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Film study: With Morris engaged, Wizards look like different defense vs. Nets

Film study: With Morris engaged, Wizards look like different defense vs. Nets

A 66-51 halftime deficit to the Brooklyn Nets was stunning to the Wizards, who were 6-12 at the time and desperate for a win. They turned it on in the second half with better defense, quickly erasing the disadvantage out of the locker room to pull out a 118-113 victory.

John Wall led eight players in double figures with 25 points and 13 assists. But a major key to the comeback was Markieff Morris. 

The power forward had 16 points, five rebounds and four steals but his help defense was a key component as he held his man, Trevor Booker, in check and disrupted the Nets' half-court offense with Bogan Bogdanovic. 

The Wizards have won seven of 10 games and a large part of the reason is defense. This was the first real signs of it in the second half of this game and they've been on a roll ever since. 

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The evidence, most of which is from the second half:

— Booker tries to isolate vs. Morris on the low block which is a mistake. His offensive game isn't strong enough as he's left-hand dominant, doesn't have the ball-handling, strength or the finesse in his game to draw Morris out of position. Morris can have difficulty defending bigger, stronger post players by relying too much on reach-ins which is why he gets into a lot of foul trouble. Booker can't exploit that tendency. Instead of a bucket it's a turnover for Brooklyn. 


— Morris plays off this screen-and-roll because Booker isn't a threat to pop to the three-point arc. It allows him to sag to help on any dribble penetration by Randy Foye, who goes to Lopez's side of the double screen and makes the errant pass. It leads to a transition dunk for Morris. 


— Bogdanovic curls around Booker's screen from the other side of the floor. Porter goes over the top for the deflection and misses, but Morris is there. He's bigger, stronger and longer than Porter and creates the miss that would be a layup for Bogdanovic. 


— Another example of Morris leaving Booker away from the rim where he's not a threat to close down Bogdanovic catching and finishing at the rim. 


— Morris goes at Booker to finish at the rim. Then he gets back to create a turnover. This is a staple of the Nets' offense with Bogdanovic curling around screens from the weakside to get the ball running full speed into the lane. If he catches it cleanly it's difficult to stop without help. Porter has had trouble with blowing up this action but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson doesn't acccount for Morris, who correctly reads the biggest threat isn't his man. It's Bogdanovic. He gets the steal and forces a foul. 


— This is how Wall routinely picks apart the defense from the slot. Brook Lopez is playing what his coach, Kenny Atkinson, calls the MIG position -- Most Important Guy. That's because that post player, which is loading up on Wall to stop dribble penetration (also called the 2.9 position because of the defensive three-second rule), also has to keep the man he's defending (Gortat) from scoring. Gortat isn't a threat at that distance from the rim but the moment Lopez takes one more step in his direction behind Booker who has no prayer in stopping Wall from getting into the paint, the dive happens. Lopez can't recover in time and it's a dunk. 


— This is basically the same type of read from a different spot on the floor by Wall. If you're in crunch time, who commands the most attention on a set? Beal. The entire defense is loading up on him. Gortat is setting a backscreen and his man, Lopez, is facing away from the strong side to provide containment. Thanks to all of this activity -- and Booker zooming in on Wall to back up Joe Harris who has no prayer of keeping the point guard out of the paint -- Morris backdoor cuts for the slip pass to make it a two-possession game with less than a minute left.  

 

 

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Scott Brooks isn't sure if Rui Hachimura will return before February

Scott Brooks isn't sure if Rui Hachimura will return before February

Rui Hachimura is set to miss his 16th straight game with a groin injury, and his return to the court doesn't seem close. 

Before the Wizards took on the Raptors Friday night, head coach Scott Brooks said he wasn't sure if Hachimura would return before the start of February. 

Previously, Hachimura was set scheduled to be reevaluated in mid-January, so it appears after that checkpoint, the Wizards aren't ready to bring back their promising young forward. 

Hachimura originally sustained the injury by accidentally getting kicked in the groin by teammate Isaac Bonga on December 16. Before going down, Hachimura was flashing plenty of promise as a versatile offensive weapon at the power forward spot. 

As one of the top rookies in the game before the injury, Hachimura seemed like a lock to play in the NBA's Rookie-Sophomore game at All-Star weekend. That's about a month away, so this new timeline would put Hachimura's availability for that game in doubt. 

Davis Bertans, Isaac Bonga and Ian Mahinmi have helped fill in for the rookie, but in a season where development was arguably more important than winning, the Wizards and Hachimura caught a really tough break with this injury. 

In the meantime, Washington will have their hands full with Pascal Siakam and the defending champion Raptors on the road. 

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Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

Real marquee matchup: Bradley Beal, Wizards need to contain Pascal Siakam, Raptors' three-point shooting

The two main, overarching reasons why the Toronto Raptors have remained as good as they are even after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency are their defense and their three-point shooting. The continued development of Pascal Siakam into a budding star has received most of the acclaim, but as a collective, those two areas are what make the Raptors tick.

Toronto is second in the NBA in defensive rating (104.5) and fifth in points allowed (105.6). They also give up the second-lowest field goal percentage (42.6) in the league.

The three-point line, though, is where the focus should be on Friday night as the Wizards battle the Raptors in Toronto (7 pm on NBC Sports Washington) for the second time this season. Because in the Wizards, the Raptors will aim to take advantage of a team that struggles defending the perimeter. Washington is 23rd among NBA teams in opponent three-point percentage (36.5) and 19th in threes allowed (12.1). 

The Wizards will have their hands full with a multitude of Raptors shooters. Siakam knocks down 39.1 percent of his threes on 6.2 attempts per game. Norman Powell is a 40.8 percent three-point shooter, averaging 4.9 attempts.

OG Anunoby shoots 38.1 percent on 3.8 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry attempts 8.9 threes per game and makes 35.3 percent. Fred VanVleet hits 37.2 percent on 6.9 attempts. VanVleet, though, is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury.

Those are five players who are dangerous from three and that's not the end of the list. They also have Marc Gasol making 37 percent of his 3.3 attempts per game. Terence Davis shoots 38.6 percent and Serge Ibaka hits on 37.3 percent. There's also Matt Thomas, who has made 46.5 percent of his threes, albeit in a small sample size.

The Raptors can legitimately form a full rotation of players who make threes. It gives them options for multiple lineups where everyone on the floor can shoot.

The onus will be on the Wizards' guards like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Bradley Beal and Jordan McRae, but also some of their bigs. Ian Mahinmi and Thomas Bryant may have to trail Gasol and Ibaka to the perimeter. Few teams can create space with matchup problems quite like Toronto can.

The first meeting between these teams resulted in a Wizards loss, back on Dec. 20. And in that game, the Wizards were able to hold the Raptors under their season average in terms of attempts. They took 30 threes when they average 36 per game.

But the Raptors shot 40 percent on those attempts, going 12-for-30. They spread it around in that game, too, with seven different players making at least one.

Three-point defense is always important in today's NBA, but even more than usual against the Raptors. It isn't a strength for the Wizards, but they will have to overcome that to pull out a victory.

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