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Under Wittman, Wizards are born to run

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Under Wittman, Wizards are born to run

If Tuesdays practice at George Mason University was any indication, Randy Wittmans first training camp as head coach of the Wizards will be all about speed, with or without star guard John Wall.

The good thing is were in decent shape, Wittman said after conducting a two-hour morning practice that will be followed by a two-hour practice in the evening.

Were not going to change our tempo just because Johns out," Wittman said. "And to be able to run up and down the floor youve got to be in shape and I was pretty pleased with that.

With Wall sidelined eight weeks with a stress injury to his left kneecap and Nene out with a left foot injury, Wittman broke his 19-man squad into three groups. Presumably, the top five that practiced together on Tuesday will be the group that takes the court when the Wizards open the preseason on Monday night in Charlotte.

That group had Shelvin Mack and Trevor Booker at the guard position, Trevor Ariza and Jordan Crawford at forward and Emeka Okafor at center. Wittman downplayed the importance of the groupings, saying they would change on a daily basis.

Well try to look at a lot of different combinations and see how well they play together, Wittman said. Its hard to sit here and tell you what the cohesion is right away.

Tuesdays practice under Wittman was the first for Ariza and Okafor, who came to the Wizards in a June 20 trade that sent Rashard Lewis and a second-round draft pick to New Orleans.

Everybody was learning plays, Ariza said. We have six new guys trying to figure everything out, so it was a learning process today.

Ariza said that while many of the new Wizards are digesting Wittmans sets, they are also learning each others tendencies and finding their sweet spots on the court.

You can learn what they like to do, he said. You can see what they worked on through the summer and what they want to implement into their games. So, in this practice we learned where players are comfortable getting the ball and playing.

Wittman said Tuesday nights closed-door practice from 5-7 p.m. would feature 5-on-5 play that will allow the players to defend against one another for the first time.

Newly-signed point guard Janerro Pargo said he already sees the makings of a Wizards team capable of running opponents into the hardwood.

Ive been on a few running teams, but this is definitely a team that has the ability to get out and run, Pargo said. We have guys on the wing that are athletic and get out and fly; weve got big men who can rebound; and guards who can push it.

We all know John Wall is one of the fastest guys in the league end to end. So I think we have a great opportunity to get out and run.

With the benefit of a full training camp, Wittman said he intends to put a few new wrinkles into the game plan he used last season, when the Wizards went 18-31 following the dismissal of Flip Saunders, including a season-ending stretch in which they won eight of their final 10 games.

Wittman said he had trouble sleeping Monday night, knowing he was about to start his first full season as head coach of the Wizards.

The excitement is there to have a chance to start this thing from the beginning and do some things I wasnt able to do last year, he said.

One thing that wont change is Wittmans desire to push the basketball up the floor quickly and decisively, with or without Wall.

This team wasnt built for one player to carry us, Wittman said.

For the first day of practice guys are amped up, especially with this being such a new situation for a lot of them. The energy level is really good, but it better be on the first day.

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Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

The initiative to get Otto Porter Jr. more attempts from three this season is not off to a great start.

That right there is called an understatement. Because it would be one thing if Porter only took a couple of them, but he literally took zero against the Heat on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

Yes, one of the NBA's best three-point shooters didn't even get off a single attempt from long range. That is simply hard to justify, especially after a preseason in which the team had a stated goal to shoot more threes than ever before.

It wasn't just threes. The often deferential Porter was even more gun shy than normal. He only took seven total shots in the 113-112 loss and topped out at just nine points.

Porter, in fact, had just one field goal attempt until there was 1:19 remaining in the first half, when he got two of them on the same play thanks to a rebound on his own miss.

Porter still affected the game in other ways, per usual. He had 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and finished +1 in +/- rating.

But for Porter to reach the next level as a player, he has to add volume to his efficient scoring numbers.

"We will look at the film and figure it out," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's not like we go into the game wanting to only shoot 26 threes [as a team] and Otto shoot zero."

Brooks continued to say the problem is a combination of several things. More plays could be called for Porter and his teammates could look for him more often.

But ultimately, it's up to Porter to assert himself and take initiative. Granted, that may have been easier said than done against the Heat, who boast one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball in Josh Richardson. They are a scrappy team with athletic and hard-nosed defenders on the wing.

For Porter, though, that shouldn't matter. Ultimately, his share of the offense is up to him. The ball is going to swing around often enough for him to create his own opportunities.

Porter only taking seven shots is a bad sign considering Thursday was a better opportunity to get shots than he may receive in most games. The Wizards added Dwight Howard this summer and last season he averaged 11.2 shots per game, 3.4 more than Marcin Gortat, whom he replaced in the starting lineup.

It won't be easy, but the Wizards need Porter to take matters into his own hands.

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Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Realistically, the Miami Heat had no business even being in position to win on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

They shot just 39.2 percent from the field, compared to 46.9 percent for the Wizards, and had 19 turnovers. 

The Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a tough one to the Magic the night before. They were missing a host of rotation players, including two of their regular starters.

Yet, the Heat pulled out a 113-112 victory to stun the Opening Night crowd at Capital One Arena simply because they out-hustled the Wizards. They out-rebounded the Wizards 55-40, including a 22-7 margin in offensive boards. Those 22 offensive rebounds were tied for the most allowed by the Wizards since 2012.

"Rebounding the ball is really why we lost the game," Wizards guard John Wall said. "That's really where they killed us."

Miami's advantage on the glass allowed them to put up a whopping 16 more shots. That led to 27 second chance points compared to just 10 for Washington.

It was the central theme of the game, so naturally it played a role in how it was decided. After Wall forced a miss by Dwyane Wade on a fadeaway attempt in the closing seconds, Heat big man Kelly Olynyk was right there to catch the ball and scoop it in for two.

That score proved to be the go-ahead points as just 0.2 seconds remained on the clock. All night, the Wizards made plays on defense, only to have the Heat save themselves with second looks.

The Wizards had no better explanation postgame other than Miami simply tried harder.

"They out-hustled us," forward Jeff Green said.

"Rebounds come down to whoever wants it the most and tonight they wanted it more than we did," forward Otto Porter Jr. said.

It sounds simple, and perhaps it was indeed that easy to explain. But there were other factors at play, some in their control and some not.

For one, the Wizards were missing their best rebounder, Dwight Howard, who sat out with a strained piriformis muscle. Even at 32, Howard remains one of the best rebounders in basketball and would have made a significant difference. 

It would have been nice to have him, a 280-pound giant in the paint to match up with Hassan Whiteside, one of the most physically imposing centers in the league.

With Howard out of the mix, the Wizards turned to Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, but they each stumbled into early foul trouble. Head coach Scott Brooks had no other option than to go small with guys like Green and Markieff Morris at the five-spot.

Brooks wants to employ that strategy more often anyways, but not by necessity. And sure enough, it was Green and Morris on the floor when Olynyk broke loose for the final deciding play.

"The last rebound, we definitely need to put most of the ownership on me and Jeff because we were the biggest guys," Morris said. "I think that might have been the easiest layup of the game right there."

"I was surprised I was open," Olynyk admitted afterwards. "It kinda just popped open and I was kinda just standing right there."

Though many factors were at play, the Wizards' struggles rebounding the ball came down to the simple fundamentals of boxing out their opponent. As they learned last year, it's tough to be consistent when you can't take care of the little things that separate wins and losses. 

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