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Top rookie with anxiety issue joins Rockets' camp

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Top rookie with anxiety issue joins Rockets' camp

HOUSTON (AP) Royce White finally got to focus on basketball Monday, joining the Houston Rockets after he missed the first week of training camp to form a long-term plan for his anxiety issues.

White, the 16th overall pick in the draft, has a deal with the team to travel by bus to some games this season, a compromise he says will help him cope with his anxiety, fear of flying and obsessive compulsive disorder over the long term.

He was happy to just be back on the court after the swell of national media attention sparked by his request to the team.

``Trying to get back in the swing of things,'' White said. ``It went as good as it could go.''

Houston held its first week of practice in McAllen, home of its developmental league affiliate. The Rockets were back at the Toyota Center on Monday, and coach Kevin McHale said White was noticeably behind in his conditioning and his familiarity with Houston's plays.

``He's got to catch up on what we're doing,'' McHale said. ``It's always hard when you're a young guy and you miss early camp practice, when you're trying to establish your principles and what you're doing. But he'll be fine.''

White's off-the-court issues were no secret. NBA teams still wanted to talk to him after his one spectacular season at Iowa State. White was the only Division I player to lead his team in scoring (13.4 points per game), rebounds (9.3 per game), assists (five per game), steals (1.2 per game) and blocks (0.9 per game) and led the Cyclones to their first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years.

The Rockets decided he was too good to pass up. And over the summer, White flew with the team to Las Vegas and to the rookie orientation in New York City, suggesting that he had a handle on his aerophobia.

As training camp approached, though, White felt apprehensive about starting his first NBA season without a plan to cope with his disorder. He contacted the Rockets through his agent and the two sides negotiated their arrangement.

``I'm excited,'' White said. ``It's a different plan than I've ever had going into a season. I'm happy that the Rockets are willing to work with me, and I'm excited to see what I can do under new circumstances.''

McHale, who played 13 seasons in a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, acknowledged concern for how White was going to navigate through the travel demands of the league schedule.

``Royce is going to have a little bit of a different path in the NBA,'' McHale said. ``If your choice is to have a 10-hour bus ride, or an hour flight, everyone would want to take an hour flight. He's just going to have to work his way through all that stuff.

``We're here to help him and support him as much as we can,'' McHale said, ``but he eventually has to be responsible to your team and your teammates. That's the biggest thing.''

On Monday, White easily answered questions in front of a throng of media. If anything, White said going public with his personal struggle has been cathartic.

``In a lot of areas, we're actors,'' White said with a smile. ``The camera doesn't frighten me. Planes do.''

He hopes the attention his situation has generated creates more awareness for mental-health issues and treatment.

``It helps for me, just to be honest,'' he said. ``One of the things that comes with anxiety is trying to hide from what you're scared of and oftentimes, that is the spotlight. Being honest and having good feedback obviously helps me out.''

His teammates seemed happy to have White back, greeting him with high-fives and encouragement when practice began. If White can blossom, the Rockets think he can provide a strong - and much-needed - inside presence.

``He has a unique skill set,'' point guard Jeremy Lin said. ``We don't really have anybody who can do what he can do. More importantly, we're thankful that he's healthy and with the team. He learned a lot today. He didn't look like he missed too much.''

White seems willing to do whatever is necessary to get up to speed on the court.

``I just stay goal-oriented,'' White said. ``I want to be a good teammate, and I want to be a part of this organization. I have other goals and aspirations and I just stick to those, focus on those. I'm just ready to do whatever they ask me to do.''

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LeBron James had his worst ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

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LeBron James had his worst ever game against the Wizards in Lakers' loss

No Wizards fan needs to be reminded of the torment their favorite team has suffered at the hands of LeBron James for the last decade-and-a-half. He has eliminated them from the playoffs three times, scored 57 in their building and hit a variety of game-winning shots.

So, it should be considered no small feat what the Wizards did on Sunday night in their 128-110 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. They held James, arguably the league's best player, to only 13 points. That's his lowest scoring total ever against the Wizards franchise.

James has played the Wizards 65 times over the years, between the regular season and the playoffs. His previous career low vs. the Wizards was 14, back on Feb. 7 of 2004, when he was a rookie.

While in the Eastern Conference for his first 15 NBA seasons, James played the Wizards four times a year and often had the upper-hand. In his career, even with Sunday's loss, he is 30-19 against them with a 26.9 points per game average.

Usually, James powers his way to the rim against the Wizards and scores at will. Not on Sunday night.

"I have no clue," head coach Scott Brooks said when asked for the secret to shutting him down.

"It seems like every night it's 40 points here. He makes shots. Last year, here I think he averaged [39.9 points, 11.0 assists and 10.0 rebounds]. He's a pretty good player."

James shot just 5-for-16 from the field on Sunday, good for 31.3 percent. He was 0-for-2 from three and had four turnovers with only three assists. He was a -21 in the box score.

Some of James' struggles could be attributed to fatigue, as the Lakers played the night before in Charlotte. And James did have an off-night with some missed shots he would otherwise make.

But the Wizards had a plan and it worked. They deployed Jeff Green to guard him in isolation. Green is not only the Wizards' best match from a physical standpoint, he knows James well having played with him last season with the Cavaliers.

Green did an excellent job matching James' physical style without fouling. He had only one foul on the night despite playing bump-and-run coverage on many of James' drives to the basket.

Green and the Wizards also took away his three-point looks by closing early and making him pass to teammates. James' two three-point attempts were a season-low.

"Give a lot of credit to Jeff. Jeff did a great job," guard John Wall said. "It was one game. We know he is how he is. Just gotta tip your hat for us, making him make tough shots and make plays tonight."

The Wizards wanted others to beat them from long range and James' teammates didn't come through. While James didn't get off many threes, other Lakers did. They just didn't hit them.

Josh Hart went 0-for-5 from long range. Lonzo Ball went 2-for-7 and Kyle Kuzma went 0-for-4. 

“I think we did a good job of making it difficult on [James], showing him a lot of bodies, active hands," guard Bradley Beal said.

With James in check, the Wizards took advantage. They forced 22 total turnovers and that allowed Wall to feast in transition. He scored a season-high 40 points and dished 14 assists.

For one night, the Wizards had James' number. After 16 years of domination, it was about time.

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Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

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Sam Dekker stands out for Wizards without cutting corners

CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- Scott Brooks doesn’t know much about Sam Dekker. Four games since the Wizards acquired the energy forward as part of a successful three-team deal, it’s clear the head coach is enjoying the homework.

John Wall’s passionate work from the start against the Los Angeles Lakers helped snap the Wizards’ four-game losing streak, but Dekker’s X-factor performance also stood out in Washington’s rousing 128-110 win Sunday night.

Sunday marked the Wizards’ first game since the weekend’s chaotic trade sequence that will ultimately bring Trevor Ariza back to Washington. The deal doesn’t become approved by the league until Monday. With Otto Porter (right knee contusion) sidelined, Washington took the court shorthanded at positions where players would contend with LeBron James.

Brooks admitted pregame he loved the undermanned challenge. Dekker’s constant and perceptive movement helped Washington play at needed levels without cutting corners.

“Sam is a great cutter. That is what I am finding out,” Brooks said. “I didn't really know everything about his game, I still don't.”

Brooks isn’t alone in learning about the fourth-year player. Dekker received regular rotation work the previous two seasons with the Rockets and Clippers, but his NBA career has yet to blast off.

An ankle injury kept him off the court in Cleveland earlier this campaign until the Dec. 7 trade involving Jason Smith landed him in Washington.

The general scouting report played out in real life against the Lakers. High motor player. Athletic 6-foot-9 forward. Scattered shooting from distance.

The two positive traits showed in the open court and on the move. Dekker repeatedly found space when Wall or Tomas Satoransky ran the offense. They frequently found him for dunks and layups. Dekker finished 10 of 15 from the field.

“Whenever I have the ball or attack, penetrate, he’s a great cutter,” said Wall, who finished with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists. “We were just talking about it. He said ‘Whenever you have the opportunity to be aggressive, I’m always a guy that’s cutting and doing the little things. I don’t mind doing the dirty work.’”

The Wizards (12-18) need more grit in their world considering their underachieving start to the season. That’s something Dekker believes he can provide. Considering he doesn’t have full grasp of the team’s playbook terminology, falling on the back of basketball basics is necessary for now.

“They called out a couple of plays tonight and I looked at John, looked at Brad (Beal) and I’m like where (do I go), Dekker said spastically. “(They) would just say go to the corner. OK. That part of it is tough.

“One thing you can control is how hard you play and how smart you play. When you put yourself in a position to do some good things, and help the team. That’s really all I’m trying to do right now.”

Going forward Dekker will try finding a spot in Washington’s rotation. Ariza, who was Dekker’s basketball tutor when the two played in Houston during the 2016-17 season, likely moves into the starting lineup.

Reserve minutes opened when Washington traded Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix for Ariza.  The basics of Dekker’s game compares to the popular Oubre, but with perhaps a steadier baseline.

He has yet to run the court with complete ease. Dekker remains on a minute’s restriction because of the ankle injury. “I was able to do some things tonight that I haven’t been able to in the past couple of games. That was a positive,” he said.

There’s no guarantees for minutes or the 24-year-old being part of Washington’s future. Dekker is one of several restricted free agents on the roster. For now the goal is simple: Play and play hard.

“I’m just trying to prove myself every night. I’m trying to show coach I’m a guy that can help this team,” Dekker said. “I’ve helped teams in the past, but I really want to be part of a playoff run here.”

Color Brooks impressed, with one clear clanking exception.

“I'm assuming that he is going to be able to shoot threes better than he did,” Brooks said after watching Dekker air ball a 3-point attempt and wildly miss on another. “But he cuts to the basket, he moves the ball, he plays hard, he brings energy, he plays with the proper respect for the game. That is what I love about him, he always seems to be prepared. He doesn't have to turn the switch on, it's on.” 

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