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Morning tip: Wizards take calculated gamble on veteran


Morning tip: Wizards take calculated gamble on veteran

The Wizards winning consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 9 coincides with the re-emergence of Rasual Butler, who reached double figures in scoring for the first time since then, too, in Saturday's comeback win vs. the Sacramento Kings.

Whether Butler, 35, is over the hump and back to playing the way he did early in the season when the Wizards began 31-15 will be determined soon, starting with tonight's game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers at Verizon Center (CSN, CSNwashington.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 p.m. ET). 

"Just like I told him, 'I'm not going to lose faith in you.' I'm going to keep throwing bodies out there and something is going to happen," coach Randy Wittman said after Saturday's game. "Rasual has gone through a tough stretch. He had bounce in his legs."

As the Wizards (38-28) lost 12 of 15 games coming out of the All-Star break with an open roster spot, the feeling was Butler or Martell Webster would round into form and that one of those forwards remained better than any options available in free agency. When Butler is on, that's true.

Butler made 6 of 10 shots for 14 points in the Wizards' 113-97 win, half of them coming in a 29-12 fourth quarter when they took the lead for the first time and never looked back. But where Butler was just as valuable was his defense as he helped force Derrick Williams into missing 4 of 5 shots. 

"We felt like we needed to pick our pressure up and make it much tougher for them to catch the ball and take them out of their offense as much as we could and we did a better job of that in the second half," said Butler. "That's our identity. We understand that. We just need to do a better job of not being so Jekyll and Hyde. We just need to come out at the beginning of the game to establish that early and allow that to carry us throughout the game."

Butler made 2 of 4 three-point shots, the first time he has shot at least 50% from deep in any of the Wizards' last 14 games. He had been 9 of 45 overall in that stretch, or 20%, and began to fall out of the regular rotation. 

In scoring five of the Wizards' first 10 points of the fourth quarter, Butler sparked them in pulling away from Sacramento. His smooth-looking, finger-roll layup pushed the lead to 99-88 to cap an early-season throwback performance. 

"I had to finish the play for us. Brad (Beal) made a great play. I put a little extra on it.  I was feeling good," Butler said. "It's been a while so it just really exciting to step in to give us a boost. We're better when we get everybody to contribute. When we have six, seven, eight guys in double figures that's when we're at our best."

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Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

When the Suns traded Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers, the thought by most was that Rivers, though not a perfect fit, would slide in at point guard to fill their biggest need. Instead, on the day the trade became official, Phoenix opted to waive Rivers and make him a free agent.

The Suns will pay about $8 million to let Rivers go, according to ESPN. He is now free to sign with any team except for the Wizards. That means he can return to the L.A. Clippers, where he played last season, if he wants.

Rivers, 26, has had a dramatic fall in a matter of months. In July, the Wizards sent starting center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers to acquire Rivers, who was coming off a career year. They believed he could solidify their backup shooting guard position and become an asset off the bench.

Rivers, though, proved a poor fit. He struggled with fewer shots and fewer minutes, averaging only 7.2 points while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three. 

Rivers arrived in Washington with numbers that suggested he could score efficiently. But his stint with the Wizards showed he may need more volume to sustain a rhythm.

The Suns cutting Rivers makes the trade between the teams from a Suns perspective essentially an Ariza-for-Oubre swap. Phoenix wanted to clear some money and part with Ariza, who was wasting away on their last-place roster. Now they can see what they have in Oubre over the course of the rest of this season before he hits restricted free agency.

From the Wizards' side, this move shows how far Rivers' trade value had dropped, as one of the league's worst teams has cut him loose. That they were able to unload Rivers' salary while prying away Ariza may change slightly how the trade is viewed.


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With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

The Wizards have undergone a midseason roster renovation over the past week-plus, culminating with a trade over the weekend to acquire Trevor Ariza. On Tuesday in Atlanta, a new phase will begin for the Wizards as they take on the Hawks at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Ariza has joined the team on the road in anticipation of his debut. With Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers now out the door, the team brought back guard Chasson Randle. Those two will help make up a new-look rotation for Washington, as they try to recover from a 12-18 start to this season.

Ariza will likely slide into the starting lineup, certainly in the short-term as Otto Porter Jr. recovers from a minor knee injury. The changes should also present opportunities for a few players who otherwise may not have played.

Sam Dekker, for one, will clearly be in the mix. He has averaged 13.5 minutes per game since coming over in a three-team trade last week. On Sunday against the Lakers, he put up a season-high 20 points. Even when Porter returns, he should have a role, as his path to play was carved by Oubre's departure.

The adjustments should, in theory, also clear the runway for rookie Troy Brown Jr. The 2018 first round pick has only appeared in 13 of the Wizards' 30 games this season because of a logjam at his position. 

But on Sunday, the first game since Oubre and Rivers were dealt, he played 15:21 against the Lakers. It wasn't in garbage time, either. He entered in the first half and made an instant impact with three steals and two rebounds.

Though Tomas Satoransky has played an important role this season as a backup guard and temporary starter, his standing was made even more secure when the Wizards traded Rivers. They have Randle and two-way player Jordan McRae, but Satoransky is now their primary backup guard. Barring a trade or another signing, they have no choice but to rely heavily on him to spell John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Speaking of Wall and Beal, they will bear watching despite nothing changing in their roles with the Wizards. They, along with Markieff Morris and Porter, have been the core of this team throughout the tumultuous last two years. The Wizards brought in Ariza to help compensate for their shortcomings in defending the perimeter, rebounding and - this year, at least - three-point shooting. 

If Ariza's arrival has a domino effect on teammates, if it lights a spark and brings the best out of the Wizards, those are the guys to watch. The Wizards want consistency from them, more of what they saw against the Lakers. And Ariza's commitment on the defensive end, the team hopes, can rub off on others.

The Wizards have already played one game since trading Oubre and Rivers, but now that Ariza is in store and ready to debut, the Wizards can officially hit the restart button. Will this trade prove the catalyst and help get them back on track? Tuesday night will give the first answers to that question.