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Morning tip: Injuries force Wittman to abandon 'old school'


Morning tip: Injuries force Wittman to abandon 'old school'

Think the game earlier in the week against the Cleveland Cavaliers looked unusual for the Wizards, with 6-7 Jared Dudley playing center to take advantage of Kevin Love? It grew more strange Friday when Otto Porter played there in the second half, Garrett Temple logged time as a power forward while John Wall shifted to small forward.

Both games produced victories, with the Wizards (8-9) even more depleted by injuries to frontline players Nene (calf), Drew Gooden (calf),  Kris Humphries (ankle) and Marcin Gortat not available (personal leave).

"I told them at a 6-foot-5 and under league we’d be pretty good," coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to edge the Suns 109-106. "Even with that, that’s the most points we’ve had in the paint all year. Fifty."

A frequent, and fair, criticism of Wittman is that he can be stubborn. That's probably true of anyone who played for the legendary Bobby Knight.

"Witt’s old school. He rarely ever changes anything. He’s more of a two big offense guy, go in then post, having points in the paint, that’s what he’s all about, and shooting threes," said Bradley Beal, who exploded in the second half of 24 of his 34 points. "This is the total opposite but that’s just the way the game’s transforming and that’s the makeup of our team, too. It just shows how disciplined we can be, how versatile we can be as well."

Dudley started at power forward but when the third quarter tipped he was on the bench while Temple took his spot. Wittman felt like Dudley was overextended playing 17 minutes in the first half and wanted him fresh for the fourth.

"I pride myself in my versatility. Jared Dudley made a comment after shootaround, ‘Temp, man , get ready to play some four tonight,'" said Temple, who rattled Eric Bledsoe on the perimeter in the first half and clashed with Markieff Morris on the low block in the fourth. "We were laughing about it but it actually came to fruition. The small lineup worked out for us. We did a good job of playing hard and talking, boxing out. We outrebounded (them) even though we had such a small lineup on there."

Wall gave way to Ramon Sessions as the primary ball-handler. 

"I wouldn’t have believed I’d be playing the three position," Wall said. "It’s an opportunity to get in there and rebound more. When you get the opportunity to rebound you just push it. Certain teams want to have certain players matched up against a certain person. When they’re missing shots and you pushing the pace its hard to find (him)."

What makes these lineups so successful? In Cleveland, the Wizards stretched a three-point lead in the second quarter to 10 in 2:34. They played a seven-minute stretch of the fourth of that game with the same lineup, with Dudley in the middle, to compensate for Gortat being saddle with foul trouble. They make up for their lack of size with quickness and recovering to help. It puts pressure on the offense to make the right reads. They front the post and bring help from the weakside. It becomes a matter of who blinks first.

"When we had that five out there that’s a great group of defensive guys that knows how to communicate and talk," Wall said of Sessions, Beal, Temple and Porter. "It’s kind of easy when you know you’re talking early. We’re switching this. We already talked about it so you know when the pick-and-roll coming you don’t have to worry about a certain call being called or you getting beat off the dribble. You already know what we want to do."

When injuries aren't an issue and Wittman's team is struggling, will he remember these times and junk up his rotation? 

"I loved it. Sometimes I think we get caught up into adjusting to other teams," Beal said. "We need to make them adjust to us. I think we did that."

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Wizards were reportedly unwilling to trade Bradley Beal in potential Jimmy Butler deal

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Wizards were reportedly unwilling to trade Bradley Beal in potential Jimmy Butler deal

A sluggish start and a handful of woefully inefficient defensive efforts had the Wizards looking for answers early into the 2018-19 NBA season.

But making a major trade was not something the Washington front office was willing to do. As the Jimmy Butler saga reached its climax in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves reportedly attempted to strike of a conversation with the Wizards regarding Bradley Beal.

The details, reported by Marc Stein in his latest New York Times newsletter (via ProBasketballTalk), are minimal, but it sounds like the Wizards quickly brushed the discussion aside as Beal has remained off-limits in their eyes.

Word is the Wolves did try to engage Washington — another team falling well short of expectations — in trade talks for the sharpshooting guard Bradley Beal. But the Wizards have kept Beal off limits amid their 4-9 start. They would naturally prefer to trade the struggling Otto Porter, or perhaps even John Wall, but both possess hard-to-move contracts. 

Otto Porter, like many of his teammates, started the season in the wrong direction. But trading Porter is a tricky situation, one the Wizards organization probably doesn't want to pursue given the contract he was signed to just over a year ago. Trying to trade John Wall would be even more difficult.

Ultimately, the Timberwolves dealt Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Wizards rattled off weekend wins over ht eHeat and Magic, and while not equal to making a blockbuster trade, it does show that the Wizards can make an internal fix to what ails them. 



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Otto Porter Jr., Ian Mahinmi react to new reality under Scott Brooks where minutes aren't guaranteed

Otto Porter Jr., Ian Mahinmi react to new reality under Scott Brooks where minutes aren't guaranteed

Through his first two seasons in Washington, Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was not known to make significant adjustments to his lineup. In his first season coaching the Wizards, 2016-17, he didn't really need to. They had the best season for the franchise, 49-33, since the 1970s.

Last year, the tweaks he made were largely by necessity. John Wall missed 41 games and he had to adjust.

What Brooks has been doing in recent games with his Wizards' rotation are something we haven't really seen before. First, he benched Ian Mahinmi for three games. Then, he sat Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. in the fourth quarter. 

Morris returned to play fourth quarter minutes on Monday in their win against the Magic, but Porter remained on the bench, sitting in the last seat on the end with a towel over his head, rising periodically to clap and cheer on his teammates.

Such is life for the Wizards right now. They are off to a 4-9 start, well below their standards, and Brooks is doing whatever he can to right the ship. So far, those decisions have paid off, as they have won two straight games for the first time this season.

"We weren't winning, so I had to make some changes," Brooks said.

Brooks, it appears, has reached a new point in his tenure with the Wizards. He is willing to sit key players in his rotation, and ones that happen to make a good deal of money. Porter is the highest-paid player on the team, carrying a salary of $26 million and Mahinmi is not far behind at $15.9 million.

As Brooks insists, it isn't quite as simple as him deciding to bench a player. It has much to do with the flow of the game and how he simply has more options at his disposal this year.

Instead of Morris and Porter, he has rolled with Austin Rivers and Jeff Green in the fourth quarter. Both Rivers and Green weren't on the team last season.

Rivers gives them more speed in a three-guard lineup and plays physical defense on the perimeter. Green has been shooting lights-out and is one of their most versatile players on both ends of the floor.

The added depth on the Wizards' roster has set in a new reality for Brooks. The players are beginning to understand that.

"We do have depth. That's the thing," Porter said. "We have so many good players that are interchangeable. We're just finding ways to win."

"It is definitely evolving into something different that I haven't seen before," Mahinmi said. "I remember a few years back, it was a defined first unit and second unit. If the second unit was going, he would let them run and let it ride. With this roster, we have even more flexibility than last year."

Porter played just 22 minutes against the Magic. He has been held to under 24 minutes in three straight games. The lack of playing time has crushed his numbers. He has just 21 total points in those three outings.

Mahinmi is averaging only 14.1 minutes per game this season, his fewest since 2010-11. And that number is skewed by the fact he started six games to begin the year with Dwight Howard nursing an injury.

The evolving rotation has required an adjustment for the players. Though it doesn't change how they prepare for games, they now understand that surprises can happen.

"He's made a whole lot of change from a game-to-game basis. I'm with [everyone else]. I'm seeing it has it goes," Mahinmi said. "[It's like] 'I guess I'm not playing tonight.' Just stay ready. That's part of being a professional."

Mahinmi says he and other players aren't owed an explanation from Brooks when he makes those changes. And he is quick to say it doesn't bother him.

"As long as we win, I'm happy," he said.