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Morning tip: Basic principles of defense elude Wizards in loss

Morning tip: Basic principles of defense elude Wizards in loss

This record is as old as it is broken: The Wizards can't cover the pick-and-roll properly, and an offensively challenged team such as the Miami Heat simply relies on that action or straight isolations to get buckets.

The Heat (8-17) have scored 114 and 112 points in two wins in both meetings this season. Goran Dragic had a season-high 34 points. James Johnson came off the bench for 14 points.

They did it by unconventional standards in today's NBA, which has gone away from isolations in favor of more motion and ball movement on offense. 

"James Johnson came in the game, he changed the game with his aggressive play on both ends of the floor," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "All they were doing was just isolate and attacking. Dragic did the same thing, isolate and attack."

The perimeter defense for the Wizards (9-14) has been so sub-par that there's no need to get too creative with the offensive schemes. Just go at them and high-percentage shots are likely to come open.  

Teams aren't forced to go to their second or third option. The first one usually is the charm pending who and how they attack. 

"He got a lot of easy looks," Bradley Beal said of Dragic. "We were trying to figure out what we want to do with him on pick-and-rolls, and James Johnson."

The Heat used a small lineup with Johnson at center. Instead of Dragic setting up the pick-and-roll, it was Johnson as the initator and it caught the Wizards on their heels.

Johnson shot 6-of-9 from the field and had three assists, a role he had for most of the fourth quarter to help Miami regain the lead. 

"Never really dealt with a four or a five playing pick-and-roll, handling the ball, playing small the way they were," Beal said. 

Dragic overcame four fouls early in the third quarter as coach Erik Spoelstra mixed and matched his lineups. Dragic was too much to handle. The fundamentals by the Wizards were lacking which is why they failed to establish their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Instead of being more physical with their defense, the Wizards allowed the offense for the Heat to bully them. They got to the spots they wanted on the floor. They created the contact. They had the game played on their terms which was how they overcame 59 combined points from Beal and John Wall.

"We tried to go small. We tried to go big. We switched a lot," Brooks said. "We were getting beat off the dribble too much."

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' letdown vs. Heat]

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Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 5: WILL THE WIZARDS GET LUCKY IN THE DRAFT LOTTERY ON MAY 14?

Though the Washington Wizards made some poor decisions to create the mess their next general manager will need to clean up, they have also been struck with a good deal of bad luck. John Wall falling in his home and rupturing his Achilles tendon certainly qualifies. Dwight Howard suffering a relapse with his back and requiring surgery to repair a herniated disc was out of their control. And if Bradley Beal makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax this summer, the timing would not be ideal as far as their finances are concerned.

The Wizards have long been one of the most snakebitten franchises in sports and even stand out in a city where curses are often blamed for sports misery. They could use some luck for a change and especially on the night of May 14.

That's when the 2019 NBA draft lottery will take place in Chicago, Ill. ESPN will broadcast the event live at 8:30 p.m. as the ping-pong balls fly through the air, determining the order for the June 20 draft and therefore the future of the league.

The Wizards will for the first time since 2013 have high stakes in the lottery. They had finished with at least a .500 record for five straight seasons before bottoming out in 2018-19. But their 32-50 record this past season gave them the sixth-best lottery odds and, in the first year under new lottery rules, that has left them in excellent shape ahead of May 14.

The Wizards lottery odds will break down pick-by-pick like this:

1st - 9.0%

2nd - 9.2%

3rd - 9.4%

4th - 9.6%

5th - N/A

6th - 8.6%

7th - 29.6%

8th - 20.6%

9th - 3.8%

10th - 0.2%

The two most important numbers to consider are nine and 37.2. They have a nine percent chance at the first overall pick and a 37.2 percent shot at selecting in the top four.

The Wizards' nine percent odds at No. 1 are only five ticks lower than the top teams in lottery odds, the Knicks, Cavs and Suns who are tied at 14 percent. Though their chances are still less than one-in-ten, that means they will be very much in the mix to land the ultimate prize, Duke forward Zion Williamson.

Williamson would change everything for the team that drafts him, but perhaps especially for the Wizards, considering the alternative direction their franchise could go. They already fired their general manager and have an uncertain future with their head coach Scott Brooks and arguably with their best player, Beal, as well. They appear to be teetering on the brink of a rebuild and Williamson could jumpstart them into the other direction.

No draft prospect, maybe with the exception of LeBron James in 2003, offers guarantees. Williamson could top out as a good, but not great player. But few who have dominated college basketball quite like he did have then failed to live up to the hype. Consider the fact he is only the third freshman ever to win the Naismith award for NCAA's best player. The other two were Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant.

One NBA front office executive told NBC Sports Washington he believes Williamson will be an All-Star as a rookie and not just because of fan voting. He has superstar potential, both from a production and marketing standpoint. Williamson would likely step right in as at least the Wizards' second-best healthy player and as the face of their franchise, the player most associate them with.

Landing the top pick is not the only way May 14 can result in a success for the Wizards. Jumping into the top four would be a major victory, especially in this year's draft which appears to be top-heavy. That could mean a chance to draft Ja Morant of Murray State or R.J. Barrett, Williamson's teammate at Duke. 

Barrett would be a nice fit alongside Beal and Wall when he returns from injury. He complements them positionally and has All-Star potential.

If Morant is the best player on the board, the Wizards should take him. But doing so would create a brand new storyline of how he would co-exist with Wall, who plays the same position. That dynamic would be hard to ignore for as long as they are together in the organization.

Though the Wizards have a better than one-in-three shot at the top four, their two most likely landing spots are No. 7 and 8 overall. If the Wizards did not make a major jump in the lottery, they may be wise to trade back and acquire more picks. They do not have a second round pick this year and not until 2023. They also have roster spots to fill and could use more young (and cheap) players.

The Wizards may not have to trade back very far to stock their cupboard with more picks. Last June, the Hawks got a lightly-protected first round pick from the Mavericks for going back from No. 3 to No. 5. The Sixers traded back from 10th to 16th with the Suns and scooped the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first round pick.

In a draft that most consider to not be deep outside of the top four or five picks, the Wizards may not see a huge difference in the eight pick and, say, selecting 12th. And that could be the key to getting another first or a collection of second round picks.

There are so many scenarios for the Wizards that all depend on their luck on May 14. Who they choose to send as their representative will be interesting. Will it be Beal, who right now is their biggest star? How about Wall, who was the first overall pick in 2010 and would be able to impact the franchise in an indirect way despite his long-term injury absence? It could also be whomever they hire as their new GM, or someone in the ownership group.

The Wizards, like the 13 other teams in the lottery, will be hoping for a blessing from the basketball gods.

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.

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