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Wizards struggling 3-point defense face test with visiting Rockets


Wizards struggling 3-point defense face test with visiting Rockets

Matchup: Washington Wizards (9-10) vs. Houston Rockets (10-12)

When: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. (TV: CSN, CSNMidatlantic.com via NBC Sports Live Extra) 

When last we met: First game this season. 

Streaks: Fun with numbers. The Wizards have lost five of their last eight games. They've also won three of five including road wins over the Cavaliers and Heat when both were leading the Eastern Conference. Guards John Wall, Bradley Beal and Gary Neal combined for 68 points in Monday's 114-103 win in Miami. ...The Rockets had won three in a row before losing 110-105 at Brooklyn Tuesday night.

Three things to to watch

1.  Machine in use -- Center Marcin Gortat, a.k.a. The Polish Machine, is back with the team after missing the last three games while attending to family matters. His return gives the short-handed Wizards needed help, but also size. It will be interesting to see if or how often coach Randy Wittman uses variations of the extreme small-ball lineups Washington trotted out in recent games. Houston isn't the biggest team outside of center Dwight Howard. Gortat registered three straight double-doubles before leaving, averaging 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

RELATED Marcin Gortat: 'The big hammer is back' with Wizards

2. Defend the arc -- Opponents are shooting 39.5 percent on 3-point attempts against the Wizards this season. That's not just bad for Washington, but the worst in the league. Houston attempts 31.0 3-pointers per game. That's not just a lot, but only a tick behind the league-leading Golden State Warriors. The Rockets are only 21st in shooting percentage (32.9), but we've seen plenty of players find the zone against Washington. Wesley Matthews wasn't exactly on fire from beyond the arc before draining 10 in Dallas' win over Washington Sunday. Rockets star James Harden attempts 8.5 3-pointers per game, but is only shooting 30 percent.

3. Backcourt battle -- Everyone knows about Harden, Most Valuable Player runner-up last year. The wing guard now has a new partner in the starting lineup, though not so new. Patrick Beverly, a starter most of last season, was initially coming off the bench after the Rockets added D.C. area native Ty Lawson. With the Harden-Lawson dynamic not working -- both ball-dominant guards -- new coach J.B. Bickerstaff moved Beverly back in the starting lineup. Good move. In seven starts, the Beverly, know mostly as a rugged defender and agitator, is shooting 50 percent (14 of 28) from beyond the arc with a nearly 3:1 assists-to-turnover ratio. 

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."


The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.


For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.




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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."


In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.


Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."