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Bucks dominate the boards, beat Wizards 99-92: Five takeaways

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Bucks dominate the boards, beat Wizards 99-92: Five takeaways

Would the Washington Wizards enter the All-Star break with a two-game winning streak or a ninth loss in 13 contests? Depending on when you checked in during the first three quarters of Thursday's matchup at the Milwaukee Bucks, the answer may have seemed clear. After a series of wild swings, the fourth quarter played even. Eventually one team pulled away late with a sequence of winning plays. That team was not the Wizards.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points and John Wall recorded yet another double-double, but the Wizards could not complete the season sweep over the Bucks, falling 99-92.

Wall had 15 points and 10 assists in 42 minutes for Washington (23-28), but struggled with his shot, finishing 5 of 19 from the field. When it came to clanking, the point guard had company as the Wizards shot 38.6 percent from the field and a dismal 6 of 32 on 3-point attempts. Despite those shooting struggles, Washington and Milwaukee (21-32) were tied at 81-81 with under six minutes remaining when Khris Middleton's 3-pointer started the decisive 8-2 run.

Hope remained as three straight free throws with 1:36 left cut the lead to 93-90. Following a Bucks turnover, Wall launched the potential game-tying 3-pointer. He missed, something Milwaukee didn't do on its next two shots to seal the win. One of those clinching buckets came from Middleton, who led all scorers with 27 points. 

The Wizards lost their second straight games and sixth this season when leading by at least 10 points, though this time the cushion was wiped away early.

Washington enters the break 10th in the East, three games behind Charlotte (27-26) for the eighth and final playoff spot.

* Washington went from leading by 10 in the first quarter to trailing 55-46 at halftime as Milwaukee outscored them 37-19 in the second quarter. After rolling offensively early, the Wizards went 7:55 without a field goal, missing 12 straight shots. In that stretch, Washington went from leading 37-28 to trailing 53-42.  During that span, Marcin Gortat picked up his third foul and sat out the final seven minutes. With the Polish Machine watching, Milwaukee hammered Washington on the boards. The Bucks overall outrebounded the Wizards 58-38 as Giannis Antetokounmpo grabbed 13 to go with 17 points. Gortat finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

* The Wizards ball movement was fluid and highly effective early with 11 assists on their first 11 baskets leading to a 27-18 advantage after one period. Wall's pass-first vibe fueled the sharing-is-caring start, but Dudley's crafty feeds inside really stood out. Then the good times slowed and the Bucks roared back.

* Another game and another round of aches and pains. Wall hit the deck after banging knees in the first half. He remained in the game, played the entire second half and was walking without obvious strain postgame. The break couldn't come at a better time for the beat up point guard, who is slated to play in Sunday's All-Star game. 

Otto Porter, who missed time recently with a right hip injury, landed hard on his right side after the slender forward was fouled going for a fast break layup.  He also stayed in the game, finishing with 14 points. Porter continued his streaky trend of generating most of his points in one stretch. In this case, those buckets primarily came when the offense flowed early. He finished 6 of 15.

* Gary Neal (leg) missed his second straight game, but Washington also played without Kris Humphries (illness). Those absences led to first quarter minutes for Kelly Oubre Jr. Most interesting, coach Randy Wittman paired the rookie with Porter playing the four. The lengthy pair provided positive activity, but Washington decisively lost the battle of the boards in that stretch and throughout the second quarter. How much Oubre plays and how much Porter plays the four are two interesting post All-Star break story lines.

* The Wizards were one win shy of sweeping the Bucks for only the second time in 47 years (1974-75). Wall needed 14 points and 13 assists to become first player in franchise history to average 20-10 at All-Star break.

[RELATED: Why Wizards fall asleep at wheel with leads?]

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

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Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks. 

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