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Cook shooting for Wizards opening day roster

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Cook shooting for Wizards opening day roster

Brian Cook walked into Wizards training camp without a guaranteed contract and therefore without a guaranteed roster spot.

With multiple players out, sidelined by injuries, Washington more than likely will enter the season with the league-maximum 15 on its roster. Even then, the nine-year veteran forward with touch from deep and a build for low post banging could remain on the outside looking in.

That is unless the team fears Nene's foot injury lingers several days beyond the Oct. 30 season opener at Cleveland. That is unless the Wizards remain cautious with Kevin Seraphin's calf injury remains. Then another big man might be required.

That's not Cook's call, but he's the apparent leader in the clubhouse should the Wizards make it.

"I don't control that," said Cook, who played 16 games for the Wizards last season after being acquired in a deal that sent Nick Young to the Los Angeles Clippers. "I can control myself, that's all I can control. I come here and work hard, try to play the right way. Try to play winning basketball. That's all I can control."

With a good chunk of the Wizards projected frontcourt out for stretches of the preseason, Cook along with fellow non-roster invitees Shavlik Randolph and Earl Barron have been more than practice players. Seeing action in five of Washington's six games, Cook has knocked down 5 of 9 three-point attempts (55.6 percent) in 12 minutes per contest.

Expect more of the same minutes-wise Wednesday night in Kansas City when the Wizards face the Miami Heat (8:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet). Randy Wittman continues searching for combinations rather than set a locked in rotation, meaning balanced minutes for most. It's not like he has much of a choice.

"As we've been riddled with injuries, I've kind of gone the other way here still. Mix and match, look at different guys all the way through," the Wizards coach said.

"We've had a lot of injuries. Getting a lot more time than I thought I would, which is always good," said Cook, the Los Angeles Lakers first round pick in 2003. "[Randy] has confidence in all the guys he brought in. We're all professionals, trying to do the right things, trying to make each other better."

The 31-year-old is a career 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc, though he's been wayward from distance in recent seasons. Growing up, Cook played largely on the perimeter until a seven-inch growth spurt between eighth and ninth grade turned him into a frontcourt option. Though he remains most comfortable outside, the 250-pounder can battle in the lane, even taking a lap or two at center with the Clippers.

It's that kind of versatility combined with his league experience that could have the Wizards thinking about holding onto Cook when training camp breaks. Without Nene and Seraphin, the Wizards only interior options with any real size are Emeka Okafor and Jan Vesely. That might not be enough, especially when the Wizards face Kevin Garnett and the Celtics in a home-and-home situation as soon as the calendar flips to November.

Keep an extra big man. With John Wall out the first month, hold every point guard. Stay with all the shooters. These are among the final roster trimming debates Wittman and his coaching staff will have over the final two games.

Part of Washington's winning stretch of games at the end of last season, Cook, the basketball lifer hopes to keep it going in Chinatown.

"I've been playing this game since I was three years old," Cook said. "I love the game. I love winning. That's what they're trying to do around here. Hopefully I can help with that."

Notes: The Wizards held Bradley Beal out of practice on Tuesday, one day after the rookie guard tweaked his ankle during a tumble in practice. Beal walked without a limp and Wittman declared the first rounder a game-time decision against Miami.

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Fourth quarter has been an issue for the Wizards in series vs. Raptors

Fourth quarter has been an issue for the Wizards in series vs. Raptors

It was all going so well for the Wizards in Game 5 on Wednesday night until just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. That's when their offense went from good enough to win to bad enough to alter a series and put their 2017-18 season on life support.

The Wizards head back to Washington down 3-2 and have only themselves to blame. From the 4:05 mark in the fourth quarter all the way until 16.2 seconds remining in the game, they did not score a single point. Meanwhile, the Raptors kept rolling and finished that stretch on a 14-5 run. 

The Wizards missed 11 of their final 15 shots. They stopped moving the ball and moving off the ball and even some of their open shots clanged off the backboard or the rim.

It was a stunning display of offensive ineptitude from a team that was above average in scoring during the regular season. 

"We just missed some shots," guard Bradley Beal said. "We feel like we got some good ones, especially down the stretch."

The Wizards managed 20 points in the fourth quarter and 15 came in the first 7:55 of the frame. That would put them on pace for a solid quarter. If they maintained that course, they may have won the game.

Instead, the fourth quarter amounted to a disaster and it cost them dearly. Teams that lose Game 5 to break a 2-2 tie have a 17.2 percent chance of winning the series, based on the league's history.

Otto Porter went scoreless and took one shot in the fourth quarter of Game 5. John Wall had two of his seven turnovers and shot 2-for-6.

"I had two crucial turnovers trying to split screens in the fourth quarter," Wall said. "Just bad reads on my part."

Beal shot 1-for-6 from the field and 1-for-4 from three. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who shot just 40.3 percent from the field during the regular season, took six shots in the fourth quarter, tied for most on the team. He made two of them and missed all three of his threes.

The Wizards had six of their 18 giveaways in the fourth. Though they outrebounded the Raptors 50-35 for the game, they were outdone 15-12 in the frame.

The Wizards' scoreless drought of three minutes and 49 seconds in the fourth quarter was perhaps foreshadowed by some problems with their offense early in the game. There were plenty of stretches characterized by bad shots, turnovers and a lack of passing.

The Wizards' 21 assists in Game 5 were their fewest in the playoffs so far.

"We need more ball movement," Beal said. "We need more player movement. We were way too stagnant."

The fourth quarter has been an issue all series. Only once, in Game 2, did they outscore the Raptors in the final frame. 

The Wizards rank 14th out of 16 playoff teams in fourth quarter points (23.4/g) and dead-last with a 40.4 field goal percentage and 28.1 three point percentage.

This is a bit of a carryover from the regular season. Only five teams shot worse than the Wizards in the fourth quarter (43.7%) and only five teams allowed more points (26.5) to their opponents.

Washington has had issues closing games all year and throughout this series. Wednesday night was an extreme example and it has them just one loss away from elimination.

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Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

Wizards have to find a way to stop DeMar DeRozan to climb back in series

The Toronto Raptors' best player has become a serious problem for the Washington Wizards, as they now face a 3-2 series deficit in their 2018 NBA Playoffs first-round series and the bleak reality that one more loss means their season is over.

DeMar DeRozan, who began this first round series with a modest 17 points in Game 1, has since raised his game to a new level to beyond even what we have seen in the past. In Games 2-5, DeRozan has averaged 31.8 points, including his 32-game outburst in Game 5 that tilted the series in Toronto's favor.

DeRozan is averaging 28.8 points through five games against the Raptors. That's up considerably from his 22.5-point career playoff average.

DeRozan scored his 32 points in Game 5 with efficiency. He shot 12-for-24 from the field and even made three of his four shots from three.

He didn't even need the free throw line like he normally does. DeRozan shot six free throws, less than his regular season average.

The Wizards are having trouble with DeRozan particularly in the first half. DeRozan is averaging 14.8 first-half points during the playoffs, second only to LeBron James. 

DeRozan had 20 points by halftime in Game 5.

"DeMar was in his element tonight," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said. "He got it going early. It was kind of hard to shut him off."

The Wizards are paying for disrespecting DeRozan's three-point shot. He made just 31.2 percent from long range in the regular season, but is shooting threes at a 45.5 percent clip in the playoffs.

If DeRozan is knocking down shots from outside, his offensive game is as complete as just about anyone in the NBA. He has shown in this series an impressive ability to not only get to the rim, but finish through contact or draw fouls.

DeRozan does a good job of maintaining body and ball control going straight up against Wizards' big men and is often rewarded by the referees. He shot a playoff career-high 18 free throws in Game 4.

The Wizards are actually doing a decent job of taking away his midrange shots, which usually account for much of his points. Though DeRozan is hitting an impressive 66.7 percent from 5-to-9 feet, up from his season clip of 47.6, his numbers are down from further out.

DeRozan is shooting 40 percent from 10-to-14 feet out, down from 41.5 percent in the regular season, and just 28.6 percent from 15-to-19 feet, down from 43.7.

DeRozan is hurting the Wizards from long range and within nine feet of the rim. He is taking what the Wizards are giving him and Washington has to adjust.

"We’ve gotta pretty much get it out of [his] hands. Make sure we take care of everybody else," Oubre said.

The Wizards should look to how the defended him in Game 4 as a good example of how to limit his impact. DeRozan had 35 points, but required 29 shots from the field and 18 free throws to get there. 

Washington forced DeRozan into an inefficient night and forced others to try to beat them. The result was the Wizards' best defensive game overall, as the Raptors scored a series-low 98 points.

DeRozan isn't the only defensive concern for the Wizards as they look ahead to Game 6 on Friday. Backup point guard Delon Wright scored 18 points for the second time this series and Toronto hit 11 threes in the game.

The Wizards held the Raptors to just seven threes in Game 4 and it was no coincidence they won that game. They have to lock down the perimeter and, as this series has shown, that includes DeRozan even though he isn't known for making threes.

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