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Myriad changes, same sub-.500 result for Marlins

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Myriad changes, same sub-.500 result for Marlins

MIAMI (AP) The nightclub near the Miami Marlins' bullpen drew capacity crowds. The fish tanks behind home plate, the Cuban sandwiches in the food court and the air-conditioned comfort under the retractable roof also won raves.

The team? Not so much. While Miami's new ballpark was a hit this year, the ballclub was a flop.

The Marlins rebranded their franchise, changing the name as they moved into a new home and raising hopes with an uncharacteristic spending spree. They failed to change their losing ways, however, leaving celebrity manager Ozzie Guillen's job in jeopardy after only one season.

``I want to be the manager here,'' Guillen said. ``Am I going to be? I don't make that decision. With the job I did this year, do you think I deserve to be back here? Of course not. But I'm not the only one. ...

``Let's start from the top. The front office failed, Ozzie failed, the coaching staff failed, the players failed, everybody failed.''

That dismal summary pretty well sums it up. Newcomer Jose Reyes and the Marlins finished last in the NL East at 69-93, their worst record since 1999. They expected to contend for a playoff berth, but instead their loss total rose for the third year in a row.

On the final day of the season, opening-night T-shirts were being sold for $5, an 80 percent discount from April. Such deflation was no surprise at the end of such a deflating season.

After the game, the clubhouse quickly emptied.

``We already have gone through the disappointment of the year,'' slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. ``That was halfway through the season. So it's nothing new now.''

The latest dismantling of the Marlins' roster began in July, when they parted with former NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante and right-hander Anibal Sanchez, among others. That meant more than two months of playing out the string.

The season began to go sour shortly after the opener, when Guillen's comments lauding Fidel Castro in a magazine interview angered South Florida's Cuban community. The manager served a five-game suspension.

As for Guillen's team, there was little to laud. The offense mastered the art of squandering scoring chances, while the bullpen - especially new closer Heath Bell - kept blowing leads.

At the end, Guillen gave the season the worst possible grade.

``By letters, Z. By numbers, negative zero in every department,'' he said. ``Very sad, very embarrassing and a very tough situation because we thought the season would be a little bit different. Unfortunately, it wasn't.''

That left the futures of Guillen and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest in doubt, even though both are under contract through 2015. Owner Jeffrey Loria is expected to meet with team officials soon to decide what changes to make.

Last year's free-agent shopping binge is unlikely to be repeated. The Marlins reduced their payroll from $112 million on opening day to $90.3 million, and it's expected to be even lower next season.

Such spending constraints will make it difficult to upgrade a team that batted .244, the worst average in franchise history. The Marlins scored the fewest runs per game since their first year in 1993.

They also need help in the bullpen, where their ERA of 4.03 was seventh-worst in the majors. A good place to start might be trading Bell, who feuded with Guillen when he wasn't being booed for another blown save. But Bell is due $18 million over the next two years, making him difficult to deal.

Two other high-priced newcomers fared better. Mark Buehrle went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA and topped 200 innings for the 12th year in a row. Reyes hit .287 with 40 steals in 160 games.

Stanton hit 37 homers and became the first Marlins player to win the NL slugging title with an average of .608. Other bright spots included newcomer Justin Ruggiano (.313), rookie second baseman Donovan Solano (.295) and rookie catcher Rob Brantly (.290), who might all be in the lineup next opening day.

Also drawing cheers: Adam Greenberg, who returned to the majors seven years after a beaning nearly ended his career. He struck out as a pinch hitter in his one-day chance on the next-to-last day of the season, but got a huge ovation.

And then there was the ballpark. With a baseball-only home for the first time, the Marlins drew more than 2.2 million fans. Management had projected attendance of nearly 3 million, but president David Samson said crowds were big enough to suggest a bright future.

``There were a lot of on-the-field negatives,'' Samson said. ``We had high expectations and did not meet them. But with the ballpark we had really high expectations, and we did meet those.

``Look at the fans - they came in numbers that we didn't have when we didn't have a baseball ballpark. It's a different world now. The Marlins are a different team. It's a different baseball city. Put it all together and it can be pretty great.''

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Markieff Morris' success off Wizards' bench no accident, parallels his twin brother, Marcus

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USA TODAY Sports

Markieff Morris' success off Wizards' bench no accident, parallels his twin brother, Marcus

Markieff Morris is just as amused as the rest of us when it comes to parallels between him and his twin brother, Marcus -- stuff that he likes to refer to as "twin s---." They played together at every level, including the NBA, before they were split up by trades from the Phoenix Suns. Yet the same things always seem to happen to them.

This year has been no exception, as Markieff has followed a similar path with the Wizards as Marcus has with his Celtics. Like Marcus, Markieff was moved to the bench and happens to be enjoying a good deal of success in his new role.

Marcus was the first to go from starter to reserve. He played mostly off the bench last season and then in his first 17 games this year before getting bumped back to the starting lineup.

Marcus thrived with the second unit in Boston and that success showed Markieff a blueprint. After all, it's easy to visualize yourself doing something when you have an identical twin who did it first.

"S--- happens. I mean, it's crazy how that switch happened," Markieff said. "Watching my brother and the success he had off the bench kind of helps me also, seeing [him] come off the bench after being a starter for a long time."

Wizard head coach Scott Brooks made the change before the team's Nov. 20 match-up with the Clippers. Markieff was moved to the bench and at the time was replaced by Kelly Oubre Jr.

In the 10 games since, of which the Wizards have won six, Markieff has put up improved numbers. He is scoring more, getting more rebounds and shooting more efficiently:

Markieff as starter (15 G) - 9.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 43.0 FG%, 34.0 3PT%, 103 off. rating
Markieff as reserve (10 G) - 15.0 ppg, 6.6
rpg, 46.3 FG%, 36.8 3PT%, 109 off. rating

Markieff is even playing more minutes. He's averaging 28.3 off the bench compared to 25.1 as a starter. Brooks is trusting him more to finish games. When he was starting, Markieff averaged 6.3 minutes in the fourth, but as a reserve, he leads the team with 9.9 minutes on average in the final frame.

Markieff explained his success off the bench in part based simply on the competition being different. He's used to going up against the best frontcourt players each team can offer. Now, he's facing their back-ups.

"I'm playing against second unit guys, so the game is easier," he said.

But Markieff sees other advantages from the switch, ones that Brooks was aiming for when he first explained the move. Markieff gets to take more shots now. He is the most reliable scorer on the Wizards' bench and, because of that, is getting more looks.

Markieff is averaging 12.3 shots as a bench player compared with 8.1. But, as he explained, it's more than just the attempts.

"It's me being involved in the offense more. It's the ball touching my hands a lot more in the second unit. I'm finding guys and scoring the ball. I've always got a rhythm," Markieff said. 

"Obviously, the first two options are John [Wall] and Brad [Beal]. They demand a lot of the offense in the first unit. We just need some structure in the second unit, a go-to scorer, a guy that is basically myself that structure the offense better."

Markieff has also noticed an advantage in beginning the game off the bench. He can watch how the opposing team is defending the Wizards on a given night. He can see how they are switching, whether they are helping on post touches and what they are trying to take away on pick-and-rolls. By the time Markieff hits the floor, he knows what to expect. 

All of that worked for Marcus in Boston, so, sure enough, it is the case for Markieff in Washington.

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John Wall won't play in Wizards' Monday night clash with Pacers

John Wall won't play in Wizards' Monday night clash with Pacers

John Wall acknowledged he probably shouldn't have played in the Wizards' Saturday loss in Cleveland. It appears Washington's five-time All-Star will listen to his body Monday in Indianapolis.

Head coach Scott Brooks told reporters at Monday's shootaround that Wall would sit out the final game of the Wizards' four-game road swing, which takes place at 7 p.m. ET on Monday night. The point guard battled bone spurs in his left ankle in the 116-101 loss to the Cavaliers. 

Wall, who was also under the weather in Cleveland according to Brooks, scored a career-low one point in what he called the "worst game of my life." He missed all five of his field goal attempts in 26 minutes.

“It’s just like a bone spur but today it got really hot," Wall said Saturday. "Probably shouldn’t have played. That’s my fault… I’ve had it for a while. It comes and goes from days where it’s hot and today it’s like I really couldn’t run.”  

Wall played in the opening 24 games for Washington, but will now miss two of the last three. He sat out Wednesday's 131-117 win at Atlanta for "personal reasons." 

The Wizards thrashed the Hawks, setting a season-high with 35 assists. Bradley Beal established a new season-best in Atlanta with 36 points. Washington's other All-Star is averaging 28 points over the last four games.

Despite the shocking result in Cleveland, Washington is 2-1 during the current road swing. Finishing with a winning record won't come easy against an Indiana (16-10) squad that has won three in a row despite the continued absence of injured guard Victor Oladipo. The Pacers lead the NBA in points allowed (101.5) and rank fifth in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

Brooks played coy Monday over who replaces Wall in the starting lineup. Austin Rivers handled such duties against Atlanta, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

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