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Still unable to defend pick-and-rolls, Wizards are lost

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Still unable to defend pick-and-rolls, Wizards are lost

Mathematically, the Wizards are still alive when talking playoffs. The appropriate sporting cliche here is to suggest their season is "on life support" after another brain-dead performance in Saturday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, showing an inability to defend something as elementary as the pick-and-roll for the second game in a row.

The goodwill they'd earned coming out of the All-Star break, when they won 7 of 9, is gone. They not only blew an 11-point lead late in the third quarter but allowed the reserves of a team that's 10 games under .500 to score 41 points in a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

While teams above the 10th-place Wizards (30-35) continue to stack up the victories, notably the Charlotte Hornets with seven in a row and the Indiana Pacers on a three-game win streak, this team has dropped five in succession. Each one gets worse, from the 25-point shellacking to the vulnerable Cleveland Cavaliers, a one-point loss on late free throws to the Pacers, an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that they had multiple chances to win and then the disaster in losing at the Utah Jazz on Friday. 

The last two are to losing teams, which to be fair are teams just like the Wizards. To match last season's win total of 46, the Wizards have to go 16-1 to end the season with meetings left with the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers during a five-game road trip. 

The pick-and-roll coverage has been beyond abysmal though this is hardly the first time that problem has reared its ugly head. Last season, when the Wizards were getting shredded by the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors during the regular season, it was largely because they had no clue on how to defend the action.

John Wall had an informal, after-practice summit with Marcin Gortat, and coach Randy Wittman and Nene joined in, for a spirited discussion last season.

Instead of being better from that experience with most of the same personnel -- after all, the Wizards swept the Raptors in the postseason and pushed the Hawks to six games by rendering their guard play ineffective -- somehow the Wizards have regressed.

The Wizards led 83-75 going into the fourth quarter in Denver, but were victimized by the high pick-and-roll that started a comeback. Just a sampling:

  • D.J. Augustin executed the action perfectly, getting around Ramon Sessions and the pass to Jusuf Nurkic for a layup.
  • Augustin went away from the screen from Nurkic to drive, Wall tried to help Sessions to slow down his penetration but the ball went out to Wall's man (Will Barton) for a three.
  • Augustin accepts the screen from Nurkic, gets ahead of Sessions and floats a difficult bank shot over Nene.
  • Nurkic sets the screen on Garrett Temple, dives to the rim for Augustin's pass and dunks over Nene who is a step late on the rotation.

Four of the first five field goals the Wizards allowed in the fourth were via pick-and-rolls. They'll say all the right things going into Monday's game vs. the Detroit Pistons, that they need to focus, to not take an opponent lightly because of the name on the back of the jersey or that they're going to put forth more effort.

While incremental changes can be made to improve, it's probably too late in the season to actually fix anything this broken. If they can finish one game above .500, and even that's a stretch at this point, that would be an accomplishment. 

MORE WIZARDS: Lights go out between Wizards and Nuggets just before halftime

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

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

2018 NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

ROSTERS

TEAM LEBRON:

Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets

TEAM STEPHEN:

Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.

RELATED: JOHN WALL GIVES UPDATE ON HIS REHAB

Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

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Bradley Beal eliminated in first round of three-point contest, Donovan Mitchell wins dunk contest

Bradley Beal eliminated in first round of three-point contest, Donovan Mitchell wins dunk contest

It was a short night for Wizards guard Bradley Beal in the 2018 All-Star three-point contest on Saturday, as he was eliminated in the first round.

Wearing the Wizards' new 'The District' white alternate jersey, Beal shot a 15 and fell short of the top three spots to qualify for the second round. Suns guard Devin Booker won the contest with a 28 score in the final, beating out Klay Thompson of the Warriors and Tobias Harris of the Clippers.

RELATED: BEST WIZARDS/BULLETS MOMENTS ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's was undone by a slow start. He missed all five shots on the first rack and made just one on the second. He began to heat up at the third rack, but by then couldn't recover.

Here is Beal's full round:

This was Beal's second showing in the three-point contest. He finished second back in 2014 and this year said he was motivated to avenge that loss. He should have plenty more opportunities to participate in the future if he chooses.

The NBA's All-Star Saturday night began with Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie winning the skills competition. He beat Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen in the final round.

Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest. He edged Larry Nance, Jr. of the Cavaliers in the finals.

RELATED: LATEST 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT