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Still unable to defend pick-and-rolls, Wizards are lost


Still unable to defend pick-and-rolls, Wizards are lost

Mathematically, the Wizards are still alive when talking playoffs. The appropriate sporting cliche here is to suggest their season is "on life support" after another brain-dead performance in Saturday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, showing an inability to defend something as elementary as the pick-and-roll for the second game in a row.

The goodwill they'd earned coming out of the All-Star break, when they won 7 of 9, is gone. They not only blew an 11-point lead late in the third quarter but allowed the reserves of a team that's 10 games under .500 to score 41 points in a furious fourth-quarter comeback.

While teams above the 10th-place Wizards (30-35) continue to stack up the victories, notably the Charlotte Hornets with seven in a row and the Indiana Pacers on a three-game win streak, this team has dropped five in succession. Each one gets worse, from the 25-point shellacking to the vulnerable Cleveland Cavaliers, a one-point loss on late free throws to the Pacers, an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that they had multiple chances to win and then the disaster in losing at the Utah Jazz on Friday. 

The last two are to losing teams, which to be fair are teams just like the Wizards. To match last season's win total of 46, the Wizards have to go 16-1 to end the season with meetings left with the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers during a five-game road trip. 

The pick-and-roll coverage has been beyond abysmal though this is hardly the first time that problem has reared its ugly head. Last season, when the Wizards were getting shredded by the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors during the regular season, it was largely because they had no clue on how to defend the action.

John Wall had an informal, after-practice summit with Marcin Gortat, and coach Randy Wittman and Nene joined in, for a spirited discussion last season.

Instead of being better from that experience with most of the same personnel -- after all, the Wizards swept the Raptors in the postseason and pushed the Hawks to six games by rendering their guard play ineffective -- somehow the Wizards have regressed.

The Wizards led 83-75 going into the fourth quarter in Denver, but were victimized by the high pick-and-roll that started a comeback. Just a sampling:

  • D.J. Augustin executed the action perfectly, getting around Ramon Sessions and the pass to Jusuf Nurkic for a layup.
  • Augustin went away from the screen from Nurkic to drive, Wall tried to help Sessions to slow down his penetration but the ball went out to Wall's man (Will Barton) for a three.
  • Augustin accepts the screen from Nurkic, gets ahead of Sessions and floats a difficult bank shot over Nene.
  • Nurkic sets the screen on Garrett Temple, dives to the rim for Augustin's pass and dunks over Nene who is a step late on the rotation.

Four of the first five field goals the Wizards allowed in the fourth were via pick-and-rolls. They'll say all the right things going into Monday's game vs. the Detroit Pistons, that they need to focus, to not take an opponent lightly because of the name on the back of the jersey or that they're going to put forth more effort.

While incremental changes can be made to improve, it's probably too late in the season to actually fix anything this broken. If they can finish one game above .500, and even that's a stretch at this point, that would be an accomplishment. 

MORE WIZARDS: Lights go out between Wizards and Nuggets just before halftime

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Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Most nights, with little variance, the Wizards know what they are going to get from John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. They are consistently what they are, both good and bad, and mostly good.

The same cannot always be said about Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are capable of brilliance, it's just those moments come and go and sometimes with mysterious timing. Both players help the team more often than not, but can be unpredictable and enigmatic.

Monday night saw both Morris and Oubre at their best as the Wizards topped the Blazers 125-124 in overtime at the Moda Center. It was a worthy reminder of how much the two of them can change the outlook for the Wizards as a team on any given night.

Let's begin with Morris because this may have been the best game he's played with the Wizards since joining them in a Feb. 2016 trade. On both ends of the floor, he  was a force, but particularly on offense.

Morris erupted for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three. His six threes were a career-high. He also had 10 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It was the most efficient night in Morris' career and, by one measure, one of the most efficient in franchise history. His 28 points were the most by a Wizards or Bullets player in 25 minutes or less since A.J. English dropped 30 points in 23 minutes in 1990.

Morris' threes were well-timed. He hit two in the extra period, including one with 38.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up four. He also made one with 1:04 left in regulation and another right before that with 1:39 to go, both to give the Wizards a lead at the time. 

The clutch threes invoked memories of a game-winner Morris hit in the very same building two seasons ago. That also happened to be his best year with the Wizards.

Morris has improved his three-point shooting in recent years with a career-best 36.7 percent last season. When he's knocking them down, the Wizards can be uniquely good at spacing the floor, as Wall and especially Beal and Porter can be dangerous from three.

What Morris did against Portland was a major departure from a pair of uninspired games to begin the season. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds total in his first two games, both losses, as he failed to compensate for Dwight Howard's absence. On Monday, he stepped up and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

Like Morris, Oubre had been scuffling through two games. A different version of him showed up in Portland.

Oubre amassed only 17 points in his first two games and shot just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. Against the Blazers, Oubre scored 22 points and shot 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-3 from long range.

Oubre added six rebounds, a block and a steal and a host of winning plays that didn't show up in traditional stats. He drew a loose ball foul on Mo Harkless early in the fourth quarter and took a charge on C.J. McCollum with under two minutes in overtime.

Oubre played pretty much exactly how head coach Scott Brooks often says he should. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the rim when the ball swung his way. He was more selective with his three-point attempts than usual. He wreaked havoc on defense with deflections, didn't gamble for steals and he hustled for rebounds. 

Monday night showed the perfect version of both Morris and Oubre. The Wizards need that to be the model for how they aspire to play every single night. If they do, this team's ceiling is significantly higher.



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10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

10 must-see moments from Wizards' wild OT win over Blazers, including John Wall's Jordan shrug

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five plays or moments worth revisiting...

1. We will get to the game, and we will get to many things done by the Wizards, but we begin with a moment from pregame. Apparently, it was Halloween costume night for the Blazers and Moe Harkless stole the show by dressing up as Tyrone Biggums from Chappelle's Show:

Adam Silver, if you're reading this, please institute a rule requiring every team to do a Halloween costume arrivals night. You owe us this.

2. Okay, now for the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. was one of the stars of the night with 22 points, six rebounds, a block and a steal.

Here is one of his first buckets, a shot off the glass that was not an easy one to get to go down:

3. In the first half, Bradley Beal picked up right where he left off last time he was in Portland when he dropped a career-high 51 points. He had 19 of his 25 total points in the first half, including this baseline drive after a nasty crossover:

4. Markieff Morris also had himself a night. He popped off for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and a career-high six threes. This was an athletic move around the rim you don't often see from Morris:

Was that some jelly from Keef? Not bad.

5. John Wall had a relatively quiet night for his standards with 16 points on 5-for-16 from the field with nine assists. Here was his best play, one of his signature chasedown blocks:

6. Back to Oubre. He was feeling it and even got Steve Buckhantz to drop a 'Tsunami Papi' reference on the broadcast:

For Buckhantz, as Oubre would say, "the wave is free."

7. Beal went cold in the third quarter, missing his first seven shots of the second half. But he got his groove back when the Wizards needed it most.

This three answered a go-ahead shot by Nik Stauskas and forced overtime:

Beal was super pumped:

8. Two of Morris' six threes came in overtime, including this one to help seal the victory. Morris knocked one down with only 38.5 seconds left and it put the Wizards up by four:

9. Wall helped put the Blazers down for good with a bank shot from the elbow. Some might say it was lucky, while others would say he called game:

Wall even had to hit the Blazers with a Jordan shrug. Portland has seen that before.

10. The Blazers had a chance in the final seconds, but Otto Porter Jr. put the finishing touches on the win with this block on Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater attempt. Though Porter didn't have huge numbers - he scored 16 points - his fingerprints were all over this win:

What an incredible game. We can all agree the Wizards and Blazers should play more often. Well, maybe not the Blazers. The Wizards have had a lot of fun at their expense in recent years.