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Wizards fizzle late in 109-103 loss to Rockets: Five takeaways


Wizards fizzle late in 109-103 loss to Rockets: Five takeaways

Gary Neal's three-point shot appeared to go down, and then it rimmed out. Instead of a seven-point lead to give the Wizards more momentum in the fourth quarter, they fell apart.

James Harden scored 42 points to go with nine rebounds and seven assists as the Houston Rockets won 109-103 at Verizon Center in front of 16,041 on Wednesday night. His three-point play with 2:13 left put them ahead for good to break a 99-99 tie.

In his first game back after being out three games for personal leave, Marcin Gortat posted his fourth consecutive double-double with 18 points on 7 of 10 shooting and 13 rebounds. John Wall came close to a triple-double and was the Wizards' only offense late, finishing with a team-high 26 points, game-high 12 assists and nine rebounds.

MORE WIZARDS: Marcin Gortat: 'The big hammer is back' with Wizards

The other three starters reached double figures, too: Bradley Beal had 15 points, Otto Porter 13 and Jared Dudley 10.

The Rockets (11-12) led through most of the first half where James Harden had 19 of his points. The Wizards (9-11) had just won on the road at the Miami Heat and were hoping to build momentum before they go on the road to play at the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, followed by at the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, at the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday and at the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 16. 

  • Dudley, true to form as the glue guy, sparked the third-quarter run. Dudley made a three for the Wizards' first bucket, then on help defense on Harden, who had a game-high seven turnovers, he stripped him clean to give Porter a layup. It was Dudley's next three at 8:13 to give the Wizards the lead again at 62-61. He didn't play in the fourth quarter, however, which is surprising. 

  • Beal didn't handle the pressure well. The Rockets were doubling him on the catch and his decisions with the ball weren't good. He lost the ball on a double-team from Dwight Howard and when the open looks came he was off. Beal missed 7 of 9 to start and was just 5 of 15 overall. He had Patrick Beverley on his hip in the mid-post and his indecisiveness allowed the help to get there as Marcus Thornton got the steal. Beal's sixth turnover produced a runout for a wide open three-pointer from Beverley at the six-minute mark. Houston regained the lead 95-93. Beal finished with seven giveaways.

  • Although the Wizards had been going small successfully without Gortat, they needed him back for this one with Howard. The pick-and-roll coverages overall were terrible which led to a 13-point deficit and Houston shooting 6 of 7 to open. But Gortat outdid his former teammate when both were with the Orlando Magic. Howard was 1 of 4 for four points and nine rebounds. Still, they never went back to the small-ball lineups that were key to wins vs. the Phoenix Suns and Miami this week even though the Rockets opened the fourth with Harden, Beverley, Ty Lawson, Jason Terry and Donatas Motiejunas.

  • If there's any doubt who is the best player on the Wizards, it's Wall. Beal usually is the best scorer but he's in such a funk now that Wall is proving to be the best scorer, too. In his last six games, Wall has made 63 of 115 shots for 54.7%, is averaging 27.7 points, 9.8 assists and 3.0 steals. Wall can get his own shot and create for others, and his assists would be much greater if Beal or Porter could hit their open shots.

  • Harden was allowed to dribble at will to get in a rhythm early. The Wizards started to double him more aggressively to force the ball out of his hands which resulted in open looks for Beverley who made 4 of 11 threes for 14 points. He took two more threes than Harden which actually is something a team can live with.

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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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