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Morning tip: Figuring out how to win on road remains hurdle for Wizards

Morning tip: Figuring out how to win on road remains hurdle for Wizards

As good as the opening 12 minutes were for the Wizards, the third quarter vs. the Houston Rockets turned out to be a disaster that flipped the momentum of the game. A loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the second game of a back-to-back tonight would constitute two steps back but they're still in a good spot to get back to .500.

The Wizards, who have won eight in a row at Verizon Center, are just 3-11 on the road after Monday's 101-91 loss vs. a potent offensive team.

"We play for 48 minutes at home," said John Wall, who had 18 points and 12 assists for his 21st double-double. "On the road we play for 24 minutes sometimes, sometimes 32. We got to play for the full 48. When we figure that out, when we don't have the crowd behind us on the road and we're not making shots we still got to defend at a high level."

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (16-17) with 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting but he could've had more had he looked more for his shot. There were opportunities as the Rockets were slow to close him out on pindowns from Marcin Gortat. 

The Wizards held them to 14 points in the first quarter, a season low, but the outcome turned after halftime when Washington lost a 53-41 lead. 

"I thought we had too many mitsakes defensively and they capitalized with threes. I think they made seven threes in that quarter. Then we had six turnovers," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "The combination of both those things happening created that 37-17 quarter. I thought we played a pretty good game throughout the game. You just take away seven or eight minutes in that third quarter."

The lead quickly evaporated because of the giveaways. The Wizards had 17 that led to 15 points for Houston which isn't noted for its defensive prowess. But to start the third quarter there was no rhythm to the Wizards' offense because of the uneven sets in the halfcourt. The transition buckets dried up as well.

"We didn't come out with the same intensity offensively. We knew there was going to be a time in the game when they were going to make shots," Wall said. "We weren't being as aggressive. They were trying to trap me and Brad and get the ball out of our hands."

As well as the Wizards' bench has played in recent games, including 50 points in a blowout of the Brooklyn Nets last weekend, they needed more from them than 13 points against an elite West team. Eric Gordon, a starter for his career until he signed with Houston as a free agent, had 31 of the Rockets' 42. He made 6 of 12 from deep.

"Sometimes we would rotate for no reason. Be in the lane when we shouldn't have been," said Beal. "We gave up some easy catch-and-shoot threes that anybody in the league can make."

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards loss to Rockets]

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually exist. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclomations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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