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Morning tip: Defensive inadequacies unravel Wizards on 0-2 road trip

Morning tip: Defensive inadequacies unravel Wizards on 0-2 road trip

When the Mavericks made 16 three-point shots last year, it was because Wes Matthews was hot.

The Wizards didn't have the personnel required to defend the arc consistently and the opponent was just a better team at that time. 

Fast forwards just more than a year. In their first meeting of this season, the 10-win Mavericks didn't need Matthews making 10 threes. He only made two. But the rest of his teammates converted 15 more in a 113-105 win Tuesday at American Airlines Center. For the first time in a long itme, Wizards coach Scott Brooks was beyond agitated by what he witnessed.

"We got outworked. I haven't said that a lot this year with our team," said Brooks. "They were moving the ball. We were hoping they would miss. Not doing a very good job of making them miss."

The Wizards (16-18) head back to Verizon Center on a two-game losing streak after a back-to-back set. They also had games on the table late that they could've/should've won at the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs but failed to execute to end regulation.

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This region of the West hasn't been kind to Washington, now 3-12 on the road. They've yet to beat a team from the West there.

When they're playing well, the Wizards can score with anyone because of John Wall and Bradley Beal. But if their bench isn't productive, they have to be more connected defensively to make up the difference. 

Dallas, which had 17 points from Devin Harris and 16 from Seth Curry off the bench, scored 43 points. It was similar to what Eric Gordon did en route to a season-high 31 points for the Houston Rockets in a 101-91 win vs. the Wizards on Monday.

Gordon made 6 of 12 threes in part because the Wizards lost containment. When Nene would swoop to the rim, they'd suck in to try to stop the 7-footer who has trouble finishing in traffic. That would open up Gordon at the arc for wide-open looks on the extra pass. 

The game in Dallas wasn't much different.

"We were defending with no purpose. We were giving open looks from the three-point line. They made 17? They could've made 30," Brooks said. "Unacceptable how we played."

Beal had 25 points and had plenty of clean looks from deep as the Mavericks' defense was nothing to brag about either. But he didn't make his, going just 3-for-11 though his last make cut the deficit to 110-105 with 2:12 left. "We just showed spurts of playing solid defense, palying well. We couldn't get stops. We just keep shooting oursevles in the foot by our defensive efforts."

The Mavericks are the NBA's worst-scoring team, 95.6. The Miami Heat were in a similar position earlier this season and scored 114. The Orlando Magic, too, and they dropped in 124. 

While the offensive explosiveness has been better than anyone could've expected, the defensive problems were unforseen. Brooks has emphasized that side of the ball since the first day of training camp, and with Markieff Morris instead of Jared Dudley as the starting power forward the Wizards have the capability of being better defensively. And better at rebounding. It hasn't happened. 

"We felt like we could just beat them. We had a great situation, a great opportunity to come in and take advantage of it and we didn't," said Beal, who led an inspired effort at the end of the first half as the Wizards wiped out a 58-47 deficit with a 22-5 run. "We just didn't get stops when we needed to."

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So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

So the Wizards have gotten back in the playoff race and here's why

During the Wizards' recent 10-game surge, in which they have won seven games and vaulted back into the playoff race, there have been many reasons for their near-overnight transformation. The most dramatic change between now and the previous 36 games of this season, however, may be on the defensive end.

The Wizards, for much of this season, have been dreadful on defense. They are 23rd in the league in defensive rating (111.1) and have allowed the second-most points per game (115.8) of any team. The latter has them on pace to allow more points than any Wizards or Bullets team has since 1970.

But lately, they have flipped the narrative. In their last 10 games going back to Dec. 29, the Wizards are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating (106.4). 

On Monday, they held the Pistons to only 87 points, a season-low for a Washington opponent. That included a 34-point first half for Detroit, the fewest the Wizards have given up in a half this season.

The previous season-low for points scored in one half against the Wizards was set in their last game when the Knicks scored 37 in the second half on Thursday. That means the Wizards gave up only 71 points across four quarters, the equivalent of a full game.

The Knicks and Pistons are 23rd and 25th in scoring this season, respectively, but that remains an impressive stretch for the Wizards' defense. They are locking up opponents and coming away with victories.

"Our defense, overall, has just been better," forward Jeff Green said after the 101-87 win over the Pistons. "We’ve been communicating and not allowing teams to get a lot of offensive rebounds, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. We’ve been on the same page defensively."

Against the Pistons, the Wizards allowed only two offensive rebounds, tying the fewest they've surrendered this season. It helped the Pistons were missing Andre Drummond, but that remains no small feat for the Wizards, who give up more offensive boards (11.7/g) than any team.

Like Green, head coach Scott Brooks mentioned the rebounds after Monday's win. 

"We give ourselves a chance to win every night if we can win the rebounding game," he said.

Indeed, the Wizards are a perfect 11-0 this season when they win the rebounding margin. In games they either lose the rebounding margin or tie, they are 9-26.

As the Wizards have shown all season, rebounding is a crucial part of defense. Forcing an opponent to miss a shot is only part of the battle. The stop is completed once the defensive rebound is reeled in.

Defense and rebounding have been major problems for the Wizards this season and both deal with effort. Because of that, Brooks and his players have often lamented a lack of want-to in the Wizards' lowest moments.

Recently, the effort has been there. It probably has something to do with the desperation of losing three key players - John Wall, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard - to injuries. With what's left on their roster, they don't have the luxury of starting slow or losing focus in games. The margin for error is thin.

But the Wizards' improvement on defense can also be credited to a midseason roster makeover done by their front office. They changed the team's defensive DNA with guys like Trevor Ariza, Chasson Randle, and Sam Dekker. In these past 10 games, all three have posted defensive ratings under 105. They have infused the Wizards' rotation with a blue-collar approach to team defense.

Ariza, of course, deserves most of the credit. He has built a 15-year career off hard-nosed perimeter defense. 

This week, Brooks explained how Ariza's discipline has been integral in the Wizards' recent turnaround.

"Trevor definitely helps," Brooks said. "He's not going to get a stop every time, but he's going to give you great effort. He's not going to gamble a lot. He's not going to take the immature chances that might lead to a steal and a dunk in transition, but most likely it's not. He doesn't take those gambles."

Defense and the Wizards have not been synonymous for most of this season. But over the past 10 games, they have played with a new identity and it might be the key to saving their season.

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Rockets will finally trade Carmelo Anthony to Bulls, where they plan to cut him, per reports

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Rockets will finally trade Carmelo Anthony to Bulls, where they plan to cut him, per reports

The Houston Rockets will trade Carmelo Anthony to the Chicago Bulls, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

Anthony, a six-time All-NBA selection and 10-time All-Star, has not played for the Rockets since Nov. 8. Discontent between the two-sides in his first season with the team prevented Anthony from being a piece in a championship contending team. 

However, his tenure on the Bulls will be short lived. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago will move on from one of the best scorers from the 2000s. Wojnarowski also later reported that the Bulls will cut Anthony.

Upon him getting cut by the Bulls, Anthony will become a free agent (again) if he clears waivers. Chicago at 11-38 is a team that appears to be tanking for the 2019 NBA Draft and look to be moving assets to prepare for a push this summer.

Before the Rockets refusal to play Anthony, he averaged 13.4 points on 40.5 percent shooting and 32.8 percent from deep in 10 games.

If Anthony is willing to take a pay cut, another playoff team could be looking to bolster their depth.

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