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Wizards hope for better start against Celtics than they had vs. Bulls

Wizards hope for better start against Celtics than they had vs. Bulls

The Wizards' 101-99 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night extended their home winning streak to 10 games and pushed them past the .500 mark for the first time this season, yet in many ways it wasn't pretty. It was a win, but also a learning lesson moving forward.

They were playing a Bulls team that was missing its two best players in Jimmy Butler (illness) and Dwyane Wade (rest), as well as one of its best bench scorers in Nikola Mirotic (illness). Still, the Bulls were able to hold a double-digit lead at the end of the first quarter (36-26) and at halftime (61-49). The NBA's worst three-point shooting team, Chicago hit 8-of-10 from long range in the first half. Rookie Denzel Valentine set a career-high by halftime with 14 points.

It was not an ideal start by any stretch.

"We figured Jimmy [Butler] wasn’t playing, D-Wade wasn’t playing, the game was going to be easy," guard Bradley Beal said. "Those games are probably the hardest ones to play in. We just have to do a better job of locking in, but a win is a win at the end of the day."

"They're still NBA players. I think in the first half we disrespected them, and laid down," forward Markieff Morris said. "They had thirty-six in the first quarter, like I said without their two best players, and that's unacceptable." 

Morris went on to describe the first half as "horrible." Head coach Scott Brooks used the word "exhausting" in his assessment. The game ultimately resulted in a win, but what happened on Tuesday night has hurt them before.

On Sunday in Milwaukee, they barely beat the Bucks despite Giannis Antetokounmpo not playing. Seven times this year have they allowed at least 60 points in the first half, including to struggling teams like the Heat, Nets, Mavericks and Magic. They are 2-5 in those games. The Wizards, in fact, are 2-12 in games they allow 57 points or more in the first half.

In order to win a game after giving up so much in the first two quarters, much has to change in the second half, like on Tuesday when they held the Bulls to just 38 total points in the third and fourth quarters. Chicago shot just 2-of-17 from three in the second half, including 0-for-9 in the third quarter.

"They were just too comfortable. In the first half, we just allowed them to do whatever they wanted. They were freelancing, getting to the basket, knocking down threes, getting comfortable," Beal said. "In the second half we just wanted to pressure them [and] make them play our style of game, and force them to play our hand."

The Wizards now move on to Boston to face the Celtics on Wednesday night in the second game of a back-to-back set. The Wizards are 1-6 in those scenarios this season.

"Boston's a good team. If we play like this, it will be hard to win," Brooks said.

[RELATED: Wall to Bulls' Valentine: 'You woke a monster']

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Scott Brooks proved a great fit in his first year with the Wizards

Scott Brooks proved a great fit in his first year with the Wizards

If you had doubts about the 2016-17 Wizards once they flumped out to a 2-8 start back in November, you weren't the only one. Head coach Scott Brooks will even admit, that as confident as he and his team remained during that early season tumble, it wasn't easy.

"The thing that I look back at, is that the start was tough. Let's face it," he said. "We were 2-8 and I didn't really know what I was getting into."

What happened after those 10 games might be Brooks' greatest achievement in his first year in charge of the Wizards. Washington went 14-8 to get back to .500 and then never really looked back. From January 6 until the All-Star break, the Wizards won 18 of 21 games and firmly established themselves as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Brooks recalls those trying times with an appreciation for how his team responded. John Wall was coming off two knee surgeries and limited by a minutes restriction. The Wizards had turned over most of their 15-man roster. And Brooks was installing a new system with the help of a new coaching and training staff.

Yet, they ultimately righted the ship and put in the best season for the Wizards/Bullets franchise since 1978-79.

"The thing that I really appreciated is that our guys really stuck together, kept believing in one another and kept believing in our system and wanted to keep working for each other," Brooks said. "And our fans stayed with us. That's not always easy to do, either."

[RELATED: Scott Brooks knows one area of Wizards' offense that can improve]

A lot can be leanred through difficult times and Wizards players didn't need long to find out what Brooks was about. Through that dreadful start, he remained steady and never panicked. That resolve did not go unnoticed.

"Just to never quit. Even when we were going through tough times, all of us - the coaching staff, video staff and players - we all came together," Wall said. "We all came in and kept working. Never point the finger at anybody. He always gave us courage and told us that we can compete through anything, through adversity.

The adversity didn't end once they recovered from the 2-8 start. There were other times where Brooks had to bring out what Bradley Beal once described as his "dark side." Often, it would come out at halftime and almost always because of his team's defensive effort.

Brooks is gracious and affable to the media and fans, and is easily to get along with for players as well. But he can set players straight when he needs to with intensity and a fire to win.

"He made us a better defensive team when we showed it and when we didn't, he let us know," Wall said.

The best coaches can find a balance between those sides, to have players generally like them but also dread making them angry. Beal summed up Brooks' approach well.

"I think as a team we respect him," Beal explained. "On the outside of coaching, he's a really down-to-earth guy. He has a relationship with everyone on the team. I think everybody loves that. He holds everybody accountable. Me, I loved him. He granted everybody confidence and freedom on both ends of the floor, especially offense. At the same time, he knows when to have fun and when to be serious... I think we did a good job responding to him whenever he got on us about things."

[RELATED: Will John Wall help recruit free agents to Wizards?]

Brooks, 51, signed a five-year contract worth $35 million to coach the Wizards last April. He replaced Randy Wittman, a coach who had led the Wizards twice to the second round of the playoffs, but missed the postseason entirely in his last year before getting fired. Brooks got the Wizards back to the second round, and by losing in Game 7, took them one game further than they had been in decades.

Over and over during his first season, Brooks was effusive in praising his players and the bright future ahead of them. He loves the opportunity to coach young and improving players like Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and others.

He says working with the players is part of what he missed most in his one year off after the Oklahoma City Thunder fired him following the 2014-15 season.

"I love this game. I missed everything. When you sit out, you enjoy having time spent with your family and you get to do things that you don't normally get to do during an NBA season. I appreciated that year off and I appreciate being with them, but I missed the competition. I missed being around the players. The players, when you have a good group of guys, you love to come to work. You come to work excited and you have enthusiasm for the day. That's one thing that I missed. When you're not on the bus going to a game, that's not a good feeling. It's great when you have a group of guys that are committed to winning every game. That's fun and something that I don't want to be without," he said.

Brooks is back where he belongs coaching an NBA team. And through one year, so far so good.

[RELATED: 10 best games of the Wizards' 2016-17 season]

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Kevin Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs

Kevin Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs

Basketball fans got what they wanted with an NBA Finals rematch between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, but the road to get there was mostly a snore. As Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk broke down on Friday, the NBA Playoffs so far have been historically lopsided.

Cavs-Warriors was not only a foregone conclusion, but their dominance through the first three rounds contributed to the fewest pre-Finals games since the NBA expanded the first round to seven games. And by average win margin, it also ranked among the least competitive playoffs ever.

Part of that, one could argue, is due to Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. In doing so, he depleted the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were one of the league's best teams, and consolidated power on the Warriors. They have four stars between Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green when a lot of teams around the NBA have zero.

Durant shouldn't be blamed for all of it, of course. James joining the Cavs and teaming up with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love had its domino effect. And a lot of teams just plain stink.

[RELATED: Lonzo Ball turned down Celtics, but will listen to... Sixers?]

Durant issued a strong defense of himself in that regard. He thinks it's unwarranted to say he's the biggest reason. Here is what he told USA Today Sports:

“Like I'm the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn't make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they're not that good (laughs)? I can't play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It's one more team that you probably would've thought would've been a contender. One more team. I couldn't have made the (entire) East better. I couldn't have made everybody (else) in the West better.”

He's right about the Magic and Nets. Yikes, are they terrible. But him leaving OKC did remove one of the best potential matchups in the NBA Playoffs. Their seven-game series against the Warriors last summer was a memorable one and we'll never see it again.

Whether Durant is to blame or not, the playoffs have been anything but great. Ironically, the Wizards' two series against the Hawks and Celtics were probably the best, or at least the most eventful.

[RELATED: JaVale McGee and his cat have a funny story to tell]