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12 games more than enough time for Wizards to self-correct for playoff run

12 games more than enough time for Wizards to self-correct for playoff run

In an 82-game season, every team hits a skid and it usually happens more than once. After a 2-8 start, the Wizards are in the midst of another as they've lost 4 of 5 heading into Wednesday's home game with the Atlanta Hawks.

They were in control of most of the tiebreakers in the East, which could come down to them for playoff seeding if they have the same record as the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors.

The problem is, after routing the Raptors on their floor with a chance to win that series, the Wizards were routed at Verizon Center post-All-Star break. With a chance to seal their series with the Boston Celtics on Monday, the Wizards lost on the road to fall in a 2-2tie  and will lose that tiebreaker to them because the next deciding factor is conference record. Boston's is better.

Even the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors go through stretches when questions arise about their championship mettle. It has happened at around the same time for Cavs for the second season in a row, and when the Warriors lost 5 of 7 recently. 

The Warriors, by the way, are 56-14 and are missing their best player in Kevin Durant. They'll be fine. Kevin Love just returned from injury for the Cavs. They'll be fine, too. 

Everyone is chasing them, and even though the Wizards (42-28) have missed some major opportunities, they're virtually assured a top four seed -- which means home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs -- at worst. Given the projections about this team going into the season, and most certainly after the first month, this isn't a time to panic.

They have a good chance of holding onto the No. 3 spot and staying ahead of the No. 4 Raptors who they lead by just one game with 12 left in their season. The Celtics have a soft schedule and are likely to maintain their No. 2 spot, but Toronto doesn't have an easy road. Plus they're playing without their best playmaker in Kyle Lowry who is out with a wrist injury.

The pressure should be off the Wizards to do too much. They can accept their fate -- is settling for the third spot in the East now considered a letdown? -- worry only about Toronto and game plan for the postseason. 

What has to happen?

– The two best players, John Wall and Bradley Beal, have to be the two best players. In his last five games, Wall has shot 29 of 75 (39%). A double-double machine, he has only managed two in that stretch. Beal is 15-for-41 from three-point range (35.7%). 

– The top three-point shooter for most the season, Otto Porter, has been absent. He's getting more attention in coverages and requires being set up to be effective. Porter isn't a one-on-one player who can get his own shot. If there's not adequate pace and ball movement in the offense, Porter suffers. And defenses are no longer just giving him space to take what he wants when he wants. With the exception of the loss to the Charlotte Hornets when Porter was 4 of 9 from three, he's not getting off three-point looks to open the floor.

– There was a concerted effort made to get Marcin Gortat low-post touches to start games, especially when he had a size advantage against of Al Horford of the Celtics. That's how they got out on the right foot in their "funeral game" win over Boston because Horford doesn't have the size to deal with true fives on deep catches. In these last five games, Gortat hasn't scored more than eight points in any of them, and as he has been disengaged offensively it has tranlslated to the defensive end. 

– The one-on-one defense has been better since the five-game West coast trip, but it's still not nearly good enough. The 20 offensive rebounds from the Celtics is an indication that the Wizards are slow to react to the ball, out of position and aren't putting bodies on the opponent to prevent the easy putbacks.

– Take a look at all of the hustle stats listed by the NBA.com/stats SVU tracking, and the Wizards are middle of the pack or at the bottom. They were No. 2 in the league in deflections per game for the season, only behind Golden State, and in this stetch they're 17th at 15.6. The Wizards are 19th in loose balls recovered at 7.4 per game. The Houston Rockets are No. 1 at 13.5 to get an idea of the difference. That's about six extra possessions per game gained or lost.

Almost all of these problems are fixable. Communication, hustle and toughness can be controlled. The missed shots cannot but they can generate better looks for themselves by getting those extra possesions that put them in transition. And the bench is playing significantly better.

Despite all of the road games, if the Wizards are truly worthy of a No. 3 seed they're still in solid position to get it. But it wouldn't be the NBA if getting there were easy.

MORE WIZARDS: Oubre, Smith give hope to Wizards' improving 2nd unit

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How to watch Wizards vs. Bucks

How to watch Wizards vs. Bucks

After suffering their worst loss since entering the bubble on Sunday, the Wizards have two final opportunities to come out of Orlando with a win. 

In their toughest matchup thus far, Washington will square off with the Milwaukee Bucks, the No. 1 seed in the East and a favorite to win the championship this year.

The Wizards’ young squad has faced some of the league’s best talent in its six games in the bubble, but they will now have to take down reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez to earn their first win since the restart.

While Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr., Jerome Robinson and others have all stepped up in the absence of Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and John Wall, will their combined effort be enough to take down one of the best rosters in the NBA? 

WIZARDS vs. BUCKS HOW TO WATCH 

What: Washington Wizards vs. Milwaukee Bucks 
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando, Fla.  
When: Tuesday, Aug. 11, 9:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Wizards vs. Bucks will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)
Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Bucks on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

WIZARDS vs. BUCKS TV SCHEDULE

8:00 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE) 

9:00 PM: NBA Milwaukee Bucks @ Wizards (LIVE)

11:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

WIZARDS vs. BUCKS WHAT TO WATCH 

Now that the Wizards have officially been eliminated from the playoff race, their remaining goal in Orlando is to come away with a win or two. If they can’t make the playoffs, taking down the No. 1 seed is the next best feat, and Washington will have the opportunity to do so on Tuesday. 

While the Wizards haven’t found their first win yet, they have shown promise in their first six games and hung tight with teams nobody expected they would like the Philadelphia 76ers and New Orleans Pelicans. 

Now that the Bucks have clinched the top seed in the east, the Wizards can hope to catch them on their heels. While Milwaukee took care of business and clinched its desired spot on the playoffs, its return in Orlando has been rustier than expected as well with a 2-3 overall record since entering the bubble. 

If the Wizards can steal a win on their way out of Orlando against the top team in the East, it will go a long way in their young roster developing confidence as they look to the future.

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WIZARDS vs. BUCKS PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Jerome Robinson (4.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.3 apg): Robinson has been a pleasant surprise for the Wizards since entering the bubble and has stepped into a huge role coming off the bench. Despite averaging under five points per game during the regular season, Robinson has put up double-digit performances in five of the six games in the bubble, including a 20-point performance in the opener and two 19-point performances against Philly and Oklahoma City. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo (29.8 ppg, 5.7 apg, 13.7 rpg): The toughest challenge for the Wizards thus far in the bubble is Antetokounmpo, the reigning 2019 NBA MVP and one of the recently named finalists in this season’s MVP candidacy. While his team has won just two games in the bubble thus far, Antetokounmpo has been sharp, scoring upwards of 30 points in four of the five matchups. 

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By the numbers: John Wall sees himself playing off-the-ball alongside an improved Bradley Beal

By the numbers: John Wall sees himself playing off-the-ball alongside an improved Bradley Beal

John Wall covered many subjects during his time on NBC Sports Washington last Friday from his interview on 'Wizards Pregame Live' to his role as guest analyst on the Wizards-Pelicans broadcast during the first quarter. One particular point he made seemed to pique the interest of quite a few Wizards fans.

Wall mentioned his role next year when he returns from a lengthy recovery following Achilles surgery, and how his game will now have to change in part to accommodate the ways Bradley Beal has grown while he has been out. Beal has added more play-making and ball-handling responsiblity in the Wizards' offense and has thrived by doing so.

That has Wall thinking he can venture away a bit from the high-usage, floor-general style he has played his entire career.

"My game is going to be totally different than what it was before because now with the way Brad can handle the ball, I can be off the ball a little bit and score from the wing and score in transition by running the wing," Wall said.

RELATED: JOHN WALL SAYS HE AND BEAL ARE MOTIVATED BY PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BREAK THEM UP

Head coach Scott Brooks has mentioned in the past how effective he believes Wall could be off-the-ball given his size and speed and how difficult it could be for other point guards to defend him cutting through the lane and on catch-and-go plays. But we haven't really seen it in practice to any real extent, and when Wall was in his prime before injuries derailed his career, he was one of the most ball dominant players in the NBA.

Still, there are some reasons to suggest Wall could find success in a new-look offense where Beal gets to initiate things. And incorporating those elements into his game more could be the next evolution of him as a player, especially considering he is entering his 30s and won't be able to rely on his elite speed forever.

Changing his game, though, could be easier said than done. Last season, Wall was second only to James Harden in isolation plays per game (5.6) and time of possession (7.8 sec). He was fifth in seconds per touch (5.68).

In the 2016-17 season, Wall's last fully healthy campaign and the best year of his career, Wall led the NBA in time of possession (9.5 sec), seconds per touch (6.39) and dribbles per touch (5.95) among qualified players. He was third in touches per game (89.3) with Harden and his now-teammate Russell Westbrook as the only guys ahead of him. Wall was also eighth in pick-and-roll points (8.7/g) that season.

That style for Wall helped the Wizards form a successful offense. In 2016-17, they were eighth in the NBA in offensive rating (110.4). Though their offensive efficiency has been slightly better this season without Wall (110.5), the league has changed and that now ranks 15th.

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If Wall's role does evolve significantly, as he suggests it will, the Wizards will have to find a balance in maximizing Beal's newfound strengths while not overlooking the fact they were good at scoring the ball when Wall led the charge. And looking at the makeup of their roster, there is reason to believe they could be better offensively than ever before while playing a similar style due to the revamped supporting cast.

Wall is one of the game's best distributors and now has an improved Beal to run the floor with. The Wizards want to re-sign Davis Bertans and, if they do, will have two of the best shooters in the league to create space. Rui Hachimura is a threat in the midrange and Thomas Bryant is one of the most efficient players around the rim.

The Wizards could have weapons in all three levels of offense with Wall to set the table for them. It's an ideal scenaro for a point guard with his court vision and passing skillset.

But if Wall does indeed venture off the ball more often moving forward, there are a few reasons to believe it could work. For one, Wall has been decently effective on catch-and-shoot threes, regularly shooting better on those than off the dribble. Here is a year-by-year snapshot at his catch-and-shoot three point percentage as it compares to his overall percentage and his clip on pull-ups:

2018-19
Overall 3PT%: 30.2
Catch and shoot 3s: 37.3
Pull-up 3s: 20.6

2017-18
Overall 3PT%: 37.3
Catch and shoot 3s: 43.8
Pull-up 3s: 31.3

2016-17
Overall 3PT%: 33
Catch and shoot 3s: 35.9
Pull-up 3s: 30.5

2015-16
Overall 3PT%: 35.4
Catch and shoot 3s: 38.4
Pull-up 3s: 31.3

Wall has essentially shot 36% or better on catch-and-shoot threes in each of the past four seasons. That is enough to be a threat and help space the floor.

Another area Wall could be more effective in if he lets go some of the ball-handling responsibility is on post-ups. Earlier this season in an interview with NBC Sports Washington, Chauncey Billups highlighted that as an area of Wall's game that could be expanded, especially coming off the Achilles surgery, with which Billups has experience. If Beal triggers the offense, that could allow Wall to get deeper into the defense before he is fed the ball.

Wall hasn't posted up much in his career so far, but it would be both a way for him to utilize his size advantage over most point guards and another avenue for him to be effective as a passer. By passing from the block, Wall could fip the geometry of the Wizards' halfcourt offense.

He could set up teammates for threes while they are already facing the rim. In addition to Beal and Bertans, Bryant can also step outside and shoot threes very well and especially for a center, this season hitting 39.3% of his threes overall and 40.5% on catch-and-shoot plays.

Last season, Wall was only 27th in post-ups per game (0.5) among guards. He was 43rd the season before that and 45th the year before that. 

Billups was really effective at posting up as a guard, especially later in his career. Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade are among the best do to it in recent NBA lore. In today's game, Chris Paul and Ben Simmons regularly show up at the top of related statistical leaderboards.

As much as Wall indicates his game could change, however, the Wizards are going to want to use much of what they did before with Wall. When he's healthy, he's about as good as anyone in transition. And if Bertans and Bryant are on the floor, that could be taken up a notch. Bertans was the best catch-and-shoot scorer in the NBA this season and Bryant could develop into the best rim-runner Wall has ever played with.

It will all be about finding a good balance. But the good news is that it sounds like Wall is embracing the change and likelihood he will have to defer a little bit more to Beal than he used to.

Stats via NBA.com and Synergy

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