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Takeaways from Wizards' loss to Cavs to snap home winning streak

Takeaways from Wizards' loss to Cavs to snap home winning streak

The Wizards' home streak is over at Verizon Center following Monday’s 140-135 overtime loss to the East’s No. 1 team, but they at least proved that they belonged in their most exciting game of the season.

Markieff Morris' putback of John Wall's layup almost was the game-winning shot with 12.2 seconds left as LeBron James missed a layup — and took four steps to get there — that could've put his team back ahead. But after Wall made two free throws, James banked in an improbable three-pointer with three-tenths of a second left to force the extra session.

It was the Wizards' second announced sellout of the season as they failed to avenge a 105-94 loss here to the Cavaliers on Nov. 11 when they were a very different team.

Bradley Beal, who was out injured for that game, exploded (41 points) but made the clutch play of the game at 4:13 in overtime when he drew James' sixth foul to send him to the bench for good. But Kyrie Irving's five-point outburst — after a 7-0 run post-James — created the separation needed.

Otto Porter (25 points), John Wall (22 points, 12 assists), Markieff Morris (15 points) and Marcin Gortat (16 points, eight rebounds) were the supporting cast, and Kelly Oubre (11 points, four steals) came off the bench to wreak havoc on both ends. 

Oubre drained a three for a 127-122 lead in overtime. 

Neither team could pull away as each shot better than 50 percent from the field for the first three quarters. But after a series of threes from James (32 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists) had the Cavaliers ahead late in the fourth, it was threes from Beal and then Porter to put them up 110-107 with three minutes left.

The Cavs responded with threes from Kyle Korver (13 points) and Kevin Love (39 points, 12 rebounds) to go ahead 116-112 the last 1:32. Then Beal tied the score at 116 with 43.8 seconds left after Gortat blocked James at the rim.

Love had a 15-point outburst in the third to get Cleveland (35-15) back on top 86-82 entering the fourth. James set up everyone else and Tristan Thompson (22 points, 12 rebounds) cleaned up in the paint, but Irving (23 points) was relatively speaking held in check by Wall until the extra period when he put Cleveland up for good with two foul shots, 138-135 with 10.2 seconds left.

--Unlike in the first meeting, when Wall had 23 points in the first half because there was no Beal to spread the floor, he lived in the paint. Even though his final numbers weren’t spectacular, the open shots were generated by his penetration to break down the defense.

--The second unit, with Beal and Morris starting the fourth, got the Wizards ahead. Beal had mismatches when defended by Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye attempting to contain him off the dribble. Oubre came on defense as he jumped a passing lane to Korver and got on the end of a fast break to finish a dunk thanks to a steal and assist from Tomas Satoransky.   

--When the Wizards went to the small-ball lineup with Porter as the “stretch” option, they again had difficulty dealing with Love who’d post him up.  Love had a fade across the lane midway through the fourth, but Porter responded. Oubre, however, picked up his fourth foul at 6:15 getting caught on Love in the same spot for a three-point play.

--Morris picked up his second foul at 7:26 of the first quarter defending Love. Morris sparked the Wizards with his assist to Beal for an open three early in the third and his close out of Love on the three-point arc that led to him getting a charge.  But after shooting an airball three himself, Morris picked up his third at 7:35 of the third setting a screen. Morris was hit with his fifth with 9:36 left fighting off a screen. He fouled out in the OT, as did Oubre.

--The hard trap of the ball led to passes to Thompson, who was setting most of the screens, diving to the basket. He was 6 of 8 in the first half which actually was a good thing for the Wizards. That meant less three-point bombs and shots for Irving and James.

-- Porter is undersized when defending James, but he was perfect on the offensive end making 5 of 5 shots, including all three looks from three-point range, and created for others. James closed him out hard in the corner and Porter attack dribbled, drew the help defenders and delivered a bounce pass to Morris for a layup for a 53-48 lead. On the next possession, Wall had a bad pass turnover to James but Porter got back and in front of the full-speed rush and stripped the ball off of his leg to get possession back. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: LeBron throws down huge dunk, Morris loses shoe]

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”


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Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks.