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Internal matters force Wizards to call players-only meeting

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Internal matters force Wizards to call players-only meeting

The doors slammed shut in the Wizards' locker room Thursday, after they lost for the third consecutive time. For the second time in three years, a players-only meeting was required and it seems fitting that their next game is against the Houston Rockets.

It was Trevor Ariza, who left as a free agent for Houston two seasons ago, initiating a closed-door pow wow following a 2-7 start. At that time, there were personal issues between teammates that had to be worked out. This one, after a 117-113 to the Denver Nuggets, was about a team that's 20-24 and on the verge of being home in the postseason for the first time since a 29-win season in 2012-13.

"The flow has been terrible for us these last couple games. That's something that players and coaches have to do a better job," said Jared Dudley, who called himself the team spokesman because he faces the music every time the Wizards play badly. "At times it's good to play Nene and (Marcin) Gortat together. ... What team are we trying to be here? We can't keep coming into this locker room talking about inconsistency because April 15 (when the regular-season ends) we'll all be back at the crib."

Thursday, it wasn't a good start for the Wizards going with their big lineup. They fell behind quickly 10-2 and eventually trailed by 18 in the third quarter. Gortat didn't play at all in the fourth quarter when they made a comeback to tie the score at 99 on a three-point play by Ramon Sessions. 

The Wizards are 1-3 with Nene and Gortat starting the last four games while Dudley, who had been the starter at power forward, coming off the bench.

They've given up 106 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors, 108 to the Portland Trail Blazers and 116 and 119 to the Boston Celtics. All, of course, are losses, too.

"Everybody can make excuses about us being injured but we have a lot of guys that step up and play big roles," point guard John Wall said. "You got to go out there and compete and do it on the defensive end."

Bradley Beal didn't want to reveal any details about what was said in the meeting, but Garrett Temple didn't hesitate to bring up the obvious.

"That's exactly why. We're not playing defense the way we're capable of. We have to fix it before it's too late," said Temple who had 20 or more points for the fifth time this season in place of Beal while he's on a minutes restriction. "In a few games come All-Star break, if we continue to play like we're going to play then it's going to be too late. We had a little closed-door discussion as a team as players. Hopefully it changes things."

Six players from that initial players meeting remain: Wall, Temple, Beal, Nene, Gortat and Otto Porter.

"Totally different team. It's different things that we talked about," Temple said. "Maybe one or two things that were similar that were brought up. The main point, the main focus was a little different than the one two years ago."

It's clear that Dudley is starting to become agitated by the slow starts and abrupt stops whenever they gain momentum. The Wizards, a team he was happy to join when he was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, should be in the mix for a top four seeding. That means home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs instead of the two No. 5 seeds.

MORE WIZARDS: FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM LOSS TO NUGGETS

The Wizards made their run with Dudley on the floor all 12 minutes of the fourth. The same goes for Temple and Nene. Combined, they shot 7 of 11 in a 34-point quarter.

"We're trying to find ourselves. We're doing it through games. We're struggling with that. I keep hearing, 'What's our identity?' so basically our identity is to space the floor, put the pressure on," Dudley said. "We're a three-point shooting team that can go into Nene and we have to be aggressive defensively. Those are our strengths. I don't care what lineup is out there. That for this team going forward.

"When it comes to basketball IQ and knowing stuff like that it's apparent that's when we're at our most successful. Defensively, we got to start holding each other accountable. That starts with me helping these guys out where defensively someone's not getting up into them, if it's John, if it's Sessions it starts with the point guards. Bigs talking, Nene, Gortat myself have to do a better job holding each other accountable. Players are going to have to hold each other accountable during the games more to be able to get under guys. That's something I'll do a better job of going forward."

It should be no surprise that when Temple, Nene and Dudley are on the floor the Wizards are at their best on both ends. Per 100 possessions on offense and defense, they are the only three players coming into Thursday that had a positive rating. 

"No matter what scheme you put out there, if guys don't go out and execute the scheme, don't compete defensively, defense is all about heart," said Temple, their best one-on-one defender. "You don't have to be the quickest. You don't have to be the strongest. You just have to have heart and that comes with defending the possession and rebounding.

"All that is heart. No scheme can keep a guy offensive glass. You got to box him out and rebound. No schemes can keep a guy from one-on-one, getting in the paint for a layup. That's not a scheme. That's one-on-one defense and we've got to take pride. We've got to guard people."

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John Wall, Stephen A. Smith 'Rosebar' beef plays out in Wizards' win with Smith courtside

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John Wall, Stephen A. Smith 'Rosebar' beef plays out in Wizards' win with Smith courtside

Exactly 18 months to the day after John Wall hit the biggest shot of his career in Game 6 against the Celtics, and Markieff Morris slapped Stephen A. Smith on the rear in celebration, Smith was back in Washington for more.

Smith had ignited NBA Twitter with an epic tirade about Wall and the Wizards, how the team should be blown up and how Wall was spending too much time at clubs instead of focusing on his craft. He even named a place he thinks Wall frequents, Rosebar in Northwest Washington.

Whether Wall goes there enough to deserve that sort of ridicule on national television or not, it stuck. Memes were made of Wall wearing a Wizards jersey, photoshopped with 'Rosebar' on the front. Wall even admitted the picture was funny in an Instagram Live address to his fans.

So there Smith was, down from ESPN's studios in New York, sitting in the front row and ready to face the very team he blasted out in the open. To his credit, Smith often does this. Soon after he tears the Wizards to shreds, he makes an appearance to back up his words.

He picked a good game to come down. Wall, who was coming off a 28-point performance in a win over the Heat, carried it over against the Magic and with Smith sitting baseline, just steps away from the Wizards' bench. 

Wall lit up Orlando for a clean 25 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, a block and a steal in just 33 minutes of work. He shot 9-for-15 from the field and 2-for-3 from three.

After a sluggish start to the season, Wall has turned things up in his last five games. During that stretch, he's averaged 24.4 points, 9.6 assists and 2.4 steals while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three (10-for-23).

After he diced up the Magic, Wall was asked if Smith's rants and the jokes that swept across the NBA-obsessed corners of the internet had anything to do with his recent tear. He declined.

"Nah," he said with his eyes peering through gold-rimmed sunglasses. "I'm used to it."

His teammates disagree. Shooting guard Bradley Beal believes that is exactly what happened.

"Y'all pissed him off, man. It's y'all's fault," Beal said, speaking of the media in general. 

"He's going to come out and play like Wolf Wall. That's what we need him to do... That's just John. We need him to do that. We need him to lead the ship."

The results at least somewhat back up Beal's claims. Since we're on the subject, how about some pre-Rosebar rant and post-Rosebar rant splits? They don't calculate those on Basketball Reference, so these were done the old fashioned way, by hand.

Before Smith went off, the Wizards were 2-8 and Wall was averaging only 7.6 assists and shooting 28.6 percent from three. After Smith's diatribe, the Wizards are 2-1 with Wall posting 10.3 assists per game while knocking down 45.5 percent from long range.

Sure, those numbers are selective, but this isn't scientific research. It's just a credible theory from a guy in Beal who his in the midst of his seventh season playing with Wall. He knows what makes Wall tick and he saw a difference in him on Monday night.

"I'm happy you guys lit a little flame up under him. He got us going. He got us all going," he said.

Beal wasn't the only Wizards player to notice Smith was in attendance. After a shot Wall made with 4:17 to go in the fourth quarter, guard Austin Rivers pointed in Smith's direction during the ensuing timeout. They sensed Wall was proving Smith and all of his haters wrong, regardless of whether he would admit it or not.

Of course, Wall already has plenty of motivation to play well and doesn't need someone like Smith or anyone in the media to get him going. But his teammates, and Wizards fans, will take it.

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Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

Five observations from Wizards' 117-109 win over the Orlando Magic, including Jeff Green's takeover

The Washington Wizards beat the Orlando Magic 117-109 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Two in a row: The Wizards did something on Monday night they had yet to do this season. They won their second game in a row.

Now 4-9 on the season, the Wizards have some work remaining to regain respectability. But there were some encouraging signs. For instance, they won the rebounding margin for just the second time this season. They also made 13 threes.

This win, however, would have been a lot easier if they could lock down the three-point line. The Magic shot 15-for-30 from three. Perimeter defense continues to be a major blindspot for Washington.

Green dominated: Bradley Beal's comparison of Jeff Green to LeBron James all of a sudden doesn't sound so crazy.

Against the Magic, Green wasn't just good, he put the Wizards on his back and took over the game in the fourth quarter with a series of shots and defensive plays to keep Orlando at bay.

Green, who finished with 18 points in just 21 minutes, erupted for 10 points in the fourth quarter. He hit two threes in the frame and went 4-for-5 for the night. One of them bailed out Austin Rivers to beat the shot clock.

Green also had 19 points against the Heat on Friday. The veteran is playing well beyond expectations for the one-year contract he signed this summer. In the Wizards' past several games, he's given them starter production off the bench. 

Though Mike Scott was very good last season, Green is showing how he can do more because of how he can affect games defensively. It's no wonder why head coach Scott Brooks has relied on him in the fourth quarters of the last three games instead of starters.

Beal woke up late: With under five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Beal was ice cold. He had nine points on 3-for-13 shooting from the field and 0-for-6 from three.

But out of a timeout, Beal woke up and, like a button was pushed, took over the game. He began by sinking a tough layup off the glass. Moments later, he got his first three to fall. 

After that, he fed Dwight Howard for an and-1 on a drive set up by a slick behind-the-back move. And seconds later, he stole an errant pass and finished with a rim-bending slam on the other end.

Beal scored seven points in a stretch of about three minutes and almost singlehandedly erased what was a 10-point deficit to take the lead. He did what we saw him do so often last year. Despite struggling for more than half the game, he never wavered and found a way to get the ball in the rim.

Beal made something of his uneven night to post 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He proved once again that opposing teams can only keep him in check for so long.

Wall is heating up: Though John Wall has long been criticized for his outside shot, many forget he set a career-high last season by shooting 37.1 percent from three on 4.1 attempts per game. That wasn't bad at all and it looks like Wall may be finding that stroke once again.

After a slow start out of the gate, Wall has been on fire from three recently. He went 2-for-3 against the Magic and is now 16-for-37 in his last seven games. That's good for 43.2 percent.

Wall may never be a lights-out marksman from long range. But he is becoming more than respectable as a perimeter threat.

Mahinmi played again: It appears that Ian Mahinmi has earned his job back. He was benched for three straight games, but has now played in each of the past two. 

Similar to the win over the Heat on Friday, Mahinmi did his part with a minimal, but noticeable impact on the game. He had a nice weakside block in the first quarter. Jarell Martin drove left and got by his man and Mahinmi helped by stepping across the lane to swat it out of bounds.

That's what they need Mahinmi to do, play defense and not get in the way on offense. When he's not affecting games on the defensive end, his other shortcomings become magnified. Through two games, he's done enough to probably stay in the rotation for the time being.

While Mahinmi is back in the rotation, Otto Porter Jr. appears to be in the relative doghouse. This was the third straight game he has sat out the fourth quarter. Markieff Morris was in the same boat for two games, but got the nod against Orlando.

Some of it is simply Brooks rolling with the hot hand. But Brooks must not like something Porter has been doing lately. The best guess is his defense, as Jonathan Simmons, among others, was getting past Porter with regularity in this one.

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