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Wizards, Grizzlies made similar moves in different ways


Wizards, Grizzlies made similar moves in different ways

Picture an NBA team with recent playoff appearances and conference title aspirations switching their strategic approach. Instead of using traditional two big-man look in the starting lineup, they bring one off the bench while inserting a forward with a perimeter-oriented game to keep up with the league's 3-point shooting and up-tempo modern style.

You might assume this refers to the Washington Wizards and you wouldn't be wrong, in theory. Now imagine this team making such radical changes during the season. No full summer for mental adjustments or players to understand their new roles. No ironing out issues during training camp, no trial and error during preseason games or the first month of the season.

If you haven't figured it out yet, this mystery team is the Memphis Grizzlies, the latest squad knocked off by the Wizards. Washington wrapped up a three-game home sweep with a 100-91 win Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

Washington shifted gears this offseason by moving Nene off the bench and adding a stretch-4 four forward in Jared Dudley to serve as center Marcin Gortat's new frontcourt partner.

Memphis made the same move by breaking up the interior pair of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They made this move seven games ago.

"It would be tough," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said of trying to alter a team's DNA in the midst of the season.

The Grizzlies (16-15) concur. Memphis has hovered around .500 all season, but have no dropped four of seven since Randolph went to the bench Dec. 13 while small forward Matt Barnes joined the starters.

“It is going," Gasol said of the change. "Obviously defensively, you feel more confident because you can match up better. Offensively, it is going to take time especially because we do not have as much practice as we would like to, so you are going through a process and learning things on the fly throughout the game, so it is not as easy.”

Randolph and Gasol along with guard Mike Conley helped fuel three-straight 50-win seasons and five consecutive playoff berths. Yet last season the Grizzlies and Wizards, while playing winning basketball, looked dinasour-ish with their traditional approaches.

“The league is changing, man," said Randolph, who scored 16 points in Wednesday's loss. "We’ve got to play to our personnel and our strengths. This might be our strength – trying to play small. You just hope it works and be professional about it and stick with it.”

Let's not assume the Wizards (13-14) suddenly figured out all the keys for playing pace-and-space basketball, though they have the ideal floor leader for the task in point guard John Wall. Nine days prior Washington turned in arguably its worst performance of the year, a 112-95 loss at Memphis during a 1-3 road swing.

Since returning home, they certainly performed better on both ends of the court in decisive wins over Charlotte, Sacramento and Memphis. They did so by making shots and hustling on both ends of the court. They did so in part because they've had 20-something games for acclimation.

"I think the offensive thing was good. We were scoring the ball. It was a matter of us being able to defend. Running, having that pace on offense, but being able to come back and guard people."

Washington still ranks last league-wide in 3-point percentage defense (39.5). During the three-game streak, opponent shot 20 for 62 (32.2). The Grizzlies, not armed with many perimeter threats and still accustomed to interior wars, went 3 of 17.

"We've got to get pace," Temple said of the plan entering Wednesday's meeting. "Memphis is a team that even though they're starting to play small, they still like to walk the ball up. It's in their nature."

It's Randolph's nature to start. That's what he's done for most of his 14-year career. With the league shifting away from the 260-pounder's power game and the Grizzlies needed size off the bench following Brandan Wright's injury, "Z-Bo" is now a bench guy.

“You get used to it," Randolph said. "I’ve been starting and getting that momentum since my third year. It’s a big difference. I accept the role. It ain’t about me, it’s about my teammates and the organization so I’m going to come out and work hard and whenever they call up on me, I’m going to be ready.”

Randolph and the Grizzlies have to get ready on the fly. That makes life much more complicated compared to those who had weeks and months worth of trial and error with their new approach.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


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