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Punked no more: Wizards determined to avoid repeat of defensive woes

Punked no more: Wizards determined to avoid repeat of defensive woes

RICHMOND, Va. – The tone at Wizards’ training camp has reverted to what it was in John Wall’s previous NBA seasons. Defense comes first as they started the second day of camp though Scott Brooks did install some half-court offense

A year ago, after the Wizards had been a two-time playoff entrant that advanced to the conference semifinals under then-coach Randy Wittman, the shift was made to offense which was the focus of each day of camp. He tried to implement an up-tempo style with a “stretch” player at the power forward spot. It didn’t work.

Brooks has hit rewind and made sure every player knows the priority as they entered their second consecutive day of  two-a-days on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University on Wednesday.

“There’s a balance that I try to figure that out. As the coach I want to make sure that we have the proper amount of time spent on both sides of the ball but we really want to develop an identity defensively,” said Brooks, who takes over a team that went 41-41 and ranked near the bottom of the table in three-point defense and rebounding for most of 2015-16.

“In order to do that you’ve got to practice great habits. You have to commit to it. They have to see every day of practice before they do it on the court. I would say it was 75% defense (Tuesday). … I felt we needed to get that across.”

The pick-and-roll coverage has long been a point of contention. The Wizards have defended it well for smalls stretches, but for long stretches they’ve had bad communication between the guards and bigs. When they did it correctly in the playoffs for the 2014-15 season, they swept the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the No. 1 seed Atlanta Hawks to six games.

Last season, they were shredded by Kyrie Irving and LeBron James who forced switches and went into isolations to create mismatches on the pick-and-roll. The Wizards had no answers. Only frustration.

“We have a lot of emphasis on closing out, the right positioning on defense and then we tried to put it in motion right away,” center Marcin Gortat said, still miffed about not making it three consecutive playoff appearances. “We all have that thought in the back of our head. It should be this motivational factor for us. Every time we go on the court we should think about what happened last year and how many times we got punked.”

Wall was All-NBA Defense two seasons ago but fell off last season in part because he wasn’t fully healthy. He required surgeries to both knees on May 5 and is working his way back. The success of the Wizards’ defense begins with the 6-4 point guard’s ball pressure to disrupt the opposition and keeping the ball out of the paint.

 “We’re a long athletic team. We added some pieces that can help us on the perimeter defending and in the post, being rim protectors and containing the pick-and-roll. He wants everybody to be aggressive,” Wall said of Brooks.

“Everything we do, he wants us to be overaggressive and not passive. This is a point guard league and the best players on each team run a lot of pick-and-roll. We want to take those guys and make them uncomfortable when they’re coming off. Not letting them be comfortable and pick and choose the spots they want to get to.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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