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Morning tip: Dudley pushes Wizards for more playing time


Morning tip: Dudley pushes Wizards for more playing time

The big game aside for Kris Humphries last week, when he made a career-high five three-point shots, it could be time for Jared Dudley to make his way into the starting lineup as the "stretch" power forward. Or at the very least, play more minutes off the bench.

Humphries didn't score in 17 minutes Saturday (only four in the second half), missing all seven shots. When the Wizards (6-4) erased an 11-point deficit in the third quarter, they did it with Dudley on the floor (16 minutes in second half).

Good things tend to happen when he's out there -- much like fellow reserves Nene and Garrett Temple -- despite a modest stat line of nine points on 3 of 4 shooting, one rebound and one steal in 27 minutes. He makes the right rotations on defense, the right reads on where to go with the ball and the proper box-outs to clear the path of a teammate to get the ball.

After a bad pass from Dudley to Marcin Gortat led to a three-pointer for Ersan Ilyasova for a 13-0 run and a 69-58 lead for Detroit, everything changed.

Alongside Nene, Ramon Sessions, Temple and Otto Porter, Dudley has returned from lower back surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back in July. He's averaging 21.7 minutes, but given how effective he continues to be late in games he may be a reserve in name only:

  • Dudley sets a screen on Reggie Jackson, pops outside the arc and buried a three over Ilyasova.

  • On the next possession, switches off Ilyasova, who set a back screen on Porter, and set up in front of the rim to stop Andre Drummond's roll to the basket after he'd set a screen on Sessions. It prevented a clean catch and finish by the Pistons' center who was held six rebounds under his season average. Ilyasova instead turned over the ball.

  • Down 73-66, Porter missed on a drive to the basket. Drummond grabbed the rebound and tried to make a long outlet to Jackson. Dudley, with his back to Drummond and running back on defense, looked up at the last second and deflected it. Before the ball bounced out, Dudley dove into the scorer's table to tap it back to Sessions who stepped into an open three-point shot. The deficit was down to 73-69.

  • Stanley Johnson's three rimmed out, and Dudley was right there to box out Anthony Tolliver and keep him off the glass. Dudley didn't get the ball, but it allowed Nene to get the rebound. 

  • Anticipating that Johnson was going to attack Sessions off the dribble as Tolliver tried to set a high screen, Dudley didn't hesitate to show over the top. He immediately jumped out to force Johnson to retreat on two occasions to take away Detroit's advantage to advance the ball. The edge Johnson had on Sessions is negated.

  • Sessions passes it across the floor as he brings the ball up the floor to Dudley, who blows by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for the layup and just as important, draw Drummond's fourth foul. He hit the foul shot to complete the three-point play for a 74-73 lead for Washington.

  • Spencer Dinwiddie brings the ball up and Tolliver tries to set a screen on Porter. Dudley, again, comes up quickly before any pick can be set to step the progress of the ball as he uses the sideline as an extra defender. When Dinwiddie backs out the ball -- and Dudley runs over to relocate Tolliver at the top of the key -- he tries to go forward down the sideline again. This time, Nene's man Aron Baynes tries to set the screen. Nene traps the ball on the sideline with Porter. It forces a skip pass to the weakside and a turnover by Detroit. Dudley won't get credit in a boxscore for this either, but his energy put this sequence in motion.

The Wizards entered the fourth quarter ahead 75-73 and would win their third game in a row. Dudley seems more comfortable than Humphries especially on the defensive end, but based on coach Randy Wittman's history it's unlikely he'd make a change anytime soon with the results being favorable.

The chemistry of the second unit is there and moving Humphries to it probably wouldn't work as well with Nene. What could be more likely is if Humphries doesn't have it going like when he scored a season-high 23 points Nov. 14, Dudley will earn a greater share of the minutes.

Drew Gooden is out of the rotation as a result of Dudley just as Temple's play has chewed into time originally slated for Gary Neal. The Wizards have options and a degree of unpredictability that will increase with Alan Anderson's eventual return. If a particular lineup or matchup isn't working, the ability to change and get results is the key to winning over 82 games.

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards squeeze by Pistons 97-95: Five takeaways

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Wizards set to represent NBA on global stage, hope to keep momentum rolling in London vs. Knicks


Wizards set to represent NBA on global stage, hope to keep momentum rolling in London vs. Knicks

The Wizards enter Thursday's matchup with the New York Knicks, set for 3 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington, with several factors working in their favor. For one, they have been playing quite well lately and have some momentum. Also, they are facing the Knicks, whom they have dominated for years, winning 17 of 19 meetings going back to 2013.

It's also technically a home game and the Wizards have been much better in those (13-8) than they have in road games. The problem is that this game is not actually at home, it's in London, England where many of the advantages the Wizards would otherwise hold are out the window.

The Wizards' recent upswing of five wins in eight games, all since it was revealed John Wall will miss the rest of the season due to left heel surgery, will be put to the test due to an unorthodox schedule. They last played on Sunday, a two-overtime loss to the Raptors, meaning they will have three off-days in between games.

They have only had three days off in between games one other time this season and that wasn't disrupted by a 3,700-mile flight across the world. They will also be dealing with a five-hour time change that was compounded by a seven-hour flight.

This game will be the only one for the Wizards across a stretch of seven days. After playing the Knicks on Thursday, they return home to see the Pistons on Monday, Jan. 21. They then have two more off-days before hosting the Warriors on Thursday. Staying sharp through all of this could be a challenge.

The fact the Wizards have to burn a home game is not ideal, given they are so much better in Washington than elsewhere. The same factors road games provide like travel and hotel rooms will still apply. The crowd could also be neutral or even pro-Knicks, removing what is usually a benefit of playing at Capital One Arena.

Several things should still work in the Wizards' favor, however. Not only have they owned the Knicks in recent years, but they won't have to face Enes Kanter, who did not travel with the team due to a dispute with the Turkish government. He has been particularly good against the Wizards this season with averages of 14.0 points and 15.5 rebounds per game.

Tim Hardaway Jr. (hamstring) and Mitchel Robinson (groin) are also banged up and did not play in the Knicks' last game on Sunday, a loss to the Sixers.

The Wizards also have a host of guys playing their best basketball of the season. Bradley Beal is looking like an All-Star with averages of 29.8 points (41.4 3PT%), 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds during the Wizards' eight-game surge.

Otto Porter Jr. has averaged 16.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from three during that stretch and Trevor Ariza hasn't been far behind with 15.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. 

The Wizards are fifth in the NBA in scoring (119.8), eighth in offensive rating (113.9) and 11th in defensive rating (109.4) in their past eight games. They are third in threes made per game (13.5) and seventh in three-point percentage (39.3).

Washington has reached a new level in recent weeks. Now they just have to keep it going despite all the unusual factors at play. They have a unique opportunity to represent the NBA on the global stage. Getting a win would make it all that much better.


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2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?


2019 NBA Trade Deadline: Will the Wizards be buyers, sellers, or standing pat?

The Wizards are in the midst of their best basketball of the season. That only makes the upcoming decisions surrounding the Feb. 7 trade deadline more challenging.

With Bradley Beal’s elite play fueling a surge before the team’s trek to London, Washington went 3-2 in five games against NBA contenders. Even one of the losses, Sunday’s double-overtime thriller against the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, provided hope for a playoff push and a bit more should the Wizards qualify.

The Wizards, 18-26 and two games back of a playoff berth entering the week, must pass three teams for the eighth seed. Six teams are currently jockeying for the final three spots in the Eastern Conference horse race. With a Secretariat-level kick, Washington could gallop all the way to sixth.

Remain bullish and perhaps the Wizards seek help rather sell off assets. Pulling that off without adding to the luxury tax bill would make team president Ernie Grunfeld quite the contortionist. If reaching the postseason for the fifth time in six years remains the goal, get twisty.

Now for some reasons why the organization might choose another path despite the ample pluck shown by the active players.

Since the 2012-13 season, a team sitting two or more games back of the eighth seed as of Jan. 1 reached the playoffs only three times, according to the website Basketball-Reference.

The idea of trading away players, namely those on expiring contracts, isn’t appealing for those focused solely on the current season’s potential. Doing so accomplishes several goals: 

  • Acquiring draft picks and player assets for a franchise with only five players under contract for the 2019-20 season and without a second-round selection until 2023. 
  • Potentially increase the team’s 2019 NBA Draft lottery odds. Washington currently has the sixth-best odds at the No. 1 overall selection. Landing that pick likely means selecting Duke’s runaway top prospect, Zion Williamson. 
  • Targeted trades could create future salary cap space. Washington’s projected 2019-20 salaries total $111 million, eclipsing the $109 million salary cap and leaving little wiggle room below the $132 luxury tax line. Of the five players under contract, only Beal, John Wall and Otto Porter are established building blocks. 
  • Eliminate some or all of this season’s entire $8.6 million luxury tax burden. Erasing the luxury tax altogether keeps the Wizards a bit further away from paying a higher tax rate as a repeater tax squad.

The key for league observers is proper self-evaluation, including fair expectations for Wall coming off another surgery. The latest occurred this month as repairing bones spurs digging into his left heel ended the five-time All-Star’s season.

Making moves for coveted first-round draft picks means taking on future salary, a likely scenario for most deadline trades involving rentals like Trevor Ariza.

“I don't think you can worry about clearing money for next year. You just need to avoid the tax,” a former NBA general manager told NBC Sports Washington. “If taking on money next year means getting close to (avoiding) the luxury tax threshold this year I'd be comfortable with that because I think they're more than one year away from fixing this. I would start to accumulate assets as quickly as I could.”

Whatever the future thoughts, there are current realities ranging from that luxury tax payment to season ticket plan renewals.

“Can’t separate basketball from business,” a current NBA team executive said. “We don’t play the game of basketball. We’re in the business of basketball.”

There’s also the playing of basketball. Try telling Beal the Wizards should regroup for next season when hopefully a healthy Wall returns and assets acquired at the trade deadline mature.

Beal, sensing external expectations dropping immediately after Wall’s surgery news, suggested doubters should stay tuned.

“I’m trying to shoot for the playoffs,” Beal said.

Since then he has recorded his second triple-double of his career with 45 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in 55 minutes against the Raptors. Beal is averaging 30.2 points over his last nine games.

This isn’t a one-man effort. Guard Tomas Satoransky also recorded a triple-double over the weekend while Ariza fell a rebound shy against Toronto. Big moments for Otto Porter, Thomas Bryant and Jeff Green come regularly.

Beal’s hopes and forewarning for doubters won’t stop many outside the organization from focusing on the allure of salary cap flexibility and asset gathering above all. Both sides have merit. Washington can only make substantive moves in one of those directions before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

Winning a seven-game playoff series is a lofty goal for a team yet to win more than three games consecutively all season and currently poised for the draft lottery. However, as state lottery promotions might say, you also cannot win if you don’t play.