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Morning tip: Celtics lost on how to deal with matchup problem Markieff Morris

Morning tip: Celtics lost on how to deal with matchup problem Markieff Morris

First, it was Gerald Green who lasted just seven minutes as the starting power forward. Then came Amir Johnson and he lasted just five. Neither yielded a single bucket for the Boston Celtics but they led the Wizards in the East semifinals 2-0 anyway. 

After losing Game 3 with Green, who is more of the stretch option, the Celtics went with Johnson in Game 4 and it was equally disastrous. Meanwhile, the Wizards hit them with a steady dose of Markieff Morris time and again and got results.

"We're the better team and we feel like we've been the better team," said Morris, who has dominated the matchup and had 16 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in Sunday's 121-102 victory for Washington. "If we go out there and play like that, we can get the win.

"Either way, they're in a lose-lose switching that guy."

Johnson has the size but lacks the skill or finesse to combat Morris, who is 6-10 but can face up from long range and break him down off the dribble. Green is an undersized scorer who is a liability in the low post trying to defend Morris. Neither can rebound with him, either, which is where the Wizards have been plus-12 and plus-14 in the last two games. If  Celtics coach Brad Stevens attempts a three-guard lineup and Marcus Smart finds himself on Morris, that's an even easier assignment for him.

[RELATED: Markieff Morris has quote of the year after blowout win over Celtics]

Boston cross-matched because of Morris, having Al Horford defend him while Johnson shifted to Marcin Gortat who is even bigger in Game 4. The Wizards took advantage of that by using more screen action with Gortat to put Johnson, who is a weak defender vs. guards, in space on John Wall. 

It seems like a game of musical chairs, and regardless of Morris' statistics shows it or not game to game, his presence leads to issues because the Celltics must assume the risk to compensate for him. Both teams switch on defense at that position, but Morris is OK vs. no matter who his assignment becomes after the switch because there's no mismatch gained by the opposition, The Celtics don't have that luxury.

Jae Crowder took some of the burden on Morris on Sunday but ended up with five fouls before the third quarter ended. While he has the physical strength to battle down low, he's still underized defensively and is mostly a catch-and-shoot player offensively which doesn't present problems for Morris.

Morris scored the Wizards' first two points of the second half but grabbing an offensive rebound and getting foul shots on Crowder.  Morris switched onto Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley and kept them in front of him. Johnson, Green, Crowder and Smart can't do the same consistently vs. Wall and Bradley Beal. 

If the Wizards are able to win this series, look back at this inability to match up on Boston's part and the trickle-down effect as a signficant reason.

"Keef, he's a special player," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "I love coaching him. I like his toughness. I like his passion. He's a matchup problem. We don't care if they go small or big. We know if we have Keef he can guard smalls or he can guard bigs."

The left ankle spain that caused Morris to leave Game 1 is a distant memory. He hasn't had any issues with it since Horford stuck his foot underneath him on a jump shot and he has played with an extra edge ever since then.

The Wizards still have to win a game at TD Garden where they're 0-4 this season to upset the No. 1 seed in the East. Morris isn't concerned about that part. It's the attitude they need to carry with them for Wednesday's pivotal Game 5.

"For sure it's going to be hard. They're still a good team. It's Boston," Morris said. "I feel as though, we all feel as though we're the better team even to start the series. This is what we wanted during the regular season when it was chippy and we (were) going at it. We wanted Boston in the playoffs. We got to go out there and act like that and I think we did the last couple of games."

[RELATED: Wizards feel in control as series shifts to Boston]

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The longterm case for the Wizards to not trade Bradley Beal is more compelling than you might think

The longterm case for the Wizards to not trade Bradley Beal is more compelling than you might think

We know teams remain interested in snagging Bradley Beal.

There’s no explanation required why true contenders or wannabes would covet a 25-year-old two-time All-Star coming off a near All-NBA season. With Anthony Davis dealt to the Lakers, Beal becomes arguably the top prize in the trade market.

Before shipping the Wizards’ leading scorer out of the DMV for long-term assets that would signal a rebuild, consider the alternative. No talking points are needed for the concept of keeping Beal, but doing so brings up the larger picture.

Assuming the Wizards remained fiscally disciplined this off-season, the team can enter the summer of 2020 with a relatively clean balance sheet and actual roster optimism.

At that point the Wizards would have Beal possibly coming off a third All-Star appearance along with 2018 first-round pick Troy Brown, a player selected with the ninth overall pick in Thursday’s Draft and a 2020 lottery pick.

Add to that the return of John Wall. It’s conceivable the five-time All-Star rejoins the team late next season, but it likely would take additional time to gauge his physical status following the devastating Achilles injury that required surgery in February. If Wall appears close to his prior form, the Wizards have an interesting starting point with those pieces.

In addition, the expiring contracts for Ian Mahinmi ($15.4 million) and Dwight Howard ($5.6) come off the books. Beal, Wall and Brown are the only current players under contract beyond next season.

This season also provides the next front office leader a chance to establish a cultural baseline for a team that dealt with locker room squabbles last season. The Wizards remain without a general manager after firing President of Basketball Operations on April 2.

Tommy Sheppard has run the front office on an interim basis since. While logically the Wizards would hold off making any splashy moves like dealing Beal until a permanent GM is named, owner Ted Leonsis is the one needing convincing regardless.

Leonsis famously told reporters last season the team “will never, ever tank.” Rebuilding doesn’t have the same negative connotation as that four-letter T-word, but dealing Beal would offer the perception of a team focused on the long haul above all.

That’s not necessarily the wrong approach. The Wizards can always head into that direction ahead of the 2020-21 season. Beal’s value would remain high. Holding him now also allows Washington to wait on Wall, clean up their salary cap and restart the contention process. The organization can also explore signing Beal to an extension this season (3-year, $111.8 million) or next.

None of this means anything to other NBA teams hoping to pry Beal away.

The New Orleans Pelicans dialed up the Wizards. The San Antonio Spurs are interested.

Logically so are the Celtics, Nets and several other teams looking to make a bold move now that the Warriors suffered two crushing injuries and the Lakers already went all in. The Knicks could enter the trade talks should Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant bypass the Big Apple.

Regardless, the Wizards appear cool with keeping their best player and with good reasons.


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With John Wall's injury in mind, defense should be big priority for Wizards in 2019 draft

With John Wall's injury in mind, defense should be big priority for Wizards in 2019 draft

The Wizards will not truly know what they have in John Wall following his Achilles surgery until he returns to game action, and that may not be until the 2020-21 season. He is expected to be out at least 11 months, but there is a chance he misses a full year and owner Ted Leonsis has already endorsed the idea, if it is the best course for his recovery.

The Wizards, though, can start taking measures for Wall's return as soon as this week with Thursday's NBA Draft. Using the draft, trades and free agency, they can begin to build a roster around Wall to increase the odds he comes back an effective player.

Much of the analysis of how Wall will be affected by the injury has focused on the offensive end and whether he will lose some of his trademark speed. But there is an argument to be made that the defensive end will be a larger concern and the best area to find Wall some help.

Offensively, Wall will still have strengths to play to even if he is no longer the fastest, quickest player on the court. He is one of the league's best passers. When committed, he rebounds well for his position. And he could expand his game to the post with a size advantage over most of his opponents.

Would a more consistent three-point shot help? Sure, but he can still be effective.

Defensively, it might be a struggle and especially early on. He will be tasked with staying in front of cat-quick point guards like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker. Wall already had his defensive issues before the surgery and matters will only be more difficult now after an injury known for affecting lateral quickness.

What the Wizards can do is try to build a defensive foundation around Wall to mitigate those potential problems. They can surround him with physical perimeter defenders and install rim protection behind him. Then, Wall would be asked to do less. He could focus on playing sound team defense and directing his opponents into traffic created by his teammates.

The problem is that the Wizards will essentially have to build their defense from scratch. Though they have some capable defenders like Bradley Beal and Troy Brown Jr., and though Dwight Howard's rebounding will help, the Wizards are coming off a year in which they had one of the worst defensive units in the league. 

The Wizards were 27th in defensive rating and 29th in points allowed. They gave up the fifth-most three-pointers and at the fourth-highest percentage. And they surrendered more field goals within five feet of the rim than any other team.

Defense has been highlighted as a major long-term need by the Wizards' current staff, though they still hold the 'interim' label until further notice. Under head coach Scott Brooks, the team has made strides on offense but has lost their way defending the ball. They want more balance moving forward.

Several of Brooks' assistants are not under contract for next season and the team has explored hiring a defensive specialist, according to a person with knowledge of their plans. One assistant who could be replaced is Maz Trakh. He is in contract limbo and has not been present at the team's pre-draft workouts.

NBA coaches, though, can only do so much. A defensive renaissance will have to come from the players.

The Wizards will have some options that could help when they are on the board with the ninth overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft. It could be a shot-blocker like Bol Bol, Brandon Clarke or Jaxson Hayes. Nassir Little would add toughness to the perimeter. Sekou Doumbouya would give them versatility.

Revamping their defense probably wouldn't include re-signing Bobby Portis or Jabari Parker, the latter of which has a team option the Wizards are likely to decline later this month. Thomas Bryant and Tomas Satoransky aren't lockdown defenders, either, but do offer some upside on that end.

With limited money to spend, free agency won't offer any quick fixes for the Wizards. The best they could likely do is find cheap players to help begin an overall culture change. 

When it comes to the draft, the Wizards do not have the luxury to draft solely for need. They have to get the best player available, no matter the position. That could even be a point guard, despite Wall being due $170 million over the next four years.

But it might be smart to favor defense over offense and the same applies to free agency and beyond. That approach could come in handy once Wall is ready to go.