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Okafor, Ariza struggling to fit in

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Okafor, Ariza struggling to fit in

When the Wizards traded Rashard Lewis and a second-round pick to the New Orleans Hornets for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, it wasn’t jut to rid themselves of Lewis’ $22 million salary.

After all, Okafor and Ariza are scheduled to make a combined $43 million through next season.

At the time of that June 20 trade, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said Okafor and Ariza filled two of his team’s needs: a solid rebounder, and an athletic forward who could run the floor.

“These players fit in well with what we’re trying to do,” Grunfeld said at the time. “I think we’re going to be a better team with the addition of these players and the players we’ll add in the draft. But where we’ll be in the Eastern Conference, only time will tell.”

Time has not exactly been a friend to the Wizards, who are off to the worst start in franchise history at 0-9. The uneven play of Okafor and Ariza is at least part of the reason.

Okafor arrived in Washington with career averages of 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. Through nine games, all of which he started, the 30-year-old center is averaging 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Ariza, 27, entered this season averaging 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. He’s also started all nine games for the Wizards and is averaging 8.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Neither played in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 96-89 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.

“I don’t want to say those guys aren’t doing it on the floor,” said Wizards point guard A.J. Price, who also sat out that fourth quarter while Wizards coach Randy Wittman went with Shaun Livingston, Bradley Beal, Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker and Chris Singleton.

“Their job has been tough. They came in with a lot of expectations on their shoulders and that’s tough when you’re on a team that’s growing and trying to get better. Those guys come in and work hard every single day, so my hat’s off to them for that. And at some point they’ll turn it around and it will come collectively when we as a team turn it around.”

Ariza’s game-to-game performance this season has been erratic. He followed a 15-point night against Milwaukee with a four-point game against the Pacers; followed a 19-point effort against Charlotte with a four-point night in Dallas; then followed a 16-point game against the Jazz with a six-point night against Indiana.

Okafor has seen his production dip in recent weeks. After netting a season-high 17 point son Nov. 10, he managed three straight games with eight points and finished Monday night’s game with a season-low one point with one rebound in just 9:06 of action.

“I don’t know what to say anymore, to be honest,” Okafor said. “It’s frustrating. Being 0-9 is a frustrating position. I don’t know how to put it in words. We’re trying.”

Okafor refused to place blame on Wittman for sitting him on the bench and trying new combinations against the Pacers.  

“He’s trying,” Okafor said. “He has a tough job. He’s doing what he can. He’s trying to find a way to find wins. He’s doing what he can, like we all are. It’s difficult all the way around. When you’re 0-9 you’re trying to find a way.”

The Wizards will try to avoid their 10th straight defeat when the visit the 5-4 Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The Wizards may learn on Tuesday if they will be without Trevor Booker, who appeared to injure his knee in the final minute of Monday night’s loss.

“We’re all a very upbeat group and we’re not going to let things get us down,” Okafor said. “We understand it’s a long season and it’s never over. That’s why I credit this group and this coaching staff. Everybody is very upbeat and still staying positive.”

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Mike Scott

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Mike Scott

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Mike Scott's season...

Player: Mike Scott

Position: Power forward

Age: 29

2017-18 salary: $1.7 million

2017-18 stats: 76 G, 18.5 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.1 bpg, 52.7 FG%, 40.5 3P%, 65.8 FT%, 59.0 eFG%, 109 ORtg, 111 DRtg

Best game: 12/9 at Clippers - 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 9-for-11 FG, 3-for-4 3PT, 28 minutes

Season review: The 2017-18 Wizards season was full of unpredictability and the most positive surprise had to be the comeback of Mike Scott.

The Wizards signed Scott to a veteran minimum contract last offseason after a workout at Capital One Arena. This came just months after he had felony drug charges dropped in the state of Georgia, he lost 25 pounds and rehabbed a leg injury. That spring he had wondered, and justifiably, if his NBA career was over.

Scott overcame all of those odds to not only return to the NBA, but re-establish himself as a productive player off the bench. No one was more consistent start-to-finish in the Wizards' second unit than Scott was.

Scott earned a significant role in head coach Scott Brooks' rotation out of the preseason and stayed there. He reached double-figures in 31 of his 76 games, second only to Kelly Oubre, Jr. on the Wizards. 

Scott's primary value was on offense. He scored inside and out and got his points with remarkable efficiency. He led the Wizards and was tied for 11th in the NBA in effective field-goal percentage. He was second on Washington in field goal percentage and third in three-point percentage. 

Scott closed the season strong, reaching double-figures in scoring in seven of the last nine regular season games. He carried that over into the playoffs with 46 points through their first three games against the Raptors. 

Now comes the question of how much money Scott earned himself with his comeback year and whether the Wizards can afford keeping him. Since they are in the luxury tax, they will have little money to spend this summer. 

The way to keep Scott would be to use the remainder of their taxpayer mid-level exception, but that figures to be only about $1.9 million, not much more than what Scott made in 2017-18. Given how well he played this season, it would not be surprising if he earns much more than that.

Potential to improve: Free throw shooting, forcing turnovers, ability to guard bigs

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

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Markieff Morris is helping his brother gameplan to defend LeBron James

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Markieff Morris is helping his brother gameplan to defend LeBron James

Wizards forward Markieff Morris is all-in on his brother Marcus and the Boston Celtics beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not only is he showing up to games in his twin brother's jersey, he is helping Marcus break down film on LeBron James.

James was held to just 15 points on 31.3 percent shooting with seven turnovers in Game 1 and Marcus got some credit for stopping him. In the two games since, James went off for 42 and 27 points, each time posting 12 assists to complement. Though Cleveland lost Game 2 as well, they punched back with a 30-point win in Game 3.

The Morrises are combining forces to make sure that doesn't happen again, according to Jay King of The Athletic. They stayed up until 2 a.m. on Sunday morning reviewing plays. 

Game 4 between the Cavs and Celtics is on Monday night. If Boston wins, they will take a 3-1 lead in the series, which will be very difficult for the Cavs to overcome. Yes, they mounted the most famous 3-1 comeback in NBA history, but this isn't the same Cavs team that accomplished the feat in 2016.

There is of course some irony in Markieff helping the Celtics, given he was so integral in the rivalry between the Wizards and Boston. But, as he has shown many times over the years, it's family over everything.

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