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State of the Wizards: By the numbers, how the defense has slipped since the All-Star break

State of the Wizards: By the numbers, how the defense has slipped since the All-Star break

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Defense has slipped - The Wizards have been exceptionally streaky since they returned from the All-Star break on Feb. 24. They have played 15 games and hold an 8-7 record in them, yet during that stretch had a five game winning streak and now have lost four of their last five games. That five-game streak was their second-longest of the season, while their four-in-five slump is their worst since Nov. 19.

Since the All-Star break, the Wizards have seen both extremes. But this much is clear: after entering the break winners of 18 of their last 21, they have leveled out to mediocrity in the four weeks since. 

As for why that is, defense seems to be the common theme. The Wizards have struggled offensively in their last two games, but they are scoring more since the break (111.3 ppg) than they were before (108.1). 

As John Wall explains, it's defensive problems that have made their offensive issues more glaring lately:

"When we're not making shots, we need to play with that same defensive intensity. We need to figure it out and do that," he said "When you're not making shots, you have to defend at a high level and that's what we have problems with sometimes."

Just about every stat will tell you that the Wizards have not been nearly as good defensively after the break than they were before. Here are a few for comparison:

Before All-Star break                                       After All-Star break

9th in def. rating: 105                                       26th in def. rating: 109.9
12th in opp PPG: 105.3                                    28th in opp PPG: 112.4
17th in opp FG%: 45.7                                     28th in opp FG%: 48
​10th in opp 3PT%: 35.3                                   30th in opp 3PT%: 40.3
8th in opp fastbreak pts: 11.7                           19th in opp fastbreak pts: 14.1
12th in opp paint pts: 42.5                                16th in opp paint pts: 44.7
11th in opp RPG: 42.7                                      24th in opp RPG: 45.8

(rankings are out of 30 NBA teams)

As you see, there have been some major drops. The Wizards were top 10 in defensive rating, but in their last 15 games are bottom five. They were 12th in points allowed, but since the break are third-worst among all teams.

Guarding the three-point line has been a huge issue. The Wizards were 10th in opponents three-point before the break, but since are dead-last. Opponents are shooting 40.3 percent against them. For a comparison, that's better than Stephen Curry (40%), Ryan Anderson (39.7%) and Kyrie Irving (39.3%) are shooting this season.

That's dreadful and it doesn't bode well for their upcoming road trip against teams like the Cavs, Warriors and Clippers who rank second, third and fourth in three-point percentage, respectively.

Here's how the Wizards stack up individually in defensive rating before and after the All-Star break:

Before All-Star break                                       After All-Star break

Markieff Morris 102.3                                        Jason Smith 103.3
Bradley Beal 103.5                                             Ian Mahinmi 104.7
Otto Porter 104.3                                                Brandon Jennings 108.8
Marcin Gortat 104.5                                           Kelly Oubre, Jr. 109
John Wall 104.6                                                  Bojan Bogdanovic 109.5
Kelly Oubre, Jr. 105.2                                        Bradley Beal 109.6
Jason Smith 108                                                 John Wall 110.4
Ian Mahinmi 113                                                Markieff Morris 111.2
                                                                            Otto Porter 112
                                                                            Marcin Gortat 113.7

Defensive rating doesn't tell the whole story of course, but it is noteworthy that just about everyone is worse except Smith and Mahinmi. Collectively, the Wizards have struggled on that end of the floor and it has resulted in losses to lesser teams like the Sixers, Timberwolves, Mavericks and Hornets.

There are numerous reasons why the Wizards have taken a step back defensively and it's probably a confluence of factors. For one, they have had to adjust their lineups with the additions of Bogdanovic and Jennings to the mix. Mahinmi returning from injury has affected the minutes and role of guys like Gortat and Morris. One could also look at the schedule and how difficult the travel and back-to-backs have been. Wall has also been dealing with a sore foot, while Morris has missed games due to illness and has had a sore left thigh, as well. Ask head coach Scott Brooks and he will usually point to focus and commitment.

The Wizards still have time to figure it all out with 12 games left, but eight of those are on the road. And up ahead is their most difficult road swing of the season. The playoffs are getting closer and closer and clearly the Wizards need some work on defense before they begin.

[RELATED: Here's how the Wizards can correct course with 12 games left]

Eastern Conference standings

Stat line of the week: John Wall 3/17 vs. Bulls - 14 points, 20 assists, block, steal, 5-for-6 FT

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings: Top teams looking vulnerable]

Quote of the Week

"He said he would come to D.C."

- John Wall on DeMarcus Cousins' thoughts before he was traded to the Pelicans

Tweet (or Instagram) of the Week

Schedule at a glance

Mon. - 110-102 loss at Celtics
Tue. - OFF
Wed. - 8 p.m. vs. Hawks
Thu. - OFF
Fri. - 7 p.m. vs. Nets
Sat. - 7:30 p.m. at Cavaliers
Sun. - OFF

[RELATED: VIDEO: Ref appears to trip Bogdanovic, then call turnover]

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Up-and-down day all part of the process for Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr.

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USA Today Sports

Up-and-down day all part of the process for Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr.

WARD 8 -- The vibrating mobile phone interrupted Capital City coach Jarell Christian’s conversation with other Go-Go staff Tuesday afternoon. The incoming call started a process, one that defines why the G-League franchise exists and precisely at the Washington Wizards practice facility. 

Wizards’ senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard, the type of person one pauses a conversation for, was on the other end of the line.  “It’s a phone call I’m going to answer every time,” a smiling Christian made clear. This conversation provided a heads up. Guard Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s 2018 first-round pick, and backup center Thomas Bryant needed additional work. They would join the Go-Go’s practice Wednesday.

This sounds like a demotion. It’s not even though technically both players were assigned to the G-League squad. If you blinked __ or took a three-hour nap midday __ then you missed the entire shuffle. Brown and Bryant were on the sideline for Washington’s 119-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night.

Players with three or fewer years of NBA experience are eligible for unlimited G-League assignments – and same day return. The Wizards and Go-Go inhabiting the Entertainment and Sports Arena put the latter point into play. 

Brown, 19, and Bryant were at Capital One Arena for Washington’s morning shootaround ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards were not performing a covert operation, but Brown spilled the beans when explaining to reporters why he couldn’t stay for a chat shortly after 12 p.m. 

They soon drove city streets to I-295, hopped off the desired exit, and then jumped into a two-hour practice with their second team of the day. 

Brown and Bryant, who played for the Lakers’ G-League team last season, needed up-and-down court work. Neither is part of Washington’s rotation. 

Brown’s 30 minutes, including four Wednesday with the game out of reach, are the fewest of any player selected 1-22 in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bryant, a big man with energy, took the court less than Brown. 

Consistent in-season full-court practices are rare for NBA teams considering travel and a desire to keep key players fresh. Those factors mean finding work wherever and whenever.

“This is why the Go-Go are here,” Christian said to NBC Sports Washington. “This is why our staff is put in place for these guys to develop and get better.”

Following Go-Go practice Brown raced to his apartment and caught a needed shower. He then returned to the Wizards around the point when the NBA club recalled him from the Go-Go.

Brown took the situation in stride. 

“[The Wizards] know I work hard, but they just want to make sure I’m getting my proper reps,” Brown told NBC Sports Washington during Wednesday’s second stint at Capital One Arena. 

The up-and-down activity happened this week for a reason. Brooks gained insight into the G-League process during his time as the coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He wanted to keep Brown and Bryant with the NBA squad “the first three to four weeks" of the season before considering a reassignment. 

The possibility of a Go-Go stint longer than a standard movie could come later, Brooks said, including game action. Christian and his staff will be ready.

While his title is Capital City head coach, Christian's primary tasks go far beyond winning and losing games. He must implement the Wizards’ offensive and defensive schemes, so the players going from one team to the other experience a smooth transition. Then there is aiding with playing development. That’s important for any of the players, but specifically those on the Wizards roster like the team’s first No. 1 selection since 2015.

“Troy has never played a real NBA game. This is the next best thing for him,” Christian said. 

Brown didn’t discount the extra work despite not going against players with multi-million dollar contracts.

“He’s young. He’s so young. He’s talented,” Christian said. “The thing that impresses me most about him is how he goes in those workouts. …. He’s an intense workout guy. He’s got an ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays for himself. I can see him doing the same thing for us if we ever get him for a game.”

Capital City opened its inaugural season losing three of four games. Christian’s coaching thoughts naturally gravitated toward the next game, Friday at Wisconsin. Then Christian received a call. 

“I’m a big ‘Be where your feet are’ guy,” Christian said, referencing a saying about mindfulness and remaining present. “Obviously, we have to prepare for Friday night’s game, but I want to make sure that we can be the best today in practice. Having two NBA players in your practice only enhances that practice. I embrace that. Them being here will only help our team.”

Brooks eventually played Brown and Brooks deep into the blowout win. They entered with four minutes left and made all three of their field goal attempts. 

“I’ve been enjoying the process. Just trying to get better every day,” Brown said. “Work hard; trying to do anything I can to help the team.”

In one day, he helped two. 

 

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Five observations from Wizards' 119-95 blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

Five observations from Wizards' 119-95 blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers

The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 119-95 on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from the game.

Finally, a blowout: The Wizards' season so far has been largely defined by them making things harder than they need to be. On Wednesday, it all came together in a game in which they cruised to victory. Finally, they got an easy one.

Sure, it helped they were playing quite possibly the worst team in the NBA. But over the past year, these situations haven't always meant a guaranteed win. The Wizards have a habit of playing down to their opponents and, for once, they did not.

The Wizards led by as many as 27 points in this one. They scored 41 in the first quarter, their most in an opening frame since 2014. Though the Cavs made it slightly interesting in the third quarter, the Wizards were essentially in complete control from start to finish.

Important rest: The Wizards haven't blown out teams often since the beginning of last season. At least, they haven't had many games so lopsided their starters could take the end of the night off.

Last season, they won by 20 or more points just three times. Considering there were 168 such games in the NBA last year, that isn't a whole lot.

Against the Cavs on Wednesday, the Wizards only needed to play John Wall 21 minutes. Bradley Beal played 28, Otto Porter Jr. 26, Markieff Morris 21 and Dwight Howard 20. It was a stress-free victory and every team needs those every once in a while.

Welcome to the league, rook: The box score will show that Cavs' rookie guard Collin Sexton had a big night offensively. The No 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft scored 24 points and shot a solid 9-for-16 from the field and looks like an excellent building block for Cleveland.

But a closer look reveals Sexton had a bit of a 'welcome to the league, rookie' game. Wall and Beal ate him alive on defense and forced him into four turnovers, all in the first half, with relative ease.

There was one play that exemplified Sexton's night against Wall, in particular. Wall got to the rim on an and-1 play that saw Sexton turn all sorts of ways as he tried to stay in front of the five-time All-Star:

That's a brand of sauce Sexton had probably never seen before.

Depth on display: The Cavs are so bad without Kevin Love, that big picture conclusions can't be drawn from the success teams have against them. That said, the Wizards showed an impressive level of depth on Wednesday.

Their core bench players all registered double-digit plus-minus ratings. All five members of their second unit - Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jeff Green and Ian Mahinmi - scored eight points or more.

One category of stats tells the story best and it involves Wall. The Wizards' star only scored eight points in 21 minutes. He shot 3-of-10 from the field and had three turnovers.

The Wizards had not won a game with Wall scoring eight points or fewer since 2014. They hadn't won with him playing 21 minutes or fewer since 2013.

Wall has been so important to their success over the years that they rarely win when he has off-nights. They haven't won when he's put up numbers that bad in years. 

Yes, it's the Cavs. But the Wizards have the depth now to be less reliant on Wall. That's a good thing for everyone.

Mahinmi hit a three!: Wizards fans who showed up on Wednesday night saw something no other NBA fans had ever seen before. You could say they saw history.

That's because Mahinmi, playing in his 11th season, made his first ever three-point shot. Yes, that's right. After missing his first 10 career attempts, Mahinmi finally got one to go down.

It was a special moment, particularly on Twitter, where the phrase 'Ma3nmi' could be used for the very first time during a regular season game.

All kidding aside, Mahinmi deserves some legitimate credit here. He worked diligently over the summer and all throughout the preseason to develop a game-ready three-point shot. At the end of every Wizards practice and shootaround, he can be seen taking shot after shot from long range.

Despite having already played a decade in the NBA, Mahinmi is still adding to his game. Even his biggest critics should be able to appreciate that.

Ironically, on the night Mahinmi hit his first three, Beal made his 900th.

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