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Morning tip: Jason Smith's injury is a big deal for Wizards

Morning tip: Jason Smith's injury is a big deal for Wizards

Just as Jason Smith started to play his best basketball off the bench for the Wizards, making both of his shot attempts in a 122-108 win over the Detroit Pistons, he limped off the court after a collision. He's questionable going into today's game vs. the L.A. Clippers.

Smith appeared to bump knees but it turns out it was a right hamstring injury. That's better than the worst-case scenario from a 30-year-old who has had a history of knee injuries. The last one came in 2014. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee to end his 2008-09 season before it began. 

Overall, the bench has played so much better and it goes beyond the 30 points they combined to score led by Marcus Thornton's 11 vs. Detroit. They're maintaining leads and even extending them. They're getting quality looks in the half-court and not heaving up prayers to beat the shot clock. That includes Smith on the pick-and-pop action.

“Unfortunately Jason tweaked his hamstring. Don't know how long that will be. We'll see how it feels," said coach Scott Brooks after Friday's game. "We'll wait to the next day to really see how he feels and we'll go from there but I think our bench is doing a good job. We're still missing Ian (Mahinmi) but I think Trey (Burke) is finding a nice little roll. Marcus has done a good job. Kelly (Oubre) is really growing up in front of our eyes and that's what you want your young players to do. By challenging him every day. We're going to keep doing that, you're going to see growth. There is going to be spikes and there is going to be a little dropoffs. We're going to try to eliminate those dropoffs as much as can and just keep him growing and becoming a better defensive player. I think his offense is going to get better.”

Mahinmi, Brooks indicated before Friday's game, hasn't practiced with the Wizards and they'll have to see him do that before he has any chance to return from tendinitis in his right knee. They didn't practice Saturday which means Mahinmi won't play Sunday. If they do not have Smith, who at 7-0 is a forward/center, that could force rookie Daniel Ochefu into the rotation unless Brooks opts to go with  more small llineups. Starting center Marcin Gortat already is playing a career-high 35.4 minutes per game. Kelly Oubre (concussion) is out, too.

Smith's mid-range shot has started come come along. He was 5-for-9 for a season-high 12 points and seven rebounds in Wedneday's 109-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets. 


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Why the Wizards' road to a spot in the playoffs is a difficult one

Why the Wizards' road to a spot in the playoffs is a difficult one

There's plenty to be excited about as the Wizards return to the court following a nine-day All-Star break. 

Bradley Beal is playing his best basketball of the season (12-straight 25-point games), the team is as healthy as it's been all year, they've picked it up on the defensive end since the trade deadline (3rd in NBA) and Rui Hachimura has looked great since returning from injury. 

Washington also finds itself three games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the playoffs, and 4.5 games behind Brooklyn, who just lost Kyrie Irving for the season, for seventh. The Wizards are primed for a playoff push, much to the displeasure of a contingent of fans hoping for better odds in this year's draft lottery. 

The thing is, the Wizards' path to a playoff spot won't be easy. In fact, they're facing the second-hardest remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference and fourth-hardest overall, according to John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

Of the 29 games left in the 2019-20 season for Washington, they'll face a bottom-10 offense more than a top-10 offense, but they'll have to deal with a top-10 defense 12 times versus nine bottom-10 defenses. As of the All-Star break, the Wizards' remaining opponents sport a .531 winning percentage.

Their remaining schedule also features three meetings with the Bucks, two each with the Celtics and Sixers, and matchups with the Raptors, Rockets, and Heat.

To make things even tougher on the Wizards, the Magic have the second-easiest remaining schedule. Orlando also holds the tiebreaker over Washington since they bet the Wizards handily in all four meetings this season. For those wondering, Brooklyn has the sixth-easiest remaining schedule, and it's possible this group is better playing without Irving than with him. 

So if you're a Wizards fan who isn't quite sure whether chasing a high draft pick or getting young players experience in meaningful games is the better path, this is a win-win. 

If the difficult schedule results in a bunch of losses and the Wizards miss the playoffs, then hey, we'll see you at the lottery. But if the Wizards can still make the playoffs, despite a brutal schedule, it'd be pretty hard to be upset with that. 

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Wizards executive Sashi Brown on what's changed in his short tenure and what's still ahead

Wizards executive Sashi Brown on what's changed in his short tenure and what's still ahead

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards' practice facility in Congress Heights had been open for less than a calendar year when it was time to remodel once again. The team revamped their front office last summer and in came new people and new ideas. Changes were made to the front office both in terms of personnel and the actual office space itself.

Walls were knocked down to establish more of an open plan office, not unlike what Google re-popularized in the mid-2000s.

"We wanted to create some more open space," Wizards chief planning and operations officer Sashi Brown told NBC Sports Washington. "We're also getting ready to reveal a full design of the place that is more on the asthetic side."

Brown, who was hired in July, is always looking ahead. It is his job to install what he describes as "longer lead time items" for the Wizards, Mystics, Capital City Go-Go and Wizards District Gaming. They are all separate franchises in separate leagues, but under the same umbrella now known as Monumental Basketball.

Brown has his fingerprints on all four teams, but his impact may not yet be noticed by those on the outside. That's because a lot of what he does and plans to do takes time. 

And because of that, even describing his role can seem vague and nebulous. When it comes to the Wizards in particular, the bottom-line is that general manager Tommy Sheppard makes the basketball decisions while Brown and his staff do whatever they can to help make those decisions better reasoned and informed.

"I provide Tommy and [head coach Scott Brooks] and [assistant GM] Brett Greenberg and the rest of that staff as much support as we can through a player development and engagement function. Also, team operation as well and then certainly on the research and strategy side. They really could operate on their own if they absolutely needed to. We're here to supplement and enhance," Brown said.

The area Brown believes has changed the most so far in his seven months on the job is the overall approach to team medical, training and nutrition programs. It is now a streamlined, singular program that operates in concert with all of their basketball teams.

Dr. Daniel Medina, who was hired in July as Monumental Basketball's chief of athlete care and performance, has overseen that transition. According to Brown, there are no longer "separate staffs, separate physical therapists, separate athletic trainers for each team that operate independently."

Brown also helped recently when the WNBA was negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. As the Washington Post reported last month, Brown, a Harvard Law School grad, played a role in getting WNBA players who also serve as assistant coaches in the NBA - like Kristi Toliver of the Wizards - better compensation.

Much of what Brown will do to lift Monumental Basketball's teams is still in the works, he says. The Wizards, for instance, have made strides with analytics including with the hiring of assistant coach Dean Oliver. But more can be done both for them and the other franchises. Brown said there are plans to build out a more robust analytics operation for the defending-champion Mystics.

"Having data be part of the information that we consider when we are making these really important decisions and complex decisions, is I think a wise practice and something we fully embrace from Ted Leonsis and his partnership group all the way on down," Brown said.

Brown is pleased with the success and progress made so far during his tenure with Monumental Basketball. The Mystics won their NBA title soon after he took the job. And the Wizards, though with more losses than wins this season, have put together a notable nucleus of young players.

Last weekend, they had two representatives in the Rising Stars game - Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner - for the first time since 1995. Only John Wall and Bradley Beal had made the showcase as Wizards in the previous 15 years. Brown also mentioned Davis Bertans and Ish Smith as success stories, as veterans who have taken their game up a level since coming to Washington. 

But much of the heavy-lifting remains for the Wizards and part of Brown's job duties as chief planning and operations officer include staying ahead of the curve. Next month, he will head to Boston, MA for the Sloan Analytics Conference, an annual convention focused on the role of statistics in sports. He is set to speak on a panel, but will also be soaking up as much information as he can from others.

"The primary initiative is to learn and listen," he said. "I look forward to going up there and seeing how we can improve and get better."

The Wizards have not won 50 games or reached the conference finals since the 1970s. Getting them there will take time and it will require many steps. Brown is hoping the foundation he and his staff continue to put in place will help them reach those goals.

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