Markieff Morris

Associated Press

Back from injury, Isaiah Thomas scores 25 as Celtics top Wizards

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points after missing the previous two games with a bruised right knee, leading the Boston Celtics to a 110-102 victory over the Washington Wizards in another testy matchup Monday night between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Avery Bradley added 20 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards for second place in the East. The Celtics trail first-place Cleveland by two games.

Jae Crowder and Al Horford each scored 16 with nine boards.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 19 points, and John Wall had 16 points with eight assists.

Behind Thomas’ 12 third-quarter points, Boston pushed an 11-point halftime lead to 92-75 after three.

The Wizards trailed by 15 with just more than four minutes left, but closed to 106-100 on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s steal and breakaway dunk with 2:05 to play.

Marcus Smart had a basket and two free throws to seal it.

The bad feelings built up between the teams this season resurfaced briefly midway into the second quarter. Washington’s Brandon Jennings bumped into Terry Rozier a few times under the basket before Rozier pushed him to the floor near midcourt. Both got a technical.

In the last meeting at TD Garden in early January, Crowder and Wall had words at the end of the game. Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face, and Wall slapped at him.

When they met in Washington on Jan. 25, the Wizards wore what they called “funeral black” to the game before picking up the win.

The Celtics used a 16-5 run midway into the second to help them build a 58-47 halftime edge.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Wizards: F Markieff Morris (illness) returned to the starting lineup after missing the past two games. . Wall came up limping after a driving, spinning basket in the third quarter, but stayed in the game. . Washington committed a season-high 28 fouls.

Celtics: Thomas hit a 3-pointer for a club-record 45th straight game. . Boston opened a stretch of six straight at home and play only three games away from home the rest of the regular season.

REACQUAINTED

With the Celtics healthy again, coach Brad Stevens said the final weeks of the regular season give his team a chance to get stronger playing together.

“We just haven’t had a ton of time with ourselves fully healthy,” he said. “We have to make sure that we utilize this time appropriately for our team to get better. Regardless of who we’re playing against, there aren’t any secrets.”

 

John Wall, will Wizards made trade deadline move? “I think so,” will seek bench help

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Since Dec. 1, the Washington Wizards have been the best team in the East.

That is if you go by their record, which 28-10 since the calendar flipped to December. However, nobody sane thinks the Wizards could beat a healthy Cavaliers teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s fair to ask if they need more help to get by Boston or Toronto just to get a shot at the Cavaliers.

That need for a little more help has led to trade rumors about Washington heading into the trade deadline Thursday (Feb. 23), and John Wall confirmed the team is looking to J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“I think so,” Wall said when asked if he expected president Ernie Grunfeld to make a move as he has done the last several years, and the most recent being for Markieff Morris. “We’re looking at some options to help our bench out. Other than that I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it.”

There are two scenarios for a Wizards trade that get the most traction around the league.

One is to get Lou Williams from the Lakers. This makes sense as a plug-and-play option, Williams is averaging a career-high 18.6 points this season and is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award with his play. He’s a bit of a volume scorer, but that can work well with a sixth man (see Jamal Crawford for example).

The other rumor is Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who brings more size up front (6’8″) but can still shoot the three (35 percent this season). Bogdanovic is averaging 14.2 points per game.

Of course, the question is what the Wizards would have to give up to make these deals happen? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has said the Wizards might well be willing to give up a protected first-round pick in a deal, and that could well be enough to get a trade done (depending upon the exact protections, and the year). That said, the Lakers, in particular, have been hesitant to make a move.

Don’t be shocked if the Wizards make a move at the deadline. This is their best team in a long time, and they want to capitalize on it.

Three things we learned Monday: I’d like to order one Cavs vs. Wizards playoff series, please

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While you were trying to come up with clever ways to get out of traffic tickets, the Wizards and Cavaliers were playing maybe the game of the year, so we have the takeaways from that and more around the NBA Monday.

1) If that’s what it’s going to look like, I would like to order a Cavaliers vs. Wizards playoff series. It was something I discussed during a recent PBT Podcast talking Wizards: Washington had moved up with Boston and Toronto into the discussion of who is the second best team in the East. Monday night on a nationally televised game, the Wizards got the chance to test themselves against the best.

Cleveland got the 140-135 win thanks to a ridiculous LeBron James shot to force overtime then Kyrie Irving taking over in the extra period. But the Wizards got respect. And if this is what a playoff series between these teams would look like, bring it on. I’ll take five, six, seven games of this.

The Cavs got the win in large part because LeBron was vintage and brilliant, with 32 points and a career-high 17 assists. But all anyone is going to talk about is this shot-of-the-year candidate to force OT — it starts with a brilliant pass from the best outlet passer in the game in Kevin Love (who finished with 39 points of his own), then LeBron called bank.

Forget just that shot, the entire end of regulation and highlights of overtime are worth watching.

For the Cavs, they went on the road against a quality opponent that had won 17 in a row on their home court and got the win. This team has stumbled with LeBron off the floor at times this season, but after he had fouled out in the overtime Kyrie Irving took over scoring 11 of his 23 points, and that got them the win. Also, Love was fantastic punishing the Wizards inside when Washington tried to go small. Cleveland is still the bar to clear, the best team in the East. Although, adding another playmaker wouldn’t hurt.

The Wizards had to like what they saw: John Wall getting into the lane, breaking down the Cavs defense and dishing a dozen assists (plus scoring 22); Bradley Beal scoring 41 and torching Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye for stretches; Otto Porter playing well in big moments and scoring 25; Markieff Morris making big plays;Kelly Oubre playing well off the bench. The Wizards looked legit and by all reports were brimming with confidence after the game despite the loss.

The playoffs in the East may not just be a coronation for the Cavaliers, they are going to have to earn it.

2) Trade rumors update. From now through the trade deadline this will be a semi-regular feature of Three Things, breaking down all the trade rumors out there.

LeBron rips report he pushed trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love rumors refuse to die, although most of the talking comes out of New York. Including the latest that none other than LeBron was pushing for the deal, something he vehemently denied after Love dropped 39 on the Wizards. I’m not going to pretend to know what LeBron is thinking, and no doubt he’d love to play alongside his friend Carmelo, but he’s too smart to think this trade is a good idea. This site’s own Dan Feldman and I debated whether adding Anthony for Love would improve the Cavs matchup with the Warriors this season — Dan thinks it does because ‘Melo matches up better against Andre Iguodala, I disagree — but while that is up for debate what isn’t is that Love is better against 28 other teams now, and will be better next season than age 33 and starting to decline, Anthony. Cavs management knows this, and this deal is dead. Not happening. It doesn’t mean the rumors will die, it just means be a smart media consumer and know that the basic facts of the deal are not happening. The Cavs will almost certainly add another playmaker one way or another before the deadline, but more Shelvin Mack than ‘Melo.

Pelicans talking trades for a big man, with Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor being the frontrunner. The Pelicans are better with Anthony Davis at the center spot, but he’s not built to bang down low in that role for 40 minutes a night. They need to use him in that role sort of the way the Warriors do with Draymond Green at center for the death lineup — 15 minutes a night or so. Finding the right big to play next to Davis the rest of the game has been a challenge, so now the Pelicans are thinking offense and the Sixers’ Okafor. No doubt Okafor can score inside, and the idea is Davis covers his defensive deficiencies. Maybe. I think the price of Alexis Ajinca and a 2018 first-round pick is fair, depending on the protections on that pick (New Orleans should say at least top 10, maybe lottery). But I think the Pelicans have far bigger questions out on the perimeter — like will they pay big to keep Jrue Holiday this summer? — than inside. The Pelicans have misfired in free agency — Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway — and they need more than one trade, they need a series of hits.

Kings GM Vlade Divac makes it clear: Kings have no intention of trading DeMarcus Cousins. Much like the ‘Melo to the Cavaliers trade rumors, DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors will not die despite the fact nobody with the team, close to the team, or on other teams thinks it’s going to happen. GM Vlade Divac said it again Monday. But it’s simpler than that: Owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to trade Cousins, and owners get their way. Trade Cousins and the Kings would be starting a multi-year rebuild process where the goal would be to get a player as good as Cousins — for a smaller market franchise like this, you don’t just move the star you have. This summer the Kings are going to offer Cousins a designated player max extension (the same one the Warriors will offer Stephen Curry) and Cousins will sign it. And Cousins will spend a few more years in Sacramento.

3) So is this rock bottom for the Knicks? Lakers coach Luke Walton said it’s time to bench his overpaid veterans — Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov — and play his inconsistent young stars such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle more. Time to think development over wins. But then that struggling young Lakers lineup goes out and just thrashes the Knicks. New York was down 27 in the second quarter, fans were booing the hometown Knicks throughout the game, and while they won garbage time late to only lose by 14, the game was never that close. After the game the Knicks were hard on themselves. As they should have been.

Trading Anthony for spare parts — which is all teams like the Clippers and Cavaliers are offering at the deadline — is not the answer for Phil Jackson. There is no simple answer, other than this summer stop going for the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah quick fixes and build a team around Kristaps Porzingis, filled with guys more on his career arc. Jackson has a lot of work to do on this team over the summer.

John Wall’s 24 points lead Wizards over Pelicans 105-91

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WASHINGTON (AP) — John Wall had 24 points and 13 assists, Markieff Morris scored 18 points and the Washington Wizards held New Orleans scoreless for the final 5:52 of the fourth quarter to beat the Pelicans 105-91 Saturday night for their seventh straight win.

Washington has its longest winning streak since a seven-game stretch from Jan. 2-15, 2005. The Wizards extended their home winning streak to 17 games, second-longest in franchise history.

Anthony Davis had 25 points and 10 rebounds to lead New Orleans, which lost its fourth straight. The Pelicans were held scoreless after Tyreke Evans hit a 3-pointer to take a 91-90 lead with 5:52 to play.

Morris’ dunk 12 seconds later put the Wizards ahead and started a game-closing 15-0 run.

The Wizards (30-20) moved 10 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 season.

TIP INS:

Pelicans: G Buddy Hield, held scoreless on Sunday in the team’s last meeting, shot 3 for 10 and had six points. Coach Alvin Gentry isn’t worried about Hield, who was a highly heralded player in college a year ago. Hield was recently moved into the starting lineup. “I think he’s making progress. I think he’s going to be a really good player in this league,” Gentry said. … G Jrue Holiday had 10 rebounds and six turnovers, both season-highs.

Wizards: F Danuel House, who has played in just one game this season, is nearing a return from his fractured right wrist. “You’ll probably see him in the next 10 days or so. Maybe he plays in the D-League,” coach Scott Brooks said. … Wall moved into 10th place on the team’s all-time scoring list. … C Marcin Gortat had 17 rebounds – 10 in the first quarter. … Washington has won 22 games at home this season – equaling its 2015-16 home win total.

 

Marcin Gortat: Wizards have Eastern Conference’s best starting lineup

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The Wizards have a trash bench. They’re also 29-20.

So, obviously the starters are doing something right.

John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are having career years. Marcin Gortat is providing his usual steady interior production. And after a rough start, Markieff Morris has played much better lately — bringing everything together.

Gortat, when asked by Chris Miller of CSN Mid-Atlantic whether the Wizards have the Eastern Conference’s best starting lineup:

I would say yes. I do truly believe that we have the best starting five in this conference. And if everybody’s healthy, everybody plays 100 percent max effort, then we definitely have the best starting lineup.

Because he was asked, Gortat was somewhat backed into a corner. What else is he supposed to say at that point?

But he also might be right.

Washington’s starters have outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions this season, second in the East to the Cavaliers (+7.1).

But the Wizards have gone six games without starting Wall-Beal-Porter-Morris-Gortat due to injury. That unit is +10.9 per 100 possessions — better than the Cavaliers’ most-used lineup of Kyrie IrvingJ.R. SmithLeBron JamesKevin LoveTristan Thompson (+9.3).

In fact, Washington’s starting lineup has the second-best net rating of each Eastern Conference’s team’s most-used lineup. Only the 76ers — T.J. McConnellNik StauskasRobert CovingtonErsan IlyasovaJoel Embiid — have a better most-used lineup (+14.0).

However, that Philadelphia group has played just 115 minutes in 14 games. The Wizards’ primary starters have played 857 minutes together in 43 games. There’s value in availability, which is still a question mark with Embiid and anything he’s fueling.

Plus, with such a weak bench, Washington rarely has the ability to sub for matchups. The Wizards’ primary starters must handle all types of opponents, even ones that pose stylistic difficulties.

Credit the Wizards for making this a discussion, but that’s as far as I’ll go. Give me the lineup that has LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving (and solid support from Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert).