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These aren't last year's Wizards


These aren't last year's Wizards

Call them slow starters. Call them oh-for-November. Call them road worriers.

Call the winless Wizards anything you want, but please don’t start comparing them to last year’s team.

Last year, the Wizards began the season with eight straight losses – the worst start in franchise history – and lost by a combined 103 points. Six of those losses were by eight or more points and the average margin of defeat was 13 points.

This year’s Wizards are off to an 0-7 start heading into Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, their first in a stretch in which the Wizards play five of six at Verizon Center.

Unlike last season, the Wizards’ seven losses this year have been by a combined 55 points and four have been by six points or fewer.

“It feels about the same,” Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. “The only thing that feels different is that [this season] I feel we definitely could have won at least three of the games we played.”

Cartier Martin, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with a season-high 14 points in Wednesday night’s 107-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, says owning the NBA’s worst record is hard to ignore …

“But we’re a tough group of guys and we’re not going to give up,” he said. “As you can see, a lot of the games we’ve been right there. We’re fighting and we’re going to compete. We get down but we continue to fight to get back in the games. There’s just a little hump we need to get over to get us a win.”

It’s fair to suggest the same could not have been said for last year’s Wizards. That team set the tone early by blowing a 21-point lead in a season-opening loss to the New Jersey Nets, a game that was followed by Andray Blatche telling critical fans on Twitter to “shut up.”

It got uglier from there. During a loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 16, JaVale McGee was benched for the final nine minutes after alley-ooping a pass to himself of the backboard for a slam dunk.

“Apparently, if you get a fast break and throw it off the backboard in the third quarter and you're 1-11, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that,” McGee told reporters after the game.

Three games later coach Flip Saunders was fired and replaced with assistant Randy Wittman.

Ten months aftet that coaching change Wittman has the same record Saunders had after seven games last season. But with a whole new cast of characters – only Booker, Martin, Jordan Crawford. John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton remain from that team – there is a whole different attitude

“We feel like we definitely need a win right now,” Martin said. “But we’re a talented team. We’re definitely better than what our record shows right now. We just have to believe in ourselves. There are a lot of new faces and we’re still trying to mesh together and find different ways to win.”

Wittman has used the same starting lienup for the first seven games this season and he hinted on Friday he may switch it up when the Wizards hit the floor against the Mavs.

One thing Wittman won't do is start comparing this team to the one he inherited from Saunders last January.

“I’m not into comparisons,” he said. “I’m worried about this team and us going out and doing the things that we’re capable of doing to win games. I’ve still got great belief in these guys, even without John and Nene, that we can do that.”

And while everyone can agree Wittman was hired with the intent of holding players more accountable than Saunders, he said he’s been careful not to be too critical of a team that has been in nearly every game this season without the help of arguably its two best players.

 You try every trick in the book,” Wittman said. “I’m not going to give up on that. We’ve had spurts here. We again dug ourselves a hole in Dallas, but you know what? To come back like we did and fight and make shots. … We’ve got guys that can make shots. That always helps any situation and when we’re struggling like we are from an offensive standpoint, and still be able to be competitive in the game. That’s got to give you belief.”


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How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

The Wizards-Raptors first round playoff series has evolved to feature the emergence of several players who started off slowly including Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre, Jr. The opposite has happened for Toronto big man Serge Ibaka.

After Ibaka lit up the Wizards for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, there has been a disappearance. His scoring has gone missing and it's a big reason why the Wizards have won two straight games and earned a 2-2 series split.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows Ibaka well from their days in Oklahoma City. He helped develop Ibaka and has since watched from afar as his game has changed to include a consistent outside game.

Brooks has on several occasions referred to Ibaka as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league. The numbers back that up. Last season, he shot 39.1 percent from three on 4.0 attempts per game, excellent for a 6-foot-10 power forward.

This season that number dipped to 36 percent, but he hit 41 percent of his threes in his final 16 games of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs when he went 3-for-4 in Game 1 as part of an 8-for-11 shooting night overall.

The Wizards made a point to take away those outside shots following their series-opening defeat. The way they are doing that is by crowding him when he gets the ball, even if it means him getting past the initial defender.

"You want to make sure you meet him on the catch. You want to take away his shot," Brooks said. "When he gets open shots, they are money. He's going to knock them down... We did a good job of meeting him on his catch and making him put the ball on the floor with his left hand. You can live with the results."

After his 23-point outburst in Game 1, Ibaka has scored just 20 points total in the last three games. He has gone 2-for-6 from three.

The Wizards are taking away his shot attempts in general. He took 11 shots in each of the first two games of this series, but just four in Game 3 and five in Game 4. In Game 3 he had three points and three turnovers and on Sunday he had seven points and four turnovers.

Here are two examples of the Wizards' defense on Ibaka. On this first play, Markieff Morris meets Ibaka as soon as he catches the ball and the result is a turnover:

On this next play, Morris follows Ibaka all the way to the rim and even though he goes up on a pump fake, Morris recovers to alter Ibaka's shot and force a miss:

The Wizards, however, did get away with one against Ibaka. He was left wide open for a three in the final minute, but the shot rimmed out:

As the first two plays demonstrate, Morris deserves a lot of credit for the Wizards' success against Ibaka. He has the size and mobility to keep up with him and is willing to use contact to his advantage.

"Just playing the tendencies," Morris said. "We're making them do things they are uncomfortable with and are getting better results."

Ibaka was fourth on the Raptors this season in points per game and third in shot attempts. He is their third option behind All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Wizards can continue to lock up Ibaka, it will be difficult for the Raptors to beat them.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller were joined by Julie Donaldson to break down the Wizards' wins in Games 3 and 4.

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat are back and the Wizards are a different team because of it. Plus, how regaining their Death Row D.C. mentality has changed this series.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!