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Morning tip: Gortat sees maturation of Wall and Beal

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Morning tip: Gortat sees maturation of Wall and Beal

ORLANDO -- While much will be made of the summit meeting held by John Wall and Bradley Beal midway through the fourth quarter of the Wizards' comeback win over the Magic, overlooked was Marcin Gortat's role. He had his input, and his re-telling of what went down is quite colorful.

"I was a witness when these two were talking to each other, exchanging the words, and I tell them, ‘Hey man, you two are the best players on the team but as the third-best player on the team I’m telling you right now it ain't going to work if you two aren't on the same page,’" Gortat said after Thursday's practice. "I said to both of them, 'You two are incredible, talented players and we need different things from both of you. We need you to get aggressive and shoot the ball and we need from you to be the creator push the fast break and make everybody better. At the end of the day we win or die with you.'"

Trailing for most of the fourth quarter, Wall and Beal combined for 19 of their 46 points there. Wall had three of his career-high five blocks. They made plays on both ends of the floor and it culminated with a floater from Wall with 13 seconds left for the winner, 88-87. The duo took 13 of the 18 shots by the starters in the fourth.

Gortat continued about the conversation from his viewpoint: "'It’s not like you two are going to sit down and all of a sudden there’s going to be another two people that’s going to lead this team. It won’t happen like that. ... I’ve seen a lot of maturity from them. They’re different type of players from last year. Working together they changed the game by themselves. …Three years ago they had no clue how to do it."

Keeping things in context, after tonight's game at the Milwaukee Bucks there will be 80 games left so it's premature to say Wall and Beal have arrived. And the win in Orlando came against a team that has averaged 22.6 wins for the last three seasons. But there have been chemistry issues with Gortat and the backcourt in his previous two seasons, particularly on the defensive end, so his praise is a positive sign.

"They understood that either you’re going to cooperate or you’re going to destroy the team. That’s how it is. It's just like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, they’re going to cooperate, they’re going to work together and win games or they’re going to actually (expletive) up the whole team," Gortat said. "That’s how it is. These two guys, they’re smart enough, bright enough, they understand we win or lose, we’re going to die with them.

"I set about a million screens. I didn’t even have one post-up touch. I don’t care. As long as we get these two guys rolling, as long as we’re winning games, I don’t care."

There's a lot of grunt work behind the scenes that takes place which can be attributed to veterans of seasons past (Trevor Ariza, Paul Pierce and Al Harrington) and present (Gortat, Nene and Drew Gooden) and coach Randy Wittman. He had to break down Wall from being erratic offensively and lacking discipline on defense and rebuild him into a two-time All-Star who not only sees the game differently but prepares more like a professional.

"You got to have that quality on your team, guys that are going to make plays in the crunch. Good teams have it," Wittman said. "We’ve worked a number of years on development with both the guys. They played with confidence down the stretch.

"It’s not made over night. You got to be able to be a guy that handles missing the shot at the end of the game and be ready the next game to take the same shot. Your skin has got to be thick."

Wall and Beal have had their issues with each other on the court. Who's responsibility is it? Who's fault is it? Who will take the last shot? They'll exchange words but it's nothing personal.

“The more you play together, the more you learn about each other. That’s life, too," Wittman said. "My first year with my wife was a lot different than the 31st year. It’s a process of understanding what buttons you can push with each other, which you might not know the first couple years playing together. It’s a process of understanding those qualities in each other and how to deal with each other, in tough times as well as good times."

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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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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

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

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