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Takeaways from Wizards' overtime loss to Thunder

Takeaways from Wizards' overtime loss to Thunder

The Wizards came close to making history. They had their best chance to win a game in Oklahoma City, battling back from a 16-point deficit in the first half in coach Scott Brooks' return to where he was fired in 2015. 

They lost it, however, as Russell Westbrook buried a three-pointer to force overtime where the Thunder won 126-115 on Wednesday night at Chesapeake Arena.

The Thunder (12-8) erased a seven-point deficit in the fourth and Westbrook's three-point shot was his first of the game.  

Bradley Beal (31 points) led the Wizards and the other four starters contributed. Markieff Morris (19 points), Marcin Gortat (12 points, 11 rebounds), John Wall (15 points, 15 assists) and Otto Porter (11 points, 8 rebounds) provided a balanced effort. 

Westbrook (35 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists) was held mostly in check until the sparked an 8-0 run to start the extra period and the Wizards couldn't recover. 

The Wizards (6-11) played better defensively in the second half and a three-pointer from Beal put them up 97-90 as the momentum shifted by the midpoint of the fourth quarter. But Beal made a crucial mistake late.

Needing a three-pointer to tie the score with 17 seconds left, Westbrook got free. Beal sank too deep in the paint against Westbrook who sprinted back to the arc for the open look to tie the score.

-- The Wizards ran a pick-and-roll to end regulation and Wall had a shot at the rim to win it. He got a mismatch on Jerami Grant in the paint and instead of taking a floater or trying to force the issue one step deeper to get to the rim, Wall passed it back to Morris who'd set the screen. The ball ended up in the hands of Porter who did have a clean look. 

-- When Gortat is playing one-on-one defense, he's at his best lately. His low-post battle with Steven Adams (12 points, six rebounds) solid. He bodied up the physical big man for the Thunder, didn't cede ground and mad it tough. Adams can shoot jump hooks for either block with either hand. Gortat pushed him out farther than he'd like from his sweet spot, prevented the full extension on the shot and contested. 

-- For the second game in a row, Kelly Oubre (12 points, 6 rebounds) had energy that was vital. The Wizards were able to cut the deficit by more than half as they trailed 60-63 at halftime. He made two foul shots as he was fouled on a drive.  He had a steal and finish in transition for a layup. When the Wizards surged late in the third quarter, Oubre nailed a three-pointer. He hit another one early in the fourth for a 89-86 lead. But aside from his stats, it was the ball pressure and the problems he caused the Thunder in disrupting their offense with deflections. 

-- Westbrook was held to 12-for-35 shooting. The key? The Wizards sent multiple bodies at him. They didn't overcommit by trapping him on pick-and-rolls. Instead, they played containment, gave him the three-point shot which is the weakness of his game and sealed off the paint. But Westbrook's effort plays that included battling for a rebound for a missed foul shot in overtime and the putback was the difference. 

-- Without Ian Mahinmi (right knee), Wizards won the rebounding battle 48-47 with the NBA's top rebounding team. They also were plus-two on the offensive side with 11 which is how they came back and made it a game. Wall and Beal combined to grab 11 and Morris and Porter had 15. 

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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