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Must-win game for Wizards against 76ers? You could say that

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Must-win game for Wizards against 76ers? You could say that

Nothing explains the current state of the Washington Wizards' season better than this. Even though 35 games remain, Friday's home game nearly veers into must-win territory. Friday's opponent is the Philadelphia 76ers, owners of the NBA's worst record. Here's the thing. Since Jan. 16, the 76ers have a better record than the Wizards. Philadelphia might be a league-wide punchline, but there is little funny about how serious this matchup is for Washington less than a week before the league-wide All-Star break.

"You can't [just] say it's the next game," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said at Friday's morning shootaround.

Jared Dudley agrees.

"We're playing a team that's been struggling, but playing better of late. We're at home. We're struggling at home. We need to get a win," the veteran forward said. 

Nothing comes easy these days for Washington (21-26), which has lost seven of nine games including three straight in Chinatown. 

When it comes to the NBA standings, the defending champion Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers are the extremes. In consecutive home games, the Washington Wizards will go from playing a heralded, rock star squad with only four losses in nearly 50 games to a team with a 7-42 record. Philadelphia has lost three in a row including Wednesday's 124-86 debacle against Atlanta.

"We're at the point where we shouldn't look past anybody," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. "Only time will tell. We'll find out at 7:00. Not only that, we've had experience with a team that was the laughing stock of the league come in here a couple of months ago and beat [us]. We have to make sure that doesn't happen again."

RELATED: Wittman set to return to Wizards

Temple is of course referring to the loss against the 2-14 Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 3. 

Since Jan. 16, Washington is 2-7. Philadelphia, playing better since acquiring guard Ish Smith, is 3-6.

The primary issue for the Wizards remains defense. Washington is 1-3 in its last four games despite averaging 113.7 points. Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City and Golden State averaged 122 against them.

"The positives for us over the last 4-5 games is that offensively we're back," Dudley noted. "We can score 100-plus. We've shown that. Now the question is can we get enough stops. That's the whole question. Turnovers, rebounding...defending the 3."

The question against the 76ers involves can the Wizards prevent Smith from taking control. The quick point guard was with Washington in training camp and started the season in New Orleans before joining Philadelphia around Christmas. Since then, the 76ers are 6-12 after starting 1-30. Smith's presence helping to direct traffic for the inexperienced roster is a reason why. In 18 games he's averaging 15.4 points and 8.1 assists.

"They're a different team over the last month," Temple said. "Ish gives them a guy who can control the pace, push the pace, get in the paint and throw lobs."

After facing the 76ers, the Wizards play three straight road games before the break. Close out strong and the playoff talk, not to mention confidence remains. Limp into the break and who knows.

"We need to finish on a positive note before the break then everyone can reset and come back," Dudley said. "You never want to call February must-win games, but it's the closest of a must-win February game you can possibly get and it's something we need to get going for confidence wise."

Notes: Wizards coach Randy Wittman did not attend shootaround, but he is expected to be on the sideline Friday night. Wittman missed the last two games following the passing of his brother.

MORE WIZARDS: No Wizards selected for All-Star Saturday night events

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Mystics star Kristi Toliver excited to officially join Wizards coaching staff

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USA Today Sports

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

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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. 

 

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