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Morning tip: Defense dominates Wizards' focus for Game 4 vs. Hawks

Morning tip: Defense dominates Wizards' focus for Game 4 vs. Hawks

ATLANTA -- The Wizards can take solace in that they haven't played anywhere near their best game and lead the series with the Atlanta Hawks, but tonight can make or break either team. The emphasis has been on defense going into Game 4, an area where Bradley Beal has prospered individually but slacked off team-wise.

"I feel like if I'm not going to shoot the ball, you're not going to shoot the ball," Beal said of his matchup with Tim Hardaway, who he has held to 10-for-34 shooting. "That's been my mind-set. I can't solely focus on him because my helpside defense hasn't been good because of that mindset of mine. I got to get out that selfish mentality. Get back to playing team ball."

Beal is hardly the only one to slip. John Wall and Brandon Jennings couldn't keep the ball out of the paint in their individual matchups. Dennis Schroder, who is not knowing for his stroke from distance, started 6-for-8 from the field.

It debilitated into a one-man show with Wall dropping a game-high 29 points. It wasn't until Beal had four points in the fourth quarter that he joined him in double figures. No other started reached that level, with Markieff Morris, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat combining to shoot 8-for-25 en route to a 116-98 loss.

"We didn't have that same urgency we had the first two games. Give them credit they outplayed us," said coach Scott Brooks. " That first quarter they had a lot of good shots. We gave them a lot of good opporutnities to have a lot of good shots. We gave up a lot of easy shots that first quarter. Thirty-eight points. You can have a bad shooting start but you shouldn't be down nearly 20 points if you have the defensive mentality we have to have to win a playoff series."

Sunday, the Wizards didn't delve too deep into the film. After about 90 minutes of practice time, they sat down with the coaching staff to revisit what took place. The Hawks scored 60 points in the paint but didn't do anything special to knock them off their game. They missed open looks and allowed it to affect them on the other end. 

"We watched the first six or seven minutes of the game. There were no complaints about our offense," Brooks said. "We had a lot of pretty good looks. I can't complain about that. What I can complain about is the defense we had. We gave them a lot of opportunties in transition. We fouled. And ones, open threes, I think they got eight layups in that first quarter."

More Wizards: Despite beef, Dennis Schroeder asked John Wall to workout after the playoffs

The Wizards weren't in the passing lanes. They didn't force the Hawks out of the operational zone in front of the basket, failing to deny passing lanes aggressively and disrupt the motion offense. They failed to cover the pick-and-roll properly, with Beal being among the biggest culprits when it comes to rotating to help stop Dwight Howard's dives. 

"We do want to do a better job of guarding the ball. Not just him," Brooks said of Wall's matchup with Schroder. "The ball was loose the entire first quarter with all of their players. It's not just John. The ball was very comfortable, let's just say that."

Otto Porter had to leave the game in the second half with a stinger in his neck that came after a collision. He should be OK to start tonight.

"It's just mind-set. Everybody has to be on the same string," Porter said. "Sticking to our game plan defensively, just coming out and playing hard."

More Wizards: Brandon Jennings explains why 'John with the shades' should win MVP

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

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