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Morning tip: Breaking down how bigs now tasked with being 'playmakers' for Wizards' defense

Morning tip: Breaking down how bigs now tasked with being 'playmakers' for Wizards' defense

ATLANTA -- Don't think there are any differences in the Wizards under Scott Brooks on offense? That would be wrong. Think they're approaching defense the same way? Not even close. Whether or not these changes produce more wins and a playoff berth will be determined soon enough, but the process begins tonight with the bigs -- namely Marcin Gortat or whoever is in the middle -- making all of the defensive calls. 

Last season under Randy Wittman, there was mass confusion. They routinely switched coverages, changed game plans, wouldn't adjust in-game and guards also were making calls to complicate the communication process. The results were busted coverages left and right. Brooks is intent on avoiding that catastrophe so the frontline handles the defensive calls. 

"The guards can't see what's going on. We're closer to the basket. We can see the floor. It's kind of like how K.G. was with Boston, directing the defense from the back," said Markieff Morris, projected to be the starting power forward next to Gortat, in referencing the now-retired Kevin Garnett.

Of course with a new coach, the language changes. Some teams call "blue" when they want to do what's called an "ice" of the side pick-and-roll. In other words, send the ball to the baseline. Under Brooks, the Wizards call that "push." Sending the ball-handler to his weak hand results in a call of "weak." Those details really are minor. 

What Brooks wants is for the Wizards to follow the ball first and foremost. He doesn't want his defenders preoccupied on the weakside of the floor. 

"We want to make sure we load to the ball and get into the paint within the rules," Brooks said. "You only have 2.9 but we want to utilize that. ... We've had a tendency in the past, early in camp, staying next to your man when your man doesn’t have the ball which was not a good thing."

Most teams manipualte the defensive three-seconds-in-the-lane rule to use an extra defender -- usually the center/rim protector at the 2/9 position -- to contain the ball against superior players on the strongside of the floor. It's effectively a zone defense principle but they have to get out of the lane, of course, before a violation is called. That leaves the offensive player on the far side unattended because he's not a major threat from that spot.

"We’re slightly better than we were last year. If we want to win basketball games, everything starts on defense," Gortat said. "We all have this bad flavor from last year. We all know we basically we (expletive) it up, to be honest with you. That’s what we did. You can quote that.

“We've got to be humble, we got to work hard, shut our mouth, don’t talk who we are, who we want to be and how far we’re going to be and stuff like that. Just go out on the court and do it. Just freaking do it. Let our actions speak for us. This is where everything started, having the right schemes from coach Brooks. It made us more comfortable with everything we do. We’re leaving the farthest guy open. We helping each other on the pick-and-rolls. All five of us got to work."

This all requires John Wall and Bradley Beal to work harder on the defensive end. Taking plays off isn't an option, but early on it will be a challenge for Wall who admitted that he has had trouble maintaining that level as he regains his conditioning after missing so much time because of surgeries to both knees.

"The biggest thing is he wants pressure on the ball. Our coverages are a lot simpler than last year. He makes it easy for the defense," said Beal of Brooks' concepts. "It’s really up to the bigs to make the call. The guards got to adjust to that. That’s how it goes. They see the whole defense. They see everything that’s going on behind us so they’re essentially the playmakers on defense."

The Wizards went from being a top 10 scoring defense three years in a row to 21st during a 41-41 season. They can't allow the sort of defensive debacle that took place on the road last year in Denver

"We got to be up into the ball," Morris said. "Honestly we're going to average a lot of points. We got a lot of guys who can score the basketball. ... We just have to be a defensive-minded team. I'm usaually up into the ball on pick-and-rolls, usually showing, because I'm quicker than the average four. We're going to be different in a good way."

 

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Sixers: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 7 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Another test

The Wizards continue their difficult stretch coming out of the All-Star break against a very dangerous Sixers team. Philly has proven to be very streaky this season, but right now they are rolling. They come to Washington having won their last seven games dating back to Feb. 6 when they beat the Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. The Wizards are also playing well, having won eight of their last 11, despite their loss to the Hornets on Friday.

The Sixers are currently seventh in the East and appear on track to make the playoffs. If they keep rising the standings, they could meet the Wizards, who are currently fourth, in the first round. 

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Season series

Speaking of the playoffs, this game could end up looming large for postseason seeding. The Sixers have won two of the three matchups between these teams this year. If they win on Sunday, they will take the season series and own the tiebreaker over Washington.

If the two teams tie head-to-head and end up with the same record at the end of the season, it will then come down to conference record. The Sixers currently have a better record against East teams than the Wizards. But if they can beat Philly this time, the Wizards will have a chance to secure the conference tiebreaker down the stretch of this season.

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Sixers are tough to guard

The Wizards have found out the hard way this season just how difficult it can be to match up with the Sixers, who are led by two emerging stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is 7-foot-1 with rare abilities to stretch the floor and beat opponents off the dribble. Simmons is 6-foot-10, yet can lead the fastbreak with rare speed and vision to find his teammates with crisp passes.

The mobility for their size is almost unmatched and it has not been easy for the Wizards to answer. In their last meeting earlier this month, Simmons had 15 points, eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Embiid had 27 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. The Wizards have to try to limit those guys while also dealing with other challenges like Robert Covington, Dario Saric and J.J. Reddick.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKING

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

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Warriors will visit D.C. kids instead of White House when they play Wizards

Instead of visiting the White House when they come to Washington this week to play the Wizards, the defending-champion Golden State Warriors plan to hold an event with D.C.-area kids.

Their invitation was rescinded by president Donald Trump following a back-and-forth between the two sides last year. After the Warriors won the title, they openly questioned whether they should follow the tradition given many of the players and coaches disagree with his policies. Trump took the opportunity away before they came to a final decision.

PODCAST: WIZARDS MAKE A FREE AGENT SIGNING

The Warriors' event will be closed off to the media and held at an undisclosed location. It is set for Tuesday, the day before they play the Wizards at Capital One Arena. The Warriors had the option of holding a ceremony with other politicians in the Democratic party, but decided that would send the wrong message. 

"It's their championship. They got disinvited to the White House, so it's up to them what they wanted to do. So they made their plans," coach Steve Kerr said. "I want the players to have a good day and to do something positive and to enjoy what they're doing."

The Warriors are the first NBA team to make this choice since Trump was elected president. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers held their celebration with president Barack Obama in November. They did so just days after Trump was elected and LeBron James questioned at the time whether he would visit the White House with Trump in office.

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Sports teams visiting the White House goes back to the mid-1800s. The first World Series title team to visit was the 1924 Washington Senators. By the 1960s, NBA teams were going and by the 1980s NFL and NHL teams made it a tradition.

Entire teams snubbing the White House is unusual, but many players have turned down the opportunity. In the NBA, some famous cases include Larry Bird in 1984 and Michael Jordan in 1991, according to Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the Warriors start a trend, or maybe it will be a one-off thing. Regardless, the alternative they chose is a respectable one. 

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS