Wizards keep playoff goal intact by trading injured Okafor for a healthy Gortat

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WASHINGTON — Sometimes trades instinctively bring out the head scratcher in all of us. The Wizards acquiring center Marcin Gortat isn’t one of those times.

Washington hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2008. Unlike teams that bailed on the upcoming season to ensure a lottery finish, the Wizards have shaped their John Wall-led roster with the goal of a postseason return.

Emeka Okafor’s herniated disk in his neck threatened to derail those plans.

Fearing the defensive presence might return later than sooner, the playoff-pushing organization addressed the matter sooner than later.

Following Saturday’s practice, management, coaches and players discussed the necessary move, which included not just a swap of expiring contracts, but the Wizards shipping a protected 2014 first round pick.

Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld: “Obviously if Emeka didn’t have the [injury], probably wouldn’t have been as imperative for us to get another big man in there. We don’t know what his status will be. Obviously, Emeka was very frustrated by his situation and there is really no timeframe for him.”

Wall: “It’s tough to see a guy like Mek go that was a great professional for us and what he did for our team, especially helping me in learning things, but it was kind of tough not knowing if he would play this year.”

Head coach Randy Wittman: “We’re not just trading a player for a player, with Mek not being on the floor yet this year. That’s the beauty about the situation. We had no idea when, or if, Emek, was going to be back. So, this gives us a free body that we didn’t have.”

Not just a free body, but a big body, a 6-foot-11, 240-pounder efficient in the pick-and-roll and better offensively than the man he replaces. Nor Okafor’s equal on defense, but Gortat is a big body willing to bang and defend those in the middle so power forward Nene and his perennial aching body doesn’t have to.

“Now we have a true center. Look at my face,” said the grinning Brazilian big man, who has not been shy about stating his positional preference. “[Gortat] is going to help us a lot. He’s a veteran … high IQ big man. He knows how to play. We feel sad for Emeka, he was a great teammate, but we need the position. [The organization] did an amazing job. They surprised me.”

Considering the team’s playoffs-or-bust mentality, considering the young frontcourt options — namely Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely — provided no assurance they could step up into larger roles, nobody should be surprised. Considering the trade laid out on a Venn diagram would show a tiny not-so-sweet spot, nobody should be scratching their head.

The first round pick is protected through the 12th selection. If the Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the pick heads to Phoenix without complaint. If the Wizards miss the playoffs, they keep the pick as long as they don’t end up with the 13th or 14th selection. Barring bad luck with ping-pong balls, that’s a safe bet considering there are more strong teams than available postseason berths out West.

The Wizards will enter next offseason with a hole at center — and potentially around $16 million in cap space now that they have reportedly declined options on Vesely and Chris Singleton. Make the playoffs and the Wizards become more attractive to high-end free agents as a rising franchise headlined by the electric backcourt combo of Wall and Bradley Beal. Miss the playoffs and the Wizards have both a first round selection and cap space to address needs.

“That could become available to us if that’s a direction we want to go,” Grunfeld said of potentially adding a max contract free agent. “But we’ll worry about that next summer.”

They could also re-sign Gortat, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season for Phoenix in what some considered a down effort. If the “Polish Machine” helps makes the Wizards a better team — he should offensively — and the money works out, why not.

As for guards Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee, Grunfeld will only worry about the other ex-Suns acquired in the deal for another day or so. Washington must trim three players by Monday to reach the league-maximum of 15. Grunfeld said he hasn’t made a final decision, but nobody is expecting that trio to stay with the Wizards.

The idea of making the playoffs this season, that notion has staying power. Without making the trade, maybe not.

“It hasn’t changed any,” Wittman said of the team’s postseason goals. “We talked about that. This wouldn’t make it change any. We still expect to fight for a spot in May. That’s our objective here.”

Watch Buddy Hield’s game-winning three lift Kings past Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Buddy Hield beat the buzzer with a winning shot for the first time in his NBA career.

Hield made an off-balance, fadeaway 3-pointer just before time expired and scored 35 points in the Sacramento Kings’ 103-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night.

“I’m blessed to say I got one in the NBA at the highest level,” he said. “It’s fun. As a kid, you always dream of hitting one of those type of shots. It’s something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Detroit outscored the Kings in each of the first three quarters and had a 12-point cushion midway through the fourth.

That wasn’t enough.

Hield made a 3-pointer with 1:11 left to put Sacramento ahead for the first time since midway through the first quarter.

Blake Griffin, who scored 38 points, scored on the ensuing possession to put the Pistons ahead 101-100. Griffin had a chance to add to the lead on Detroit’s next possession, but he passed to Reggie Jackson, who missed a shot to give the Kings another chance.

Hield made the most of it.

He fumbled an inbounds pass, scrambled to regain possession and put up a shot from the left wing that hit nothing but the bottom of the net.

“We were trapping him because we knew he couldn’t make another play with 3.4 seconds,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “We had three guys there. You have to be shoulder to shoulder, but he got between two guys, saw some daylight and threw one up there.”

Hield sprinted around the court after making the game-winner, leaped over a camera cord and led a joyous parade to the locker room.

“The lady almost tripped me. I think she was trying to trip me,” Hield said. “She put it up high. Thank God for my track background, I was able to hurdle over the wire.”

Griffin scored 14 points in the first quarter to help the Pistons establish control they had until Hield led a charge over the last several minutes of the game.

De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley scored 14 point apiece and Willie Cauley-Stein added 12 points for the Kings.

Luke Kennard scored 19 points for the Pistons. They were without center Andre Drummond due to him being in the concussion protocol.

Detroit held Hield scoreless in the third after he had 20 points in the first half, helping the Pistons go into the fourth quarter ahead 82-74.

“We were kind of running in mud,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “We hung in there long enough with our defense to make it close at the end and then Buddy got going.”

 

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball carried off court with sprained ankle

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Saturday night the Lakers, already without LeBron James as he recovers from a groin strain, lost their next best playmaker to an ankle injury.

Lonzo Ball had to be carried off the court after spraining his ankle in the third quarter when he collided with and apparently accidentally stepped on the foot of James Ennis. Ball went to the ground grabbing his ankle the second it happened.

Because the X-ray machine inside the Toyota Center was malfunctioning, Ball was taken to a local hospital for further examination. At least the news there was good for Los Angeles.

There is no timeline yet on Ball’s return, but he’s going to miss a little time.

The Lakers, without Ball or coach Luke Walton (who was ejected), lost to the Rockets in overtime, behind James Harden‘s 48.

The Lakers host the red-hot Warriors on Monday night without Ball, LeBron, or Rajon Rondo.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.