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Morning tip: Oubre, Smith give hope to Wizards' improving 2nd unit

Morning tip: Oubre, Smith give hope to Wizards' improving 2nd unit

It's going to be difficult to sell any upside to the Wizards' season now that they've lost four of their last five games, but the second unit performed well enough in Monday's loss to give them hope in the bigger picture that's the playoffs.

The starters were flat in the 110-102 loss at the Boston Celtics. Otto Porter only played 22 minutes and didn't make a three-pointer (eight points). Marcin Gortat played a season-low 12 minutes (four points and four rebounds). John Wall didn't get a double-double for the second game in a row and Bradley Beal went cold after a hot start when he scored 12 points in 12 minutes but finished with just 19.

But it was Kelly Oubre leading an effort in the fourth quarter as the Wizards trimmed what had been a 20-point deficit to 106-100 by harassing Isaiah Thomas into mistakes to make it momentarily uncomfortable. Oubre's stat line of four points and four rebounds won't blow anyone away, but when the Wizards won the previous meeting coach Scott Brooks put Oubre on Thomas in the fourth quarter and held him to one field goal.

"That's what we need. He's actually been good for three games defensively," Brooks said. "There's no secret how I feel about that. I love his energy. I love his toughness. But I like to ssee it every time on the court. It's not a sometimey league. That's your role. You got to be speical in it. He has a chance to be speical, being that defensive guy."

Trailing 96-82 with 7:31 left, Brandon Jennings buried a three-pointer. After a timeout, Oubre jarred the ball loose from Jae Crowder to disrupt a possession and it led to a bad look for Avery Bradley as Boston's offense was disjointed. 

There was good ball movement on the next possession from Jennings to Jason Smith to Bojan Bogdanovic that led to free throws for the latter. A two-man game between Smith and Bogdanovic, who combined for 27 points and 11 rebounds, created a three-pointer for the former at 98-89. That cut the deficit to less than 10 for the first time since it was 58-49 just 32 seconds into the third quarter.

The Celtics had a spurt that put the lead back at 15 points with five minutes left, but Oubre then took the assignment on the NBA's top fourth-quarter scorer.  He stripped Thomas and both went diving into the backcourt for the loose ball. Oubre then got switched onto 6-10 post player Al Horford, defended him without help and blocked his jumper to force an airball. Oubre switched back onto Thomas and smothered his drive to help block his shot with Morris and gain possession.

Then as Thomas took the ball up the court following two free throws from Wall, Oubre picked his pocket and went in for a dunk to cut the deficit to six with 2:04 left. 

Jennings had 10 points and seven assists in just 15 minutes so when adding all of that up the Wizards have something with their reserves, particularly when they go smaller with Smith or Morris in the middle.

The starters, however, have to get back up to speed for it to matter.

[RELATED: Takeaways from Wizards' disappointing loss to Celtics]

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Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

Rui Hachimura has to set better screens, will have big challenge in Joel Embiid

WASHINGTON -- Wednesday's practice for the Washington Wizards had to be adjusted due to a slew of injuries in their frontcourt. Without enough centers to run a full 5-on-5 scrimmage, head coach Scott Brooks led a walkthrough of plays, highlighting key areas he would like them to focus on as they prepare to go with smaller lineups out of necessity.

One key focus was screen-setting. Without Thomas Bryant for at least the next three weeks, the Wizards have to make up for his absence, as he currently ranks sixth in the NBA in screen assists per game. The Wizards fall in the middle of the league in ball screens and off-screens, but Bryant sets the majority of them.

At the moment, they are also missing Moe Wagner (ankle) and Ian Mahinmi (Achilles), so all three of their natural centers are hurt. That means rookie Rui Hachimura has to fill the void, as he did on Tuesday in the Wizards' loss to the Magic.

And that means Hachimura, though he's undersized for the five-spot at 6-foot-8, is going to have to set some screens.

"If he's the five, he has to hold the screens and be a screen scorer," Brooks said. "He's going to be able to learn that. I think he's going to pick it up tomorrow. I think today he saw it and our coaches are going to show him some film on it and I think you're going to see some improvement there." 

Brooks added that Hachimura struggled setting screens against Orlando. As Brooks described it, Hachimura was slipping out of his picks too early because that's what he's used to as a forward.

Hachimura is third on the Wizards in screen assists behind Bryant and Wagner, but he says he hasn't been a primary screen-setter since high school. Now he has to help his teammates get free by putting a body on the biggest and quickets athletes in the world.

"I have to be physical offensively," he said.

For the Wizards, these big men injuries are coming at a bad time. On Thursday night, they will see the Philadelphia 76ers, who play an unusually big lineup. Hachimura will have to set screens on players who are larger than him. Even Philly's point guard, Ben Simmons, is 6-foot-10.

Hachimura will also have to deal with center Joel Embiid on defense. Embiid may be the best center in basketball and also the most physically imposing.

At 7-feet and 280 pounds, he is a force down low. He leads the NBA in post-ups per game (7.9) and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. He is fifth in the NBA in free throw attempts this season (8.3/g) and was second in the league last year (10.1/g).

Foul trouble is one way the Wizards' frontcourt situation could get even worse. It's something to keep in mind as Hachimura awaits arguably the toughest challenge of his career so far.

"As young players, you've gotta expect the unexpected. Nobody expected we would have these injuries at the five spot," Brooks said.

"He [eventually] has to guard them all. That's what is going to make him valuable to us long-term, so this is good experience."


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Joel Embiid's 76ers are the last team the injury-riddled Wizards need to see

Joel Embiid's 76ers are the last team the injury-riddled Wizards need to see

The timing for Thursday night's clash with the Sixers could not have been worse for the Wizards. 

Not only are they going up against one of the best and biggest teams in the NBA, but they're going to have to do it with a cascade of injuries to their frontcourt. 

Thomas Bryant is out for at least the next three weeks with a right foot injury, and while Moe Wagner and Ian Mahinmi were both upgraded to questionable for Thursday night, neither will be playing at 100 percent and it would be Mahinmi's first game since March 18. 

Scott Brooks will have to rely on Rui Hachimura to continue to give him minutes at center and play more small-ball lineups, which isn't exactly the best recipe for success against Philadelphia. 

Here's a look at some players to watch on the Sixers and what the Wizards can do to slow them down.

Joel Embiid

If Mahinmi gets activated for the first time this season, Embiid would be a big reason why. He's an overwhelming force in the low post and consistently gets opposing bigs in foul trouble with an assortment of timely pump fakes and flops. 

Few players can shut him down one-on-one, so it'd be wise for the Wizards to focus on sending double teams in the right spots to force him to make plays under duress. 

One of Embiid's weaknesses is his passing and decision making when doubled. Given the Sixers' lack of shooting from the outside, Washington may be able to get away with this strategy a few times in this game. 

This is much easier said than done, especially when you look at how the Wizards' defense was unable to keep Orlando, the 29th-ranked offense in the NBA, under 120 points in both meetings this year. 

Ben Simmons

The 15-6 Sixers are still bonafide title contenders, but it has almost everything to do with their defense. Ranked third in the league in defensive efficiency, Philly has unrivaled size down low and length on the perimeter. 

Simmons may be their most important defender with his ability to switch and defend practically every player on the floor and his activity defending ball handlers. 

Add that to his ability to grab a rebound and speed down the floor in transition, and you have a sizeable problem on your hands. The Wizards are the worst team in the NBA at defending in transition. 

On the flip side, Simmons is the main reason the Sixers' offense has underachieved this season. The fact that he is a non-threat from anywhere outside the paint allows teams to pack the paint and prevent dribble penetration. 

We noted how it'd be smart for the Wizards to send double teams at Embiid. When Simmons is on the floor it'll be easier for the Wizards to do that and not give up easy looks Again, easier said than done, especially for this Wizards defense.