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Nene makes presence felt in return

nenej.jpg

Nene makes presence felt in return

The end result might have been the same, but there were quite a few changes for the Wizards in their 101-100 overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night.

The most obvious, and to some the most surprising, was the return of Brazilian center Nene to the lineup.

Sidelined since the start of training camp with persistent pain in his left feel as a result of plantar fasciitis, Nene participated in his first full practice on Tuesday and was a solid contributor in his season debut for the Wizards.

In 19:43 off the bench, Nene went 2-for-5 from the field and 8-for-10 from the foul line to finish with 12 points in the loss. Although he finished with just one rebound, Nene ran the floor well and was disruptive under the basket at both ends.

In other injury news, Trevor Booker sat out his first game of the season with a right knee strain. He suffered the injury late in the Wizards’ loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

Starting lineup: Wizards coach Randy Wittman promised a new starting lineup against Atlanta and he delivered one, replacing Emeka Okfor, Trevor Ariza and A.J. Price with Kevin Seraphin, Shaun Livingston and Bradley Beal. The other two starters were Jan Vesely and Jordan Crawford.

Of those five starters against the Hawks, only Bradley Beal had started in the season opener.

Of the starters, Seraphin had the most impressive night. The 22-year-old forward recorded season highs in points [21] and rebounds [10] and was a force at both ends of the floor.

Price and Ariza also had big nights off the bench. Price finished with 14 points and seven assists in 31 minutes of action, while Ariza recorded 12 points and a season-high 15 rebounds in nearly 40 minutes of action.

With Nene back in the lineup, Okafor was less of a presence off the bench, contributing six points and four rebounds in 15 minutes of work.

This and that: The Wizards enjoyed a strong night on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks by 39-27 count. … Beal fouled out of a game for the first time in his NBA career. He finished with six points and four assists. … The Wizards’ losing streak in Atlanta is now at nine games. Their last victory there was on Jan. 11, 2008.

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Wizards open to trading big names? New report says 'every player' available for discussion

Wizards open to trading big names? New report says 'every player' available for discussion

With the losses piling up, rumors about the Washington Wizards’ future will increase. Another report emerged Monday following Sunday’s 119-109 home loss to the Portland Trailblazers.

From ESPN’s NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski:

As the Washington Wizards' season spirals, the franchise has started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios, league sources told ESPN.Washington's preference remains to reshape the team around Wall and Beal, but poor play among key teammates is limiting their trade value and paralyzing the Wizards' efforts to make meaningful changes to a roster that no longer appears functional together, league sources said.

This isn’t the first time this season that a report emerged about Washington’s potential involvement in trade talks. There is a difference, however. Prior reports had the Wizards inquiring about adding All-Star talents like Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard to the Wall-Beal pairing as a way to push the projected contenders up the Eastern Conference standings.

This new angle from Wojnarowski is more about breaking up the band because of the off-key tone emerging from this roster after 16 games.

Sunday’s loss dropped Washington to 5-11. Of those defeats, seven have been by at least 10 points including the last two.

The Wizards have several tradable assets particularly with eight of their 13 players entering some form of free agency this summer including starting power forward Markieff Morris and key reserve Kelly Oubre Jr. Moving any of those players could provide some help on the margins or provide a needed wakeup call for a slumbering group. A true shakeup means dealing Wall, Beal or Otto Porter.

Wall’s supermax contract extension starts with 2019-20 season. He will average $42 million annually over the next four years. There’s an additional cost with a move as Wall’s contract includes a 15 percent trade kicker. None of the financial or compensation aspects factors in any deal involving Wall would mean dealing the face of the franchise since Washington selected the point guard No. 1 overall in 2010.

Beal, 25, is the more attractive guard for other teams. His off-ball game would be an easy fit for virtually any team in the league. The All-Star’s contract extension is the more palatable of the trio even with a $28.7 million salary in 2020-21, the final year of his deal. Porter, whose deal also extends to 2020-21, is the Wizards’ highest paid player this season at $26 million.  

Players said last week they don’t want to see trades.

“Everybody just has to be calm and patient,” Wall told NBC Sports Washington Thursday before back-to-back losses. “You hear all the talks about trade everybody, blow the team up. There’s no need for that.”

Portland led 32-12, by 21 points at halftime and 29 in third quarter.

"We've got to just play with more enthusiasm, more effort, more energy," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after the loss. "That's embarrassing."

Wall and Beal also weighed in Sunday on the lagging effort postgame.

"You can't teach effort. You can't teach heart," Wall said.

Washington’s deep reserves pushed back in the final period and cut the deficit to single digits briefly.

 “It was terrible,” Beal said of the work from the main rotation players. “The guys who were in it at the end of the game played their asses off – played the way they we’re supposed to play the whole game and we didn't do that.” 

The Wizards aren’t playing the way anyone imagined. With 66 games remaining, there is plenty of time for a turnaround. At the moment, everyone is searching for solutions.
 

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Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

As the Wizards have shown this year, and really since the beginning of last season, there is one particular type of NBA team that gives them trouble. It's the team that plays collectively, with toughness and an edge on defense.

The Wizards allow their opponents to set the tone and the aggressive ones that punch them first usually don't get a punch back.

So far this season, blue-collar teams like the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets have given the Wizards fits. In those losses, Washington was just trying to keep up, hopelessly reacting on too many plays just a half-or-full-step slower than they needed to.

Though the Blazers are a high-scoring team led by big-name stars, they possess the qualities that expose the Wizards when they are in their most listless form. On Sunday, Portland came out with want-to on defense and a commitment to moving the ball to find open shooters on offense. 

That simple combination was too much for the Wizards, who let the game slip away early, trailing by as many as 20 points in the first quarter alone.

It was hard to watch for everyone on the Washington side; for fans, the coaches and also the players who are losing patience as they grasp for answers to what will fix their persistent woes.

The prevailing message from head coach Scott Brooks' postgame press conference and from the locker room was that they are actively searching for a solution, but that they have no clear sense what that solution is.

"It's embarrassing,” Brooks said, citing effort and energy like he often has this season. “Just trying to figure that out. It's on me."

"I'm not sure. We have to figure something out," forward Markieff Morris said.

"Honestly, I really don't have an answer," forward Jeff Green said, genuinely perplexed.

As the Wizards wilt at 5-11 and in last place, the general consensus from those on the court and the bench seems to be that no major changes need to be made. Brooks suggested he needs to find "five guys on the court that are playing for their team." But he says that all the time and has ever since he took the job before the 2016-17 season.

It doesn't mean wholesale changes are coming.

Guard Bradley Beal pleaded the fifth when asked if trades or firings need to be made.

"I have no idea. All I can do is my job and just like everybody else, and just come in and try to get better every day. At the end of the day, that's Ted [Leonsis'] job, Ernie [Grunfeld's] job to make those decisions," he said.

Morris and guard John Wall each expressed confidence in the players already on the roster.

“I don't think so," Wall said of potentially breaking up the core. "We can still figure it out."

"It's not time for a fire sale," Morris told NBC Sports Washington.

The best insight into what is plaguing the Wizards came from backup guard Austin Rivers. Though he can't put a finger on it, either, he sees some bad signs.

"Our team is like loaded with talent and we're losing game after game. You just start to question it," he said. 

"Guys are like tentative now when they're on the floor. You can see it. You guys can watch it and see it. It doesn't even take a basketball expert to watch... When you lose, guys start getting unsure. We're running and our spacing is terrible. It's just a snowball effect."

Rivers, like Green, went out of his way to say Brooks wasn't the root of it, that it's on the players. He also highlighted his backcourt partner Tomas Satoransky as someone who was exempt from their issues.

"Sato is definitely not the problem. Sato doesn't do anything wrong," Rivers said.

Satoransky was one of the few Wizards players who came out of Sunday's defeat with reasons to hold their chin up walking into the locker room afterwards. He had 10 points, seven assists and was +22 in the box score. 

Like Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. played well. He had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He was +14. Others like Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr., two youngsters who only played when the game was out of hand, provided a spark of energy off the bench and helped cut the Blazers lead down to single digits late in the game after Portland led by as many as 29.

Brooks has been wary of major lineup adjustments since he arrived in Washington, but it's never been quite this bad. At 5-11, this start is even worse than two years ago, his first season on the job, when they rallied to win 49 games.

If their losing continues, Brooks will have to do something drastic at some point. Maybe that is moving Oubre into the starting lineup and taking Morris out to help guide the second unit. Morris could thrive as a small-ball center, while Oubre could help set a tone defensively with the starters. 

Oubre is their most energetic and active defender. Perhaps that would rub off on Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

It's clear the Wizards need to change something and the rotation is the logical first place to start. Rivers, for one, wonders if things will get better if they simply stick to the current plan.

"You're just like 'stay with it and it will turn around.' But when? You're digging yourself a farther and farther hole," he said.

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