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Morning tip: Wizards lack smarts or mental toughness? Or both?


Morning tip: Wizards lack smarts or mental toughness? Or both?

A few of the players have changed since the two consecutive postseason runs to the conference semifinals, but after three consecutive bad losses the DNA in the Wizards' locker room remains the same. Again, it's Bradley Beal dropping the unflattering between-the-ears diagnosis just seven games into this season.

"We’re not mentally tough. We give in to being tired too much," said Beal, who sat out with a left shoulder contusion as the Oklahoma City Thunder dismantled them at Verizon Center 125-101, after a film session Wednesday. "We give in to all the little excuses and there should be none. There’s no reason we shouldn’t still be a top defensive team. We still have (a lot of) the same guys the last couple of years. Nothing has changed. It’s just our mentality and approach to the game."

Beal said it going into the playoffs last season. That came after then-teammate Al Harrington dropped a similar nugget about them two seasons ago only to be endorsed by Marcin Gortat about a month later.

It was hard for Beal to watch from the bench as his team was shredded and lost at home for the second time. Both losses came in front of their two sellouts.

"We need to get back to taking the individual challenge on defense," said Beal, who concurred with what coach Randy Wittman saw in his critique after a film session. "That’s one thing I saw we need to do as well. We just need to step up and be able to guard guys more. Take pride in our defense. … Get back to being a top-five team in defense in the league. We’re so worried about our offense, not scoring, not getting our shots that we’re just having mental lapses on defense."

Jared Dudley, who played for the offensively-potent-but-defensively-challenged Phoenix Suns, hasn't seen anything this bad in a long time. A top 10 scoring defense the last three years, the Wizards already have given up 125, 118, 117, 114 and 113 points. Dudley was detailed in his analysis after Dion Waiters (25 points), Serge Ibaka (23) and Russell Westbrook (22, 11 assists and 11 rebounds) combined to steamroll the Wizards (3-4).

"It's not just one person. It's really collectively. It's someone new on each possession, from the bigs to the wings to the guards not getting into the ball. Bigs (are) not communicating with the guards on where to send them," Dudley said. "Rebounding. Looking at the ball instead of hitting someone. Communication on pick-and-rolls. Who picks up the roller when they skip it to the other side? Like when Ibaka had open threes, what wing is supposed to X out? ... Transition defense. Having two people on the ball, leaving someone else open to get 2-for-1 on the other side."

Dudley could go on. So he did. They have a few days to get right with the Orlando Magic here on Saturday. 

"I know we had injuries," said Dudley, also referring to Nene (back spasms) missing the Oklahoma City game and Drew Gooden missing two in a row before that with the same ailment. "If a team beats you you can understand that. It's how they beat you. ... I know what coach Wittman said about being tough, but a lot of it is being smart, being in the right position. If you're in the right position you don't have to be so-called as 'tough' because you're already in great position. You don't have to fight extra because you're already on the inside of a guy. That's from learning, that's film, that's practice and learning our rotations so instead of thinking out there we're just reacting.

"You saw how OKC played defense. What they tried to do, we're trying to do. They're obviously a step above us right now when it comes to chemistry, playing together. We have two days of practice coming up here, a game and three days of practice so we have time to correct them. Good thing it's early instead of late."

MORE WIZARDS: If Kings ever move on from Cousins, could be worth the risk

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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