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Takeaways from Wizards' 21-point come back over Blazers in OT

Takeaways from Wizards' 21-point come back over Blazers in OT

The offensive hot streak continued, and the absentee defense that plagued the Wizards for this road trip evaporated in second half as they erased a 21-point deficit to pull out a 125-124 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday at Moda Center.

It was their second win in a row in the extra session after beating the Sacramento Kings 130-122 on Friday.

The Wizards (41-24) got it together late and used a 22-6 run to cut a 70-49 halftime deficit to single digits, took the lead after John Wall buried a couple of three-pointers and then Bradley Beal made a three. They won both games of a back-to-back for the fifth time in a row and are 4-0 on this West trip with their final game Monday at the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They've almost matched their win total from a year ago when they went 41-41 and are now 15-15 on the road. 

Wall (39 points, nine assists) led Washington while Beal (26 points, six assists), Marcin Gortat (15 points, 15 rebounds), Otto Porter (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Markieff Morris (13 points, 11 rebounds) rounded out the starters.

The Blazers rode the hot hand of C.J. McCollum (team-high 34 points) and Damian Lillard (33 points, seven assists). Mo Harkless (15 points) and Allen Crabbe (14 points, six rebounds).

The Wizards cut the deficit to 98-97 but went cold. Morris short an airball on a post up of Al-Farouq Aminu (11 points) and then turned it over on another post up. But the biggest play came when Beal jumped a handoff from Jusuf Nurkic to McCollum and had a layup.

He missed and it led to a three-pointer for Lillard for a 106-97 lead. That’s when Wall and Beal took over and led 112-106.

Portland, however, tied the score at 112 with a pair of foul shots from Nurkic that followed a four-point play. Morris was called for a defensive three seconds which led to a technical foul shot and Aminu made a three-pointer to set up the finish in regulation.

Both teams traded shots in overtime. Lillard scored nine of Portland's 12 points, but with 16 seconds remaining and the Blazers up 124-123, Wall blocked Lillard's shot. Brooks called timeout after his team looked confused with six seconds left.

After Porter inbounded the ball to Beal off a curl around staggered screens, he drove into the lane, drew three defenders and found an open Morris in the corner. Morris pump-faked, put the ball on the floor and knocked down a mid-range jumper that proved the game-winner. Portland protested that Morris stepped out of bounds before the shot, which postgame replay confirmed, but referees ruled it was not reviewable. 

– The more aggressive team on the defensive end made the runs. The Blazers, who really aren’t that good on defense, had been allowing 112.7 points per game since the All-Star break. They were physical in the first half when they gained their lead, but when the Wizards made their second-half run they flipped the script. The multiple efforts by Wall and Beal sparked a unit that had more active hands and did a better job contesting shots and blowing up dribble handoffs. 

– The coverage on flare screens was inadequate in the first half. The Wizards got out to an 11-4 lead but seemed unprepared or unaware of how the Blazers prefer to use their shooters. McCollum would come from the corner on the strong side of the floor, loop to the weakside and get a flare screen from a post player. His three-point looks were mostly clean as the trailer was a step late and help from the big stepping over wasn’t there. It’s how McCollum scored 25 of his points in the first half on 9 of 12 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three.

– Coach Scott Brooks said he doesn’t believe in taking games off or holding out players for no reason. “I don’t. Not at all,” Brooks said about having his stars take games off. “We all have 82 games to play and coach and you have to do your best each game. You can’t give into the schedule. You can’t give into the back-to-backs, four in five nights in four different cities. … My job is to adjust the minutes and make sure everybody is as fresh as they can.” Wall played 40 minutes but Beal, who played 42 vs. Sacramento, was kept to 33.

– McCollum only had 12 points in the first meeting, a 120-101 loss to the Wizards in January. But McCollum was held to 0-for-3 shooting in the fourth quarter and Lillard 3-for-8 when the Wizards made their run. Overall, the Blazers shot 7-for-21 while the Wizards were 11-for-22.

– Wall was forced to score more as the Blazers committed to taking Beal away and Porter couldn’t knock down open looks from the short cornter. He shot 23 times, making 13 of them, but it took him away from his primary role as a facilitator. It's why despite Wall's activity he only had two assists in the first half when they trailed. When the Wizards got back into the game, they found space for Beal and he alternated with Wall to keep the Blazers off-balance.

– Brandon Jennings (1-for-4 shooting) still hasn’t found his footing offensively. With a chance to knock down an open three as he went uncovered, he shot an airball with 30.8 seconds left. Lillard took it the other way for a layup and a 93-82 lead. Then early in the fourth, the Blazers allowed Jennings into the paint without a contest and he short-armed a floater. Even though the bench has been upgraded, it only contributed 14 points. Bojan Bogdanovic (11 points) made 2 of 4 threes, both of his makes coming in the fourth during the comeback.

MORE WIZARDS: ​Morris steal sets up Wall left-hand jam

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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