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Ariza, Okafor could be benched tonight

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Ariza, Okafor could be benched tonight

When the Wizards visit the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Philips Arena [7 p.m., CSN] coach Randy Wittman will experiment with his third different starting lineup.

And there’s a good chance that for the first time this season Trevor Ariza or Emeka Okafor, possibly both, will be on the bench at the start of tonight’s game.

With Trevor Booker questionable with a right knee sprain and Nene also questionable with persistent pain in his left heel, Wittman could give Seraphin his first start of the season.

Ariza and Okafor are coming off one of their least productive games. In Monday night’s 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers Ariza finished with six points, two assists and five rebounds while playing a season-low 13 minutes. Okafor had a season-low one point and one rebound in just 9 minutes.

Both players watched the fourth quarter from the bench while Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Earl Barron went to work on cutting a 20-point deficit down to one.

“When you’re not playing to the level that we need to be playing and I've got somebody else sitting there that I feel is going to give me that, I've got to go with that,” Wittman said. “That's a gut feeling. That's coaching. That's all that is.”

In his nine games with the Wizards, Ariza has had just three above-average performances. He managed 15 points and 8 rebounds in a 101-91 loss to Milwaukee; 19 points and six rebounds in a 92-76 loss to Charlotte; and 16 points and 9 rebounds in an 83-76 loss to Utah.

In his other six games, Ariza is averaging 5.7 points and 3.8 rebounds.

Asked to evaluate his play, Ariza responded, “Up and down.”

Asked what he would like to do better, he said, “Everything. I want to everything better. I want to do everything I can to try to get this team a win.”

Wittman was far more direct with his criticism, saying Ariza can be deadly when he has an open shot, but not when he’s forcing them.

“Shot selection is the main thing,” Wittman said. “From an offensive standpoint, contested shots is not a good thing for him. He's not that type of player. Open shots, where he's spotted, he makes clearly a higher percentage of those. He needs to attack the basket off the dribble much more. He's just settling for contested jump shots. That's where his high and low is.”

Ariza said he understands Wittman’s decision to bench him in the fourth quarter, even if he may not have agreed with it.

“He has six new players that he’s trying to feel out,”  Ariza said. “He’s trying to find combinations to work with, to be consistent, so I do understand the process. We’re searching for wins, so everything goes.”

Okafor also has struggled with consistency in his first few weeks with the Wizards. Three times he’s reached double figures in scoring and on Saturday night against Utah he pulled down a season-high 14 rebounds. The next game against Indiana he managed just one point and one rebound.

“[Monday night] was probably one of his worst games,” Wittman said. “That's basically all it boils down to. He's got 14 rebounds then one rebound. Fourteen is Herculean, good effort. I'm not expecting him to average 14. And you can go from 14 to seven or eight. That's a solid game. It's the fluctuation from one game to the next when it gets in my mind, ‘Now, who do I play?’”

We’ll find out tonight at 7:30.

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Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

Wizards' John Wall reveals he's about to start jogging in rehab from Achilles injury

A couple of weeks ago, John Wall was spotted at a Washington Mystics game with no brace to support his Achilles injury, a sign that his rehab from the injury was moving in the right direction. 

On Monday night at the 2019 NBA Awards, the Wizards point guard gave affirmation that he is indeed continuing to get healthier and stronger.

"I feel great, man," Wall told NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller on the red carpet. "I'm doing a great job with my body, taking care of that."

Specifically, Wall has been able to slowly increase what he can do on his legs. The recovery and rehab for an injury as severe as his is a long road, and the point guard is making sure not to speed up the process and risk hindering the progress. However, he's about to reach a pretty big milestone in the journey during the coming weeks.

"I'm about to start jogging in like two weeks. Just riding the bike, I get to do exercises standing up now, so I don't have to sit down. I'm able to move, do ladder steps, doing those types of things," Wall said. "Just taking my time and progressing and letting everything heal the right way so I don't force myself back and get another injury."

As Wall continues to work to get back on the court, he's had plenty of motivational factors pushing him through some grueling months. His recent string of injuries have left some wondering if he'll still be an elite player when he finally.

He's heard those comments and he's using them to his advantage.

"I'm one of those guys that's very driven by all the hate and all the negative talk I'm getting. Keep it going," Wall said.

"Everybody said I can't be myself, I won't be nowhere near as good again. That's all the other stuff that's going to fuel me. I don't get upset about it, you're entitled to your own opinion. Please keep it going."

The haters have given Wall some extra juice, but so has his son Ace. Spending the offseason getting right has allowed Wall to work in another area of life: fatherhood.

The newest addition to his family has taken his desire for greatness to new heights.

"I've always had that drive that I want to be the greatest. To have a son like that, that's watching everything I can do. Even though he doesn't understand what's going on, he's putting memories in his head," Wall said. 

"So that gives me extra, extra motivation to another level I never thought I could. Like I said before, that's the best blessing a man could ever ask for is to have a son."

While Wall's offseason has been a busy one as he juggles rehab and being a dad, he's still been very involved in everything going on inside the franchise.

He's already chatted with first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura, and is excited for what is to come for the Wizards. Wall is also hoping that Hachimura will help improve his Japanese so that he can grow a larger following internationally. 

As the calendar slowly turns to July, both Wall and the Wizards' offseasons will ramp up. It's been an up and down time for both lately, but he's excited about the future.

"I think it's good," Wall said about the Wizards situation. "We added some pieces. See what we do in free agency to add some guys to bring back or we're going to go after somebody new. I think we'll be fine."

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Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

Bradley Beal wins the 2019 NBA Cares Community Assist Award three years after John Wall

While he was putting together the best season of his career, Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was also making a profound impact off the court and those efforts have earned him a significant honor, the NBA's 2018-19 Community Assist Award.

The news was revealed at Monday's NBA Awards in Santa Monica, CA as Beal got the nod over nine other finalists. He is the second Wizards player to win the honor in just the last four years following John Wall in 2015-16.

Beal was involved in a variety of charitable efforts this past season. He has partnered with the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast Washington to help underprivileged youth. He visited the school in December and gave out shoes.

During the All-Star break in February, as he made his second appearance in the annual showcase, Beal handed out meals at a food bank alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This past year he also gave out Christmas presents in the Washington area and took a group of kids on a tour of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Beal was named a finalist for the Community Assist Award in April along with Jarrett Allen (Nets), Mike Conley (Jazz), Khris Middleton (Bucks), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Dwight Powell (Mavs) and Pascal Siakam (Raptors). Part of the criteria was based on fan voting through social media that was held from April 24 through May 25.

Beal, 25, continues to ascend on the court as well. This year he posted career-highs in points (25.6/g), assists (5.5/g) and rebounds (5.0/g). He nearly made All-NBA in late May with the most votes of any guard that was left out.

In Beal and Wall, the Wizards have quite the combination. Both have been All-Stars on the court and now both can say they won the NBA's top honor for charity work as well.

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