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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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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant John Wall on his podcast

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USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still cant John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."

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Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

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USA Today Sports

Why the 20-game marker of the season counts for these Wizards

The Washington Wizards improved to 5-9 with Wednesday’s 119-95 enjoyable destruction of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their three-game winning streak pushed the Wizards within 1 ½ games of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Nobody should burn much energy on the postseason chase in mid-November. However, history suggests trouble brewing if they don’t crack the top-8 this season by Nov. 26.

The date doesn’t actually matter. It’s about where it falls on Washington’s schedule. There is no true line of demarcation to indicate when those analyzing a team’s season can forgo with the “it’s still early” caveat.

Many suggest 20 regular season games eclipse small sample size talk. The Wizards hosts reigning NBA Most Valuable Player James Harden and the Houston Rockets on that post-Thanksgiving evening.

When it comes to projecting which teams will make the playoffs, that 20-game marker proves quite accurate. That is why the Wizards need to continue surging.

Each season 16-playoff spots are available, split evenly between the Eastern and Western Conference. The league-wide schedule doesn’t work out cleanly where all NBA teams reach 20 games at the exact same time so we’ll use the Wizards’ as the pivot point.

Over the last five seasons, teams that occupied a playoff berth at the point where the Wizards played their 20th game held on to one of those 16 annual slots 83.7 percent of the time.

2017-18

East -- At the point Washington played 20 games, 7 of 8 teams seated in a playoff berth held on over the course of 82 games. The Pistons fell from second to the lottery while the Heat moved from 9th place into the elite eight. (Wizards start 7th at 11-9, finish 8th at 43-39)

West – 7 of 8. Nuggets fall; Thunder rise.

2016-17

East -- 5 of 8. Hornets, Knicks, Pistons; Pacers, Hawks, Wizards. (Wizards start 12th at 7-13, finish 4th at 49-33)

West – 8 for 8


2015-16

East -- 7 of 8. Bulls; Pistons. (Wizards start 11th at 9-11, finish 10th at 41-41)

West -- 7 of 8. Jazz; Blazers

2014-15

East -- 7 of 8. Magic; Celtics. (Wizards start T-2 at 14-6, finish 5th at 46-36)

West -- 7 of 8; Suns; Pelicans

2013-14

East -- 6 of 8. Pistons, Celtics; Raptors, Nets. (Wizards start 7th at 9-11, finish 5th at 44-38)

West -- 6 of 8. Nuggets, Suns; Warriors, Grizzlies.

Within each situation, explanations exist. The 2015-16 Bulls began the season with core players available, but their top-4 scorers including Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose missed a combined 50 games. Most of those absences came after the 20-game mark.

The 2017-18 Thunder needed an extra beat to find a rhythm with newly added All-Star Paul George. From an 8-20 start, they finished fourth in the Western Conference.

These 5-9 Wizards have their own tale. Eight of their opening 12 games were on the road. Washington lost six of eight. It also began the season without starting center Dwight Howard for the first seven games and opened 1-6.

“I think it’s different for team to team,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of how and when to assess teams early in seasons. “I think for [the Wizards], they’ve played a brutal schedule and then when you have a guy (Howard) who is going to be a big part of your team but is injured and couldn’t practice, it’s going to be longer even though they have a core group that has played together. …No matter what, schedule and health are a big part of it.”

Those aren’t the only factors, of course. Sometimes teams start as they finish. The Wizards going from 3-9 to 49 wins is often mentioned as the potential for this season, which began 2-9. Few note the 2015-16 campaign, the final one before head coach Scott Brooks’ arrival. That Washington team, loaded with upcoming free agents just like the current squad, essentially remained outside the playoff picture throughout.

Will these Wizards follow one of those paths or forge another? We’ll find out over the months ahead. Of course, just making the playoffs was never the goal for a team that reached the postseason in four of the previous five seasons. That’s according to Wizards owner Ted Leonsis.

“Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round then we didn’t meet our goals,” Leonsis said in September.

For the franchise’s first 50-win since the 1978-79 season, the Wizards need a 45-23 record over the final 68 games. That 66.2 winning percentage required would have placed Washington third in the Eastern or Western Conference last season.

To advance to the conference finals, the Wizards likely need homecourt advantage in at least the first round. Over the last five seasons that meant winning at least 48 games. History suggests there isn’t much change among the top-4 seeds as 75 percent (30 of 40) of the top-4 seeds at the point when the Wizards have played 20 regular season games maintain that status.

2017-18

East -- 3 of 4; 76ers 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Thunder T-9th to 4th

2016-17

East -- 3 of 4 (Wizards 12th to 4th)

West – 4 of 4

2015-16

East -- 3 of 4; Hawks rose from 8th to 4th, but their 58.5 winning percentage remained the same

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 4th

2014-15

East -- 3 of 4; Bulls 5th to 3rd

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

2013-14

East -- 2 of 4; Raptors 9th to 3rd, Bulls 8th to 4th

West -- 3 of 4; Clippers 5th to 3rd

If this three-game winning streak shows what is possible, the Wizards could reach the top-8 by the 20-game mark, though the schedule difficulty increases beyond Friday’s home meeting with Brooklyn. Also, look further up the standings. The Wizards are actually only three games out of the third seed; Indiana and Boston are 8-6.

The Wizards need to keep making moves, but they don’t need to fix all their ills over the next week either.

“They say it’s a marathon, and it is,” Brooks said after the Wizards fell to 1-6 on Oct. 30 following a loss in Memphis.

Brooks’ point was and is fair, but off-kilter starts can doom even Olympic runners over long distances. At some point along the journey, the pace must increase and assessments over what’s transpired kick in.