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Takeways from Wizards' scrappy win over Nuggets

Takeways from Wizards' scrappy win over Nuggets

Changes occurred Thursday, and they took shape with defense as the Wizards overcame a shaky first half to hold the Denver Nuggets to 33 points in the second half of a 92-85 victory.

Bradley Beal led all scorers (26 points, 3 rebounds), followed by Markieff Morris (15 points, 4 assists). John Wall, who set a career-high Tuesday with 52, had a relatively quiet evening (15 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds).

But it was how they defended after the intermission that proved to be the difference.

Nikola Jokic (17 points, 11 rebounds) led the Nuggets followed by Danilo Gallinari (14 points), Jusuf Nurkic (13 points, 7 rebounds) and Will Barton (11 points).

--Morris hasn’t played well defensively in a while, and the way he started the fourth helped Denver regain the lead. Marcin Gortat had to help Trey Burke slow down Jamal Murray from turning the corner on a screen and had to run back to get in position on Nurkic. Morris, however, released him prematurely which allowed the easy pass and the dunk before the center could recover. Then Gallinari converted a three-point play on a reach-in from Morris the next time down.

-- Wall spent a lot of plays in half-court sets off the ball while Beal ran the offense, including at the end of the first half, and it produced. He was able to attack off the dribble on the ball reversal and get into the paint either from the corners or the slot. It didn’t necessarily lead to baskets for Wall but the ball movement was better and it took advantage of Denver for committing so much attention to Beal on the strongside. When Beal tied the score at 62, it was with Wall off ball getting the ball back to him for an open 3. And Beal ended the third quarter the same way – handling the ball and running the offense. He drew a foul.

-- Nurkic picked up his fourth personal foul early in the third quarter when he set a screen that wiped out Wall. Wall retaliated after getting knocked out of bounds to receive his fifth technical foul of the season. That’ll cost him another $2,000.

--Kelly Oubre (8 points, 5 rebounds) entered the game midway through the first quarter for Morris and applied ball pressure that helped the Wizards with deflections and added energy that they’d been missing at the start. He also ended the game while Morris sat as his energy grew contagious.

--Burke, again playing ahead of Tomas Satoransky, is at least finding his shot much better not having as many ball-handling responsibilities. He had six points in seven minutes of the first half, shooting 3-for-4.

--The second unit, which has been under fire all season for lackluster performances on both ends of the floor, did its job in the first half. Oubre, Jason Smith, Marcus Thornton, Andrew Nicholson and Burke all were on the plus side of the plus-minus rating. All five starters were in the minus.

--Turnovers fueled Denver’s offense. They forced eight from the Wizards in the first quarter alone to get out to a 14-point lead and enter the second ahead 29-18. 

[RELATED: Brooks on Wizards' effort following Wall's comments]

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With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

At the beginning of the week, the Washington Wizards had 12 games left on the schedule and needed to win a minimum of eight or nine of those games if they hoped to make the playoffs.

It’s Thursday night and Washington’s loss to the Jazz makes three in a row.

With nine games left on the schedule, where do they stand in the East postseason race and the draft lottery order?

Eastern Conference Standings

Losing three-straight games hasn’t actually dropped the Wizards from the 11th spot in the East, where they’ve hovered the last couple weeks. For that they can thank the tanking Atlanta Hawks.

Don’t think those L’s aren’t costing Washington, though. In the same span of time, the 8-seed Heat have won three in a row.

Now Bradley Beal and Co. are a full six games out of the final playoff spot with nine games to go. They also trail Orlando (34-38) in ninth and Charlotte (32-39) in 10th.

They’re not absolutely, certainly, 100-percent eliminated from playoff contention, but they must win every game left.

Even that might not be enough.

NBA Draft Lottery

Back-to-back-to-back losses took a major toll on whatever playoff hopes Washington had left. For a silver lining, look no further than the team’s draft lottery position.

The Wizards started the week ninth in the draft lottery order, which gave them 20.3 percent odds of scoring a top-four pick (preferably in the form of a Duke freshman or Ja Morant). That ninth spot also carries a 4.5 percent chance at the top-overall pick.

While the Wiz kids were busy dropping 3 games, the two teams immediately ahead of them in the lottery order had better luck.

The Grizzlies won their only game so far this week, while the Pelicans won one of two.

Those results dropped New Orleans to number nine, boosted Washington to number eight and left them tied with Memphis at 15.5 games out of number one in the lottery order (though Memphis’s win percentage is fractionally lower and keeps them in seventh).

If the Wizards can pass the Grizzlies and climb into seventh, that’s a big deal in terms of lottery odds. Simulating the drawing, the ninth-place team gets a top-four pick once in every five simulations. The seventh-place team gets a top-four pick once in every three simulations.

Look Ahead

Washington can’t lose another game if they want to make the playoffs. This is literally must-win territory.

Even winning out is no guarantee they’ll advance to the postseason.

Up next, Washington hosts Miami at home on Saturday, followed by a West Coast road trip the following week.

Games to Watch

Heat at Wizards, Saturday 7 PM

Timberwolves at Grizzlies, Saturday 8 PM

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Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

The Washington Wizards selected John Wall first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Other lottery picks followed in subsequent years. None were point guards. Nobody bothered contemplating such a scenario.

That’s no longer the case.

There is Wall’s uncertain physical status for next season and beyond because of a ruptured Achilles.

Thursday’s mind-blowing performance from Murray State point guard Ja Morant put such contemplation into overdrive.

For many NBA-only fans, the 12th seeded Racers' 83-64 thrashing over no. 5 Marquette in its West Region first-round game marked the initial opportunity to watch the buzz-worthy Morant. He did not disappoint.

Morant, who only trailed Duke phenom Zion Williamson for jaw-dropping highlights this season, dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists for the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. His next chance to wow comes Saturday against fourth-seeded Florida State.

Imagine the Wizards receive some lottery luck ahead of June’s NBA Draft. Not the overflowing pot of gold kind that means grabbing Williamson first overall, but jumping up above the average options to the second or third selection. Washington (30-43) has a 26.3 percent chance of landing a top 4 selection, according to the draft website Tankathon.

Williamson might be the only player selected ahead of Morant in June in what one NBA executive deems a two-player draft. “Zion makes it feel better than it is. After Zion and Ja, just an average draft,” the executive said.

You’re on the clock. Duke’s RJ Barrett is another top 3 candidate, but Morant gained ground on the wing guard and others all season by averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 assists and multiple viral video moments a game. By June, Morant might be the clear-cut second-best player.

Wall’s recovery timeline keeps the five-time All-Star sideline for the majority if not all of the 2019-20 season. He will eventually return, however. That factor cannot be ignored especially with his 4-year, $170 million supermax contract starting next season. Ideally, the selection compliments Bradley Beal and Wall in the starting lineup.

Wall also turns 29 in July and recovery from such a devastating injury presents significant unknowns.

Tomas Satoransky, Wall's primary backup and the current starter, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards would like him back, but the marketplace might have other ideas.

Time’s up. Turn the selection card in. Take Morant or not?

“Hell, yes!” multiple college basketball sources responded via text.

Others went with a standard roster-building approach.

“I take the best player available and figure it out,” an NBA scout texted.

In other words, hell yeah on Morant.

Another NBA scout received his first extended look at wispy yet athletically super-charged Morant last summer at Chris Paul’s basketball camp. “I thought he was ordinary because he played more off the ball,” the scout said of the 6-foot-3, 174-pound Morant. “But now he’s really, really good. Can pass with either hand.”

The scout offered an NBA comparison: John Wall. “Not as fast as John, but he’s got the same explosive athleticism at the rim.”

The counter-argument, a mild one at that, looks beyond next season.

Playing time ranked high among the reasons why the Wizards sought low-cost backup point guards over the years for Wall. Combo guards aside, if Wall goes 35-38 minutes nightly, why invest significant assets into a 10-13 minute-a-game player.

There’s some debate over whether Morant could play off the ball next to Wall. The sophomore is shooting 33.6 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season.

Based on the initial reaction from the various sources, nobody cares. Take the talent and figure out the rest. It's unclear what the Wizards have in Wall going forward. Maybe trade one of them down the line. The Wizards only have three healthy players under contract for next season. The 2019 first-round pick could immediately become a high-rotation player.

Such expectations rise if the Wizards jump up in the lottery. Historically there’s no chance they consider a point guard in the lottery with Wall on the roster. Times are different especially if there’s a chance to grab a hell yeah talent like Morant.

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