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49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

49 reasons how and why Wizards are back in the NBA Playoffs as 4th seed

This is the eve of the Wizards' return to the playoffs as a No. 4 seed. It's their first time with home-court advantage in four decades, but how did they get here? These are 49 reasons, matching their regular-season win total:

49. Turning over the roster. Letting so many veterans walk in free agency had its risk but with the cap booming retaining some of them would've cost more than the Wizards wanted to pay.

48. Plan B. Frequently said after Kevin Durant didn't give them a meeting last summer, "There was no Plan B." That was largely according to those who had no idea what the plans actually were. It's just that Plan B wasn't as exciting as Plan A. 

47. Not getting Nic Batum or Luol Deng. The Wizards talked with both of them, the latter of whom was close to terms, about $1.5 million apart, until the Lakers intervened with more years. Batum had a down season. Deng is on the downturn. 

46. Tomas Satoransky developing on a contract that plays $3 million a year. He's been hot and cold but has real potential. He might not do much in the postseason, but he could get spot minutes and make a big shot or help on a big stop that can flip the outcome of a game. 

45. Response to early-season blowout in Milwaukee. The Wizards got trounced by 27 points on Dec. 23 on the road and came back in the next game to win over them at home. 

44. Jason Smith went from being a major question mark based on how he played early in the season to a must-have piece to the puzzle. But his attitude and professionalism is an example to other players who are in and out of the lineup. 

43. Sticking with Kelly Oubre. He went through difficult stretches and appeared he might have taken a step back. Now he's going to be key to any advancement they make in the playoffs because of his defensive capabilities.

42. Beating Golden State. It was a 112-108 win at home that tested their defensive discipline for 48 minutes. Post-All-Star break this was a problem. For that one night on Feb. 28, it wasn't. That type of defense will get the Wizards at least to the conference finals. 

41. Smith had never had a three-point shot since turning pro in 2007. Even when this season began, the career mid-range shooter attempted just two in 30 games. Now he's a threat to pop to the arc. He made 37 of 78, or 47.4%.

[RELATED: Wall, Brooks tell younger Wizards players what NBA Playoffs are like]

40. The "funeral" game. The 123-108 rout of the Boston Celtics, when the Wizards wore all black as a sign of committment to beat their most heated rival, worked. It was ridiculed by some but it was a put-up-or-shut-up game and they came through. In the end, the season series was 2-2. The Celtics dominated them last season in the series, 4-0. The Wizards of old never would've been bold enough to try a gimmick like this.

39. Going to Marcin Gortat early on post-ups to get him involved early in the offense. This usually results in a more engaged Gortat.

38. The double-digit comeback to beat the L.A. Clippers 117-110 on Dec. 18 was an early sign of what would become an 18-3 streak running to the All-Star break. 

37. Seventeen consecutive victories at Verizon Center made it an actual homecourt advantage for the first time in years. The loudest cheers no longer were for free food in the fourth quarter.

36. The 140-135 overtime losss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 6. It ended the home win streak at 17 but it did plenty for the respect the Wizards gained on national TV and their own psyche that they're not far from being the best team in the East.

35. 4-1 West coast trip from March 7-13. They came back from double-digits to win three of them, at the Suns, Kings and Blazers. Even the previous playoff teams in 2014 and '15 didn't have that kind of grit.

34. A healthy Ian Mahinmi. It took a while because the issues he had with his knees even in training camp. Mahinmi, a 6-11 backup center who is of starting quality, has been the perfect complement to Gortat.  No one mentions his $64 million contract anymore because they see he's worth it.

33. Sheldon Mac didn't do a lot but he had his moments. And he's on a minimum contract. The Wizards didn't need to trade assests to get him in last year's draft. They got him as a free agent.

32. Playing Oubre and Otto Porter together. The Wizards flirted with it a season ago. It can be a potent combination. Their best defensive lineups feature Oubre. 

31. Though Bojan Bogdanovic has cooled off, he's a rotation player who has to be accounted for by the opponent. Andrew Nichoslon, who was swapped for in a trade with Brooklyn to get Bogdanovic, was neither.

[RELATED: Wizards Tipoff podcast, Ep. 8 - Gortat 1-on-1, playoff preview]

30. Going away from Marcus Thornton. After games Jan. 2 and 3 vs. the Rockets and Mavericks, both losses, Thornton never saw the floor again. Defensively, the Wizards came apart at the seams as Thornton was out of position and on a completely different page.

29. Otto Porter shot a career-high 43.4% from three-point range.

28. Bradley Beal made a career-high 223 three-pointers.

27. John Wall took 56 fewer threes (272) than a season ago, leaving more of those shots for Beal and Porter.

26. Wall passed the ball fewer times per game (58.6) -- Beal ran more of the offense -- but created more points per assists (25.3) this year than last year. Think about that. He passed less because he handled the ball less, which allowed him to play off the ball, get it back on reversal and average a caree-highs of 23.1 points and 10.7 assists. But he was more efficient. A year ago, Wall passed 70.9 times per game and generated 24.7 points off those passes.

25. The leadership of Wall and Beal. The pressure was put on them not to just be special but to lead by example in ways they hadn't previously. And they did it together which is a major step forward.

24 Markieff Morris is the answer to the "stretch" four dilemma. He might not like being called one himself, but Morris showed in matchups vs. Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka -- he got the best of both -- that he's the answer that Kris Humphries, Nene, Drew Gooden and Jared Dudley were not in previous years. 

23. Beal's career-high 42 points vs. the Suns on Nov. 21. It was his first 40-plus game in his career. And he had three more. 

22. Wall's career-high 52 points -- in a loss -- the the Magic. They allowed  a bad team to score 124 points on their home floor. For Wall, he said it was his wake-up call to be better on both ends. 

21. Player of the Month for Wall in December. He followed up the loss to the Magic with game after game of stellar two-way play to get the train back on track. 

[RELATED: Son of former NBA great will be big focus of Wizards vs. Hawks]

20. Won season series with Atlanta. The 104-100 win on March 22 gave the Wizards the series 3-1. This might not seem like much, but this is a team they hadn't won the series with since Wall turned pro in 2010. Even tougher was winning at Phillips Arena. That's no longer a hurdle. 

19. Porter's career-high 34 points vs. Boston on Nov. 9. Defenses quickly learned that leaving him open shouldn't be a strategy. Then Tony Allen of the Grizzlies complained that Porter didn't even appear on the scouting report after he made 6 of 8 threes in a loss to the Wizards on Jan. 18. 

18. More motion in the offense. In the first home game vs. Toronto, Beal screened once in the first half alone. That totally changed as he's more actively involved in the offense and makes the reads and screens on his own to create havoc for the defense. It creates more open shots everywhere, including for himself.

17. Gortat's attitude. He'd been losing playing time to Mahinmi and accepts that even though he's the starter he's only going to get about 24 minutes per game (Mahinmi is out injured for at least another week). But Gortat responded by playing better after a month-long lull.

16. Beal's ball-handling.  His 267 assists are 105 more than last season and that number will continue to increase. His 342 attempted foul shots are a career-high, too, with 189 being his previous mark. He creates and gets to the rim better than ever.  

15. Brandon Jennings' pace. His shot hasn't been there. He's also prone to gamble for steals from behind more often than he should, but Jennings has energized the second unit in ways that Trey Burke could not. 

14. Winning in Cleveland. The season series was lost 2-1, but going into their house and thumping them from start to finish 127-115 on March 25 meant the first meeting, an OT loss, wasn't a fluke. 

13. ATOs aka after timeout plays. Under Brooks, they've become one of the league's most efficient teams at getting easy buckets off the inbounds. Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the master at it. Brooks isn't far behind.

12. Taking advantage of size mismatches with guards. Wall and Beal are more likely to post smaller players at their position. This works really well on inbounds plays with the pass thrown over the top if there's no helpside defense. 

11. The 120-98 thumping of the Thunder on Feb. 13 made up for a game they had won in Oklahoma City that was lost in OT. MVP candidate Russell Westbrook didn't get anywhere near a triple-double (17 points on 5 of 19 shooting, four rebounds, four assists). 

[RELATED: What Wizards will need to beat Hawks in playoffs]

10  Trading for Oubre in 2015. He's putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim with a confidence he didn't have in October. Grunfeld said he'd be a 2-3 year project so he's on schedule. He was never projected to be rookie of the year or a 20-point scorer as a sophomore. He was projected to be what he is right now with the prospect of getting much better.

9. Beal running the offense. It works. 

8.  Not pushing Wall too much early after returning from surgery to both knees. After such a bad start, it was easy to go overboard. The plan was for Wall to not play back-to-backs until January but he has an amazing ability to recover.

7. Brooks' handling of 2-8 start. He could've gone off scorched earth and torn everything up but didn't. He stayed on message. And he didn't make the repeated mistakes of his predecessor by calling his team "soft" and his starting center his "supposed big man."

6. Oubre vs. point guards. He's 6-7 and has a 7-2 wingspan and can defend his position or 5-9 flashes such as Boston's Isaiah Thomas.

5. Small-ball lineups. Morris can play the 4 or 5. So can Smith. Porter, Oubre and Bogdanovic can play 3 or 4 and some 2 if needed. The roster wasn't built this way by accident.

4. Revamping the medical philosophy with how to treat injuries. When was the last time Wall and Beal were this healthy this late in a season? Beal appeared in a career-high 77 games, missing the final one only because of rest. Three of Wall's four missed games were scheduled for rest.

3. Morris' three-point shooting. He shot a respectable 36.2% from there for the season and took a career-high 196 attempts.

2. Ernie Grunfeld. He hired Brooks. He locked in on him early after firing Randy Wittman and it panned out. All of the good things that Brooks has done is a credit to Brooks himself. Then who deserves credit for hiring him instead of going after Tom Thibodeau (the popular choice)?

1. Maxing Beal. How ridiculous does it sound now that this was ever up debate? The market determines the value and if Beal were allowed to become unrestricted, he would've been maxed and left for nothing. Period. That's not a plan. Beal was a max talent as long as he could stay healthy for a season and his problematic lower right leg never required surgery. Damaged goods he was not. You pay according to what a player will blossom into during the life of the deal rather than where he's at during that moment. It worked with Wall. It worked with Beal. Ideally, you don't give max contracts to aged players who have peaked when returns diminish over the life of a deal unless their name is LeBron James.

[RELATED: Wizards' Morris: Don't call me a stretch four]

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Wizards' best hope for improving on defense centers around Thomas Bryant

Wizards' best hope for improving on defense centers around Thomas Bryant

The Washington Wizards were so truly terrible on the defensive end last season that they didn't discriminate towards any areas of the game.

Were they bad at defending threes? Yeah, they were 26th in the NBA in threes allowed (12.1/g) and 27th in opponent three-point percentage (37.0).

What about protecting the rim? Yeah, that too. The Wizards allowed more field goals within five feet of the rim (22.1/g) than any other team and the third-highest percentage (64.2) from that range. 

Collectively, it all added up to the 28th-ranked unit based on defensive rating (113.9), the highest in Washington franchise history. And they allowed the second-most points (116.9) of any team in the league.

The thing is, the Wizards didn't do a ton to address their defense this offseason, at least in the short-term. Though they likely set themselves up to be better down the road, most of the players they brought in who can help now aren't defensive guys.

C.J. Miles, Moe Wagner, and Davis Bertans are shooters. Rui Hachimura is known far more for his scoring than his defense. And Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas at the point guard spot aren't exactly defensive stoppers.

If the Wizards are to improve defensively this season, even marginally, it will have to be due to players becoming better on that end than they have been in the past. And there is one player in particular who can make the biggest difference.

That would be third-year center Thomas Bryant, who has not been a plus-defensive player so far in his career but is only 22 years old. He hasn't been much of a rim protector previously, but he possesses some natural abilities that suggest he has the potential to become one. He is a high-energy player with long arms, fairly quick feet and a willingness to play through contact.

Bryant knows he holds the key to the Wizards' defensive ceiling.

"I have to be one of those guys to make a big difference. A big man can be the anchor for the defense. I have to take that responsibility to heart every day, whether it's in practice or the game," he said.

Bryant averaged 20.8 minutes per game for the Wizards, but only 0.9 blocks. His per-36 blocks average was 1.6, which was tied for 30th in the NBA. 

But for Bryant, and all big men, it's not just about blocking shots. It's about altering shots and the best rim protectors dominate in that regard. Though the stat can't be found on Basketball-Reference or NBA.com, the Wizards track it and pay close attention.

"Defensively, he definitely has to work and he has to improve," head coach Scott Brooks said of Bryant. 

"The two or three shots that players block is really good, but there are a thousand other plays that they can be in the wrong spot that they have to work on. He has to be in the right spot, protecting the paint and being in the paint to not allow guys even in there."

Bryant said altering shots has been a big point of emphasis for him leading up to the 2019-20 season. And in that process, he's trying to be more talkative on the floor to help his teammates who can't see behind them when defending guards.

"I'm starting to keep my hands up and my arms up, just verbalizing out there on the defensive end. I'm trying to be more engaged and that way my teammates are more engaged," Bryant said.

Ultimately, the Wizards will need more from everyone on their defense. One of their problems with rim protection is that guards can penetrate off the dribble too easily. By the time they meet Bryant at the rim, they have a full head of steam.

There are also, of course, way too many threes going in, and those count more. Even if Bryant became a lesser version of Rudy Gobert, he would need some help.

But no one else on the Wizards roster arguably presents the same short-term upside that Bryant does. If he figures it out on defense, it could make a world of difference for a team that needs it.

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Wizards vs. Bucks Preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

Wizards vs. Bucks Preseason Game 4: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The Wizards return home to the nation's capital after a one-game road trip to Madison Square Garden. Bradley Beal led with a team-high 21 points. The Bucks head to D.C. currently sitting at 3-0 so far throughout the preseason.

Here is everything you need to know.

WIZARDS vs. BUCKS PRESEASON HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 2019 NBA Preseason 

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 6:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Wizards vs. Bucks preseason game 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.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. BUCKS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Wizards vs. Bucks, NBA Preseason (LIVE)

8:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

BUCKS vs. WIZARDS INJURY REPORT:

Bucks: Eric Bledsoe (OUT, Fractured Cartilage between two of his ribs)

Wizards: John Wall (OUT, Left Achilles rehab), Isaiah Thomas (OUT, Left thumb rehab), Ian Mahinmi (OUT, Right Achilles strain)

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