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Morning tip: Wizards find super-small lineup that works


Morning tip: Wizards find super-small lineup that works

The key moment in Tuesday's big win vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers came at 7:58 of the second quarter, with the Wizards ahead 39-36 as LeBron James left the floor. Coach Randy Wittman did something he had never done in his fifth year in his charge -- and resorted to it again in a crisis situation in the fourth quarter.

He trotted out a lineup with the tallest player standing 6-8: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Garrett Temple, Otto Porter and Jared Dudley. 

"We came out with great energy. Our pace. I thought John was incredible in that first half," said Wittman of Wall, who scored 21 of his season-high 35 points in the first two quarters of the 97-85 victory. "I had some lineups out there tonight that I don't know if I would've dreamed about. Our guys did everything that they possibly could."

By the time the clock struck 5:24 for James' return, the Wizards had their first double-digit lead at 46-36 in what would balloon to as large as 22. It ended their four-game losing streak heading into tonight's game vs. the Los Angeles Lakers at Verizon Center (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 ET).

Part of why Wittman did this is because he didn't have many live bodies available. Nene (left calf), Drew Gooden (left calf), Gary Neal (groin) and Alan Anderson (left ankle) couldn't play. Ryan Hollins, acquired Monday as a free agent, wasn't ready.

But that extra small lineup, with Porter and Dudley playing in the middle, wreaked havoc because of its ability to spread the floor on offense and make up the size deficit with its quickness and IQ to know when and where to help defend.

RELATED: Wizards hand Cavs first home loss: 5 takeaways

J.R. Smith, James Jones, Richard Jefferson, Kevin Love and Mo Williams were confounded. The deflections, the active hands, the gang rebounding, the diving for 50-50 balls turned the tide heavily in favor of Washington (7-8).

Porter's forced a missed running shot by Smith which led to an immediate attack and score by Wall on the other end. Good overall team defense forced Williams to take a difficult and contested shot to be the 24-second clock that wasn't close.

Wall followed that by missing a jumper but it was Beal and Temple hustling to create an extra possession. Temple lunged to tap the ball out to Wall on the perimeter and then he made a lateral pass to Beal who found Dudley wide open for a made three-pointer.

Tristan Thompson entered the game for Jones as the Cavs tried to use the rebounder to create a bigger size mismatch in the paint. That didn't work, either. He had the offensive rebound on the next play after a miss by Smith, but Beal tied him up to force a jump ball. Porter recovered the tip and passed to Beal, and that produced an open-court attack by Temple for a flip shot in the lane.

Cavs coach David Blatt had seen enough and by 5:24 he went back to James. It didn't matter as the Wizards' were in a rhythm on both ends with Beal making up for his lack of shooting (6 of 19) with grit and grind (six assists and nine rebounds), Wall shredding Cleveland's interior (14 of 24 shooting) and James having his shots altered by the help of Marcin Gortat and multiple perimeter defenders like Beal, Porter and Temple forcing him into mistakes (nine turnovers).

"You have to give Washington credit," Thompson said. "They played a different style we haven't seen in a long time in terms of going with five guards, pushing the tempo and really just junking up the game and making us play basketball we haven't played all season."

Because of Gortat's fifth foul, the Wizards went back to the small lineup with 9:15 left in the game but this time James was on the floor with Love. It didn't matter.

With Sessions briefly occupying Beal's spot, the pesky defense of Temple and Dudley annoyed James. Temple used an escape dribble to get away from James' close out to draw a foul and then recovered to help Sessions to draw an offensive violation on him on a drive to the basket.

Matthew Dellavedova threw a skip pass to an open Jones, but Porter closed him out on the arc. Jones tried to send a bounce pass to James who was cutting to the basket but Temple rushed to front him to prevent the catch and force another turnover.

With Thompson back in place of Love, Dudley slipped a screen on the Wizards' next play for an open mid-range jumper. Porter didn't get the rebound on Smith's shot, but he prevented Love from getting it for a putback. When Love got the ball in the mid-post and backed down Dudley on a second-chance opportunity, Porter's double-team forced a near airball that led to Wall's three.

"Zero," Dudley said about his practice time as a center. "It was my first time playing five. You don’t know how it’s going to go. Any time they had Kevin Love at the five you didn't want to put Gortat in at that time because of pick-and-pop and you didn’t want Kevin Love to get going. We just say to them, we were fronting, making them throw over if that’s how it is and we’re not going  to give you a layup. LeBron, we fouled a couple times, take the ball out of bounds, make them have to skip the ball over cross court and have John or Brad. They're so athletic (they can) close out. That’s what we’ve done." 

Thompson tried to help Smith only to be beaten badly by Beal on a baseline drive that put him at the foul line. Speed and ball-handling trumped size.

By time Gortat returned with 2:47 left, an almost full seven minutes after he first exited, a 14-point lead which had grown as large as 19 in his absence, ultimately was only trimmed by two at 95-83.

The game already was over, the losing streak dead and a new identity revealed.

VIDEO: Wizards Rewind: Wiz halt two streaks in win over Cavs

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Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

Despite struggles at Oregon, Wizards believe Troy Brown can develop into a good shooter at NBA level

The NBA is so perimeter-oriented these days that often the first statistic cited for a player leaving college for the pros is three-point percentage, regardless of the position. Even big men are expected to knock down threes, for if they can't then there is less space on the floor and like Neil deGrasse Tyson, NBA teams love them some space.

Three-point shooting, however, is not a strength for Wizards' first round pick Troy Brown, Jr., at least not yet. In his lone season at Oregon, he shot just 29.1 percent from long range. Brown can play multiple positions, from point guard to small forward, and shooting is important to be successful at all of them.

Brown and the Wizards, though, are not concerned about his potential to develop an outside shot in the long-term. Brown addressed the issue after his pre-draft workout with the Wizards earlier this month and cited a very specific reason not to worry.

"I don’t think it was my mechanics. I think it was my shot selection this year," he said. "Some of the shots I was taking weren’t very good. It’s about repetition, getting in the gym and putting up shots. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job showcasing that and I feel like a lot of teams are impressed with my shooting."

Brown knocked down plenty of shots in his workout with the Wizards. That helped convince them to select him at No. 15, as they see a guy with potential to become at least a serviceable shooter from long range.

“We’re very confident that we can improve it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "From what I understand, he’s very coachable and he wants to get better. That’s a big part of the step in developing a young player."

Team president Ernie Grunfeld seemed to agree with Brown's personal assessment, that it's not a problem with his mechanics per se. Surely they will tinker with his shot once he gets in their development system. But they don't see the need for a dramatic overhaul.

"He's got a nice stroke," Grunfeld said. "Obviously, when you're a freshman coming up to another level there are different things you have to work on, and we have a really good player development staff and we're going to get him to work right away."

Players of Brown's ilk developing an outside shot at the NBA level is more common than many may think. Just because someone isn't a good shooter in one college season, doesn't mean they will never be able to develop the skill once they mature as a man and a basketball player.

Though Brown's scoring repertoire may seem limited, plenty of players have gone from rags to riches offensively at the professional level. Brown may have to begin his NBA career helping in other ways, like on the defensive end, before his scoring abilities round into form.

Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler could be seen as a best-case scenario example. He made only 36 threes in three years in college and shot just 35.3 percent as a junior. When he was Brown's age, as a freshman he averaged only 5.6 points, and as an NBA rookie he shot just 18.2 percent from three.

Through years of hard work, Butler turned himself into a 20-point scorer with a respectable outside shot, including a career-beset 37.8 percent from three in the 2014-15 season. Some guys take more time than others. At only 18 years old, Brown has plenty of time to figure it out.


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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”


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