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Morning tip: As the Wizards turn, rotations remain a step slow


Morning tip: As the Wizards turn, rotations remain a step slow

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The headway that the Wizards thought they'd made with their players-only meeting took a boot to the skull. Maybe their heart-to-heart with each other inspired them enough to beat the likes of the .500 Houston Rockets but they're not even close to the level of a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Monday, the Thunder torched them early. The Wizards made a move several times by getting stops and easy buckets on offense but ultimately it wasn't enough. Their help defense was late. Their rotations were slow. One hundred and fourteen points later, they had their 25th loss of the season. 

"They came out and scored easy," said John Wall, who was isolated in the mid-post to open the game on the first three possessions by Russell Westbrook. "When we got opportunities to get them to miss some shots they got each offensive rebound. We were always playing from behind. ... We just couldn't get over the hump."

Westbrook passed the first time and got Serge Ibaka a jump shot in the lane. The next two were shots by Westbrook inside of 10 feet that were good. He had a triple-double after three quarters and finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. 

"They're at their best when he's play facilitator," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. "He's going to get his points in transitions and random plays but when he's looking to pass and get his teammates involved, that's when they're tough to beat. That's why rotations need to be great. We were getting the ball out of his hands but we weren't able to get to the guys on the weak side or contest (Steven) Adams or Serge and those guys."

Durant was 9 of 18, Ibaka shot 8 of 12, Westbrook 8 of 13, Adams 4 of 5 and Enes Kanter 4 of 7. Oklahoma City dominated them inside the paint, 53-27 on overall rebounds and 18-2 with second-chance points. 

"They scored 36 points in the first quarter. They got anywhere they wanted. Those points weren't even off offensive rebounds," said Jared Dudley, who called the players-only meeting after a 117-113 loss to the Denver Nuggets to address their defensive woes. "They were isolations. Durant, Westbrook getting buckets and us not really adapting to it once they score a couple. We needed to trap, we were late on it. We were timid from the beginning. When that happens with a team that's coming to end the game in the first quarter it sets the whole tone. From then on, we were playing an uphill battle."

Now that the Wizards are back to a pace-and-space team, the offensive side of what's taking place isn't a concern anymore. They're top five in the NBA in pace. It's all about figuring out their defense.

"We're not good enough defensively or have a lockdown defender where we can let someone go one-on-one on an island so you got to know the traps, know the rotations," Dudley said. "That's something we were timid doing early and really didn't do a good job throughout the whole game."

RELATED: Buzz surrounding Kevin Durant quickly fades, as do Wizards

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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