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Morning tip: Wizards scramble to plug gaps to challenge Suns


Morning tip: Wizards scramble to plug gaps to challenge Suns

Quite possibly, Ryan Hollins will go from on the sideline for the first month of the season to being the starter for the Wizards when they play tonight vs. the Phoenix Suns (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 p.m. ET).

The Wizards will hold shootaround this morning at Verizon Center and coach Randy Wittman generally doesn't reveal his starting lineup until just before tipoff. Hollins was signed earlier this week when a roster spot was opened by the waiving of Martell Webster.

Marcin Gortat won't be around for at least two games while he tends to his mother who is hospitalized in Poland. It could easily be more games than that. He left after Wednesday's 108-104 loss to the L.A. Lakers.

If Hollins is the replacement, the Wizards (7-9) will have to compensate for Gortat's offense. Hollins, who has a career average of 3.7 points, was brought here for rim protection because of Nene's strained left calf. The pick-and-roll sets with John Wall probably won't be as fruitful without Gortat but Hollins can run the floor well in a fast-paced offense.

After an uneven start that drew the ire of coach Randy Wittman, Gortat has been more active and engaged on both ends of the court. His defensive rotations, an area where Hollins struggled at times in his first appearance Wednesday as he was a step slow, have been particularly strong.

In Gortat's last three games, he's had a double-double in each with averages of 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 61.5% shooting.

If Hollins doesn't get the start, there aren't many other options. Kris Humphries plays a face-up game, not with his back to the basket. Drew Gooden (left calf) hasn't played since Nov. 17 and hasn't had a field goal since Oct. 31 and is more of a three-pointer shooter anyway. DeJuan Blair is in his best shape in a long time only has made six appearances, four of them in blowouts.

Blair was supplanted by Hollins, who only has had one full practice, and didn't get off the bench against the Lakers. Hollins didn't scored but logged 11 minutes.

At least with Phoenix (8-11), which is on a two-game losing streak and has lost six of nine on the road, scoring in the low post isn't its strength. Guard play is, with Brandon Knight or Eric Bledose leading them in scoring in 16 times. 

And that's why the Suns have been a matchup problem despite their record. The play of Wall and Bradley Beal, the latter of whom has been out of sync since returning from a left shoulder contusion, will determine much about this outcome.

Where Hollins and the other bigs on the floor come in, unless Wittman opts to go small to combat the speed, is with their ability to support and make the proper rotations.

MORE WIZARDS: With Gasol to be free agent, worth look in Wizards' Plan B

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Mystics star Kristi Toliver excited to officially join Wizards coaching staff

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Mystics star Kristi Toliver excited to officially join Wizards coaching staff

After months of serving a variety of roles for the organization, Kristi Toliver now has an official title with the Washington Wizards. The Mystics star has joined Scott Brooks' staff as an assistant coach and assistant for player development.

Toliver, 31, will remain a member of the Mystics, who play their season during the summer. The lack of overlap will allow her to focus much of her time on the Wizards and what she hopes becomes a long and successful coaching career.

She chose joining the Wizards over continuing to play professionally this year overseas, an option many WNBA players use in the offseason. But she has a coaching dream and happens to have caught on with the hometown team.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime. When it came about, I wanted to be involved in any capacity that I could," Toliver said.

Toliver is the first active WNBA player to serve on an NBA bench and just the second woman after Becky Hammon, who is an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs. Toliver plans to reach out to Hammon after getting her phone number from Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird.

Toliver is honored to be in the same category with Hammon, whom she looked up to first as a player and now as a coach who has become a trailblazer in the profession.

"I know she's going to be somebody that I can ask questions to," Toliver said. "I will pick her brain about how she played and I will pick her brain about how she is coaching."

Hammon joined the Spurs' coaching staff in 2014 after years of helping the team out in other ways. Now that there are two female NBA assistants, the logical question is when one will become a head coach.

Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal can already attest to Toliver's impact and said there could be a female head coach "very soon."

"I wouldn't be surprised if it happened sooner rather than later," Beal said. "If you know the game, you know the game. Plain and simple."

Toliver has served as a coach in the Wizards' 5-on-5 scrimmages at practice. She has also been particularly helpful with ball-handling, which makes sense given she's the starting point guard for the Mystics. Toliver has helped a variety of Wizards players in dribbling drills including the big men like Jeff Green and Dwight Howard.

Coaching has required an adjustment for Toliver, who is used to having the ball in her hands running the offense. But just as being a player can help her as a coach, she expects to become a better player now seeing the game from a new perspective.

"I'd much rather be playing, I know that. But it's good to think the game in a different way and from a different point of view," she said.

Brooks has been effusive in his praise of Toliver ever since she began helping out in the Las Vegas Summer League in July. He invited her to join the staff over the phone shortly before the Summer League began and will admit he did not know at the time the relationship would get this far.

But over the summer, Brooks lost two assistants to other teams in Chad Iske and Sidney Lowe, paving the way for some movement on his staff. He promoted several positions from within and an opening was created for Toliver to come on board.

"She's a special talent. She's going to be moving through the ranks pretty quick," Brooks said.


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Mystics' Kristi Toliver joins Wizards coaching staff for 2018-19 season


Mystics' Kristi Toliver joins Wizards coaching staff for 2018-19 season

It's certainly not uncommon for professional athletes to make the transition into coaching following their playing days. We have seen more and more of this in recent years throughout sports, especially with younger coaches getting the chance to lead teams. 

What is uncommon is when a professional athlete begins their quest for life after playing while they're still playing. 

Washington Mystics veteran guard Kristi Toliver is joining the Wizards' coaching staff, the team announced Tuesday. 

The news comes after the 10-year WNBA pro got her feet wet on the Wizards' bench during Vegas Summer League play in July. 

Along with Elena Delle Donne, Toliver helped lead the Mystics to the 2018 WNBA Finals, before ultimately falling to the Seattle Storm. 

The 31-year-old was drafted third overall by Chicago in 2009 after leading her Maryland Terrapins to a national championship in 2006. 

Toliver will serve as an assistant coach and focus on player development for head coach Scott Brooks. 

Coach Brooks also welcomes Robert Pack and Ryan Richman to the front of the bench. Pack served as assistant coach under Brooks for two seasons during their Oklahoma City Thunder days while Richman led the team during summer leage play and is entering his fifth year in Washington. 

The Wizards open their 2018-19 regular season Thursday against the Miami Heat inside Capital One Arena. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.