If push comes to shove, Markieff Morris won't have a problem doing the shoving. Giannis Antetokounmpo found that out the hard way, and Wizards coach Scott Brooks wants to see more of it.
But the forward who posted 23 points and nine rebounds in an upset over the L.A.Clippers on Dec. 18 didn't resurface until Monday, when he had 18 points in a late comeback from 10 points down to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 107-102.
"We definitely know that he plays better when he has that edge. Maybe I should pick a pregame fight with him every game," said Brooks, after Morris had set the tone for a physical game in which he had bad blood with Antetokounmpo and Matthew Dellavedova. "When he has that edge he's much better. He has to be able to start the game that way."
For Morris, who has had trouble avoiding fouls, a lot has to do with whistles. He has had to sit early because of cheap ones on reach-ins. If he's allowed to assert himself, he can be more effective but he also has to use better judgment and adjust to game officials.
"With some guys, you're allowed to play with that edge," Morris said about game officials after Tuesday's practice. "Some games you aren't. It was one of those games we needed that edge to win."
Following the win vs. L.A. Morris had just six points on 2-for-9 shooting in a 107-105 loss to the Indiana Pacers. He only had eight in a 107-97 win over the Chicago Bulls.
What makes Morris so valuable is that he can defend traditional bigs at power forward and step away from the rim to compete with "stretch" types at the four spot. He will fall asleep when defending off ball, which is how Jabari Parker had such a good outing in the Wizards' 27-point loss to Milwaukee on Friday. His rebounding average could be higher (5.7).
Morris hit the go-ahead shot in Monday's rematch with the Bucks for a 99-98 lead the Wizards never trailed again. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter did everything else.
"Offensively he can score in different areas from the floor. Defensively he has some challenging moments beause he's guarding players he's not used to guarding," said Brooks of Morris, who didn't have as much experience playing this way during his first four-plus years with the Phoenix Suns. "The shooting fours are a thing that's here. It's not going anywhere. He's going to have to continue to improve and always know where his man is and be able to close all the way out to the three-point shooters. When he plays with that edge we're a much better team."
Skillwise, Morris is the Wizards' third-best player. They call isos for him in the low post and even away from the basket. They rely on him more in these sets than Porter who does his best work moving without the ball. Morris' passing ability is an underrated part of his game, too.
"When I caught it in the post they were doubling me, too. I was just cutting it in the right spots, finding the right spots to get open. It was just one of those games," Morris said of the Bucks. "They were loading up a lot on Brad."
He feels like they owe the Pacers who escaped with a win that shouldn't have been. It'll be clear immediately if Morris brings that same attitude for tonight's game at Verizon Center.
"We got to get this one, just like the Milwaukee game." he said. "Sometimes you got to get the ball in your hands to make those plays."
That means he wants to be involved in the offense more early. The Pacers could have their hands full much like the Bucks.
"He has that mind-set, he has that killer instinct," Beal said. "If you're his teammate, he's rocking with you. If you're on the other team he's all against you. That's the guy you always want to have around you. He lit a fire under everybody."