskets were 3-pointers, and they ended the game having tied a team-high for 3-pointers made in a game with 15. Washington jumped out to a 14-4 lead that forced Indiana to call a timeout. The Pacers turned the ball over eight times in the first half, resulting in 15 points for the Wizards, who would lead the entire game and by as many as 19 points.

Despite Indiana creeping back into the game in the fourth quarter, cutting the Wizards’ lead to seven points, the Pacers never truly threatened. Myles Turner finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for Indiana. Paul George scored 17 points, and Jeff Teague had six points, six rebounds and five assists for Indiana (29-28).

The Pacers will return from the All-Star break and face three of the Western Conference’s top six teams in their first four games back, facing Memphis at home and then Houston and San Antonio on the road after a trip to Miami. After a seven-game winning streak was snapped by the Cavaliers on Feb. 8, the Pacers have looked incompetent at times.

“We keep showing them things we need to do to commit. We see it on tape and talk about the mindset we need to change,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “It’s got to hurt when you lose a game. It’s not acceptable to let it roll off your shoulders. Tonight’s loss, we looked a little flat.”

Washington, on the other hand, is surging. The Wizards will have a similar test when they return from the All-Star break. After they face the 76ers, the Wizards will play the Jazz and the Warriors – both Western Conference playoff teams – before a home-and-home with the Eastern Conference’s fourth-place Toronto Raptors at the beginning of March.

“We knew we had to come (to Indiana) and play a good basketball game and we did,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “We wanted to finish this first half strong and now it’s time to enjoy the break, come back recharged and get ready for the second half of the season.”

TOUGH STUFF: The Pacers head into the All-Star break having finished one of the toughest stretches on their schedule. The recent stretch of games would cause fits for almost every team in the NBA. During the six-game losing streak, the Pacers played the Wizards and Cavaliers twice each, Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back and the Spurs.

TIP-INS

Washington: Porter’s six 3-pointers were one shy of Bradley Beal’s season high by a Wizards player. … Wall recorded his 34th career game with 10 or more assists and the 35th double-double of his career.

Indiana: Is 8-21 when trailing at halftime.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Travel to Philadelphia on Feb. 24

Pacers: Host Memphis on Feb. 24

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic to play, start vs. Golden State in Game 3

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In 20 games after the Trail Blazers traded for him, Jusuf Nurkic averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6, a surge that helped get them into the playoffs. Then a leg fracture had him sidelined for the end of the season and the start of the playoffs.

Until Saturday.

He will play limited minutes, but the Blazers will take it.

Portland is down 0-2 to the Warriors but are coming home to take on a Golden State team that will be without Kevin Durant again (strained calf) and coach Steve Kerr (illness).

Nurkic gives Portland some hope, he certainly helps their defense. We’ll see if that’s enough.