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How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

How Wizards feel about their first half says a lot about their high expectations

The perception of the Wizards from the outside and within their own locker room at the midway point of this 2017-18 season perhaps says a lot about how the expectations are higher than they have been for this franchise in quite some time.

After 41 games, exactly the halfway point, the Wizards are 23-18. Over the course of a full 82-game schedule that would amount to 46 wins. Considering that this team has only won 46 games or more twice since the 1978-79 season, that's not bad at all.

But the Wizards have reached a new era where simply being good isn't good enough.

In most years a 46-win pace would be just fine, but they feel their first half of the season should have been appreciably better, especially after their 49-win 2016-17 campaign.

When asked to grade the first half, head coach Scott Brooks and his players all offered marks within the C to B range. What held them back from As is the fact they have lost many games they feel they should have won.

Point guard John Wall put the estimate at nine or 10 games.

"We should have had a way better start to the season than we had. But we can't look back at it," he said. "We have what we have now."

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The Wizards might be content with 46 wins over a full season, but their gripes with the first half are in the details. They have 10 losses against teams with losing records, tied for the second-most in the NBA. That's in contrast with their 12-8 mark against teams at .500 or better, second-best in the East.

Those woes continued on Wednesday night against the Jazz, the Wizards' 41st game. They went up by 12 points early, only to suffer yet another loss to another team with a sub-.500 record.

The Wizards have had consistency issues in years past, but this is an unusual split. Past records show they are generally very good against lesser teams.

"I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it," Wall said. "Until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”

That's the glass half-empty perspective.

The positive side is that the Wizards are comfortably in the Eastern Conference playoff race at fifth despite missing several key players at times due to injury. Wall has missed 11 games, Markieff Morris missed eight and Otto Porter has missed four.

Health has been a big difference between last year and this year. Last season they didn't have any significant injuries to their starting lineup and after 41 games they were 22-19, a game behind their current pace. That team advanced all the way to the seventh game of the second round of the playoffs.

As the Wizards will tell you, it's not easy navigating injuries to the starting lineup.

"It's different lineups, different rotations and playing with different guys," guard Bradley Beal said.

"We'll take it," Wall said. "You would think it would be worse with the way we were playing and what we've been going through so far."

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Though they have lost two straight games, there are signs the Wizards are trending up in the big picture. They are 11th in the NBA in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. They should keep improving on offense with Wall in the driver's seat and their defense is much better than it was last season when they were 20th in defensive efficiency. Last year the Wizards were 20th in opponents three-point percentage and this year they are first.

Based on Basketball Reference's simple rating system, the Wizards have been the NBA's eighth-best team. When Wall is in the lineup, they can score with the best offenses in the NBA and they can play sound defense when they are committed to it.

Beal is putting up career numbers and could make his first All-Star team. Porter continues to improve as a scoring threat and versatile defender. Their bench has been by all accounts better with Tomas Satoransky emerging as a legitimate backup point guard. Mike Scott has become a reliable scorer off the bench. Kelly Oubre, Jr. is making less mistakes on both ends of the floor. And Ian Mahinmi is healthy after missing 51 games last season.

Yes, they have suffered losses to the Suns, Lakers, Mavericks, Nets (twice), Clippers, Hawks and Hornets. But they have also beaten the Celtics (in Boston), the Rockets, Raptors, Heat, Timberwolves and Blazers. 

There are many ways of looking at their first half, but everyone on the Wizards is optimistic about the next few months leading up to the playoffs.

"The bright side is that we're right there," Beal said of the Wizards' fifth-place standing.

"This is where it gets interesting. This is where the season changes. I'm looking forward to it. I think we're starting to realize that we can make a big jump right here in these next few weeks."

RELATED: WHO IS WINNING THE 2017-18 MVP RACE?

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NBA Power Rankings 2017-18: LeBron and the Cavs Continue to seem lost

NBA Power Rankings 2017-18: LeBron and the Cavs Continue to seem lost

The Cavaliers have been here before. 

Mid-season struggles, questions about chemistry, and worries about the future.

This time it feels a little different though, with a roster that was forced to be re-tooled in the offseason when Kyrie Irving wanted out.

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To add another new wrinkle, we're watching LeBron's old team, pass his new team, that was once his old team (still following this?), in the rankings this week.

The Wizards have stayed within the top-ten for a while now, but definitely, need more out of Otto Porter if they don't want to fall behind.

Oh yea, the Warriors are still really good, beating everyone, are even better on the road than at home, and likely not leaving that top spot anytime soon.

Sorry for the spoiler. 

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Potential of Tomas Satoransky playing alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal is starting to show

Potential of Tomas Satoransky playing alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal is starting to show

Head coach Scott Brooks and the Wizards front office told Tomas Satoransky at the beginning of this past offseason that they wanted him to improve at playing off the ball. Knowing how much they rely on John Wall as an All-NBA point guard, backup minutes behind him are always few and far between. Positional versatility is the key to Satoransky earning a larger role in their rotation.

Satoransky worked diligently over the summer at parts of the game that are outside his natural point guard skillset. He put up countless three-point shots and trained to develop timing and precision cutting to the basket.

Satoransky got significant minutes this season at first because Wall was injured for a nine-game stretch in November and December. Since Wall returned, the Wizards have seen the dividends of Satoransky's improvement playing off the ball.

"Tomas, give him a lot of credit along with our staff," Brooks said. "He doesn't play exclusively backup point guard. We can play him at the two or the three or we can play him like we have in the last few games with John and with Brad [Beal]."

Satoransky played much of the fourth quarter with both Wall and Beal on Jan. 5 in Memphis. In the five games since, Brooks has experimented with different guard combinations as backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks continues to struggle with a 35.3 field goal percentage.

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On Monday against the Bucks, the potential of Satoransky running the floor with Wall and Beal was on full display as Satoransky caught alley-oop lobs from each of them.

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Satoransky is 6-foot-7 and is a prolific dunker with the ability to play well above the rim. Wall is one of the game's best passers and Beal has made tremendous strides distributing the ball.

Fastbreak dunks are an emphatic way of showing how Satoransky can play off the ball, but there are also little, less noticeable things he is doing to make the most of his time on the court with Wall and/or Beal. Most notably, his three-point shot has improved to 40.5 percent this season, good for third on the Wizards' team. He can help space the floor as Wall and Beal go to work generating the offense.

Satoransky says corner threes are "much easier" for him at the moment, but he is developing range from other parts of the court. Simply getting playing time has helpd.

"It was crucial for me to increase my percentage of threes in order to stay on the court and to play off the ball," he said. "When John got hurt and I knew I was going to play more games, that's when I caught that rhythm where I caught the confidence to shoot threes."

When it comes to cutting to the basket, Satoransky is developing instincts for when to break when Wall has the ball in his hands. Their chemistry is nascent, but the potential is obvious.

"[Opponents] know John tries to drive to the basket and that really sucks in the zone, so I'm trying to cut at good moments and play without the ball," he said. "You have to be sprinting a lot because he's very quick with the ball."

The Wizards are sorting out what to do with their backup shooting guard position. The trade deadline is coming up in a few short weeks on Feb. 8 and they are currently evaluating their options with Meeks slumping. Satoransky may not solve those problems entirely, but his development playing off the ball can only help their cause.

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