John Wall’s triple-double leads Wizards past Bulls 117-96

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The week began with John Wall and the Washington Wizards on a five-game losing streak and facing a daunting margin just to reach the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

After a pair of victories by an average of 32 points over the two teams right ahead of them in the standings, the Wizards are in a far different place.

“Now we’re in it,” forward Jared Dudley said. “Before, if we lose these two, we would have been out of it. We win these two, now we’re in the thick of things.”

Finally playing as if their chance at returning to the postseason was on the line, which it very much is, the Wizards beat Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 117-96 behind Wall’s third triple-double of the season Wednesday night.

Wall, an All-Star point guard, produced 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, outplaying Rose, who returned after missing two games with a strained left groin and finished with 16 points and four assists.

“We just couldn’t really get a stop tonight, so they got us,” said Doug McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points as a reserve. “We’ve got to come out with urgency. We didn’t do that tonight. That’s on us.”

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Wall pointed his finger at the defensive side of the ball, saying that the Wizards spent plenty of time watching video of their disastrous recent road trip and focusing on how to improve the way they deal with opponents’ pick-and-rolls.

And, he thinks, the dividends could keep coming.

“We put ourselves in this situation. And if we just keep playing defense this way, we give ourselves a great chance to beat anybody. Simple as that,” Wall said. “We simplified our defense the last two games, it showed up and it’s been a lot better.”

In their previous outing, on Monday, the Wizards beat the visiting Detroit Pistons by 43 points. Detroit lost again Wednesday, 118-114 at Atlanta, meaning Washington is still 10th in the East but now sits only 1 1/2 games behind both the eighth-place Bulls and ninth-place Pistons.

Plus, there is this: The Wizards now own the tiebreakers against both of those teams they’re chasing, 2-1 over Chicago with no games remaining and 3-0 over Detroit with only one to play.

“We knew that the teams that we’re chasing were right here in front of us,” Dudley said. “We knew it was now or never.”

Wall received plenty of help, including 20 points from Bradley Beal and 15 from reserve Garrett Temple.

Chicago got Rose back, and Jimmy Butler scored 17 points in his second game in a row after missing three with an injury. But Joakim Noah is done for the season, Pau Gasol is still out, and Taj Gibson played only 8 minutes Wednesday because he aggravated his right hamstring.

“The challenge is pretty tough right now,” Rose said, “but that’s why we’re pros.”

ROSE’S RETURN

Rose said he expects to face Brooklyn on Thursday. “I wasn’t really trying to force anything,” he said about Wednesday’s return to action. “Just trying to get a groove, get a feel for the ball.” Coach Fred Hoiberg’s take: “I thought his burst looked good, for the most part. We wanted to play him short stints, no longer than 7-minute stints.”

TEMPLE CAN’T MISS

Temple’s points all came in the first half, when he shot 5 for 5 on 3s. “Just taking what the defense gave him,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. The rest of the Wizards’ bench was a combined 0 for 11 in the half.

HOME COOKIN’

The Wizards have won seven of their past eight games in Washington. “Maybe,” Temple joked, “we need to play the rest of our games at home.”

FLAGRANT?

Wall was whistled for a flagrant foul after chasing Butler down and blocking his shot. Wittman’s postgame reaction to the call? “I’m glad I didn’t play in this (era). Jiminy Christmas, if that was a flagrant. But times have changed.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Have lost nine of 10 on the road. … Cameron Bairstow sat out with a back injury.

Wizards: C Marcin Gortat missed the first quarter because of a sore lower back after tweaking it in warmups. He wound up scoring nine points in 18 minutes. … F Alan Anderson sat out.

 

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

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.

Bradley Beal: Wizards told me they won’t trade me

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The Wizards don’t have a long-term general manager.

They do have a plan for Bradley Beal.

Washington coach Scott Brooks, acting general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis have each conveyed it to the star guard.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Beal said that Leonsis, Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.

“They’ve been very transparent and that’s been great,” Beal said. “They’re not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It’s great having that peace of mind.”

Leonsis is the most important deliverer of that news. He’s the only one guaranteed to last into a new front-office regime.

But Leonsis also said last January the Wizards wouldn’t trade Otto Porter. They dealt him to the Bulls a week later.

These declarations are obviously non-binding, and Leonsis doesn’t have a great track record of sticking by his word. The owner might say John Wall aggravating his injury changed Washington’s outlook. But that’s the point. Situations change.

What happens if the Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst teams next season? That’s quite possible given their roster/cap outlook entering free agency. Would they keep Beal through a year of his prime even if playoff-bound teams are making lucrative trade offers?

And what if Beal reaches the final season of his contract? Would Washington keep him and just hope for the best in unrestricted free agency?

How long does this no-trade pledge last?

The Wizards reportedly plan to offer Beal the largest extension possible this summer. That’d be worth $111,786,897 over three years.

That’s also way less than he could get by playing out the final two years of his contract and hitting 2021 free agency. Especially if he makes an All-NBA team in 2020-21, which would make him super-max eligible. Or he could make an All-NBA team next season that would make him eligible for a super-max extension, which would be worth the same as a new super-max contract as a free agent.

Beal’s projected max contracts:

  • Extension in 2019: $111,786,897 over three years ($35,134,668 per year)
  • Super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Re-sign regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
  • Re-sign super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Leave in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

So, Beal will likely reject an extension this summer and wait until he makes an All-NBA team or his contract expires, whichever comes first. That’d at least be the financially prudent path.

In the meantime, he can know the Wizards say they won’t trade him – however far that assurance goes.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.