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Wall wants to see Wizards 'greedy, aggressive, grimy, dirty'

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Wall wants to see Wizards 'greedy, aggressive, grimy, dirty'

The team that coach Randy Wittman wants back isn't thinking much about offense. When they weren't playing well in a recent game, he was perturbed to witness at halftime the conversations that had nothing to do with defense. When they beat Tuesday's opponent earlier this season, the Milwaukee Bucks, it was because the attention to that detail.

“Just being greedy, aggressive, grimy, dirty team. Not trying to injure anybody, but playing aggressive," said John Wall about how the Wizards have to play, which should be music to Wittman's ears after he called his team "soft" in the middle after a 24-point loss last week. "Hitting people when they’re coming to the basket.

"Not trying to give guys easy layups and stuff like that. That’s what got us over the hump. You got to play that playoff style now. Just be smart when you foul certain people at certain times. That’s big for us to get into the ball. When we average 25 or more deflections, we win. ... Ten or 11 deflections in a game, that’s not the type of defensive pressure we like to have."

RELATED: Morning tip: Wizards' trust factor with Otto Porter grows

In a win over the weekend vs. the Orlando Magic, the Wizards (4-4) went from allowing 60% accuracy in the first quarter to holding them to 37%. 36% and 44% in subsequent quarters.

The Bucks (5-5) are coming off a double overtime win vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. Plus, they have Jabari Parker back who wasn't available in their 118-113 loss to the Wizards on Oct. 30 as he still was recovering from a knee injury that dated to last season.

There's a good chance that the Wizards won't have Bradley Beal, who hasn't practiced in more than a week because of a left shoulder contusion. He scored 14 of the Wizards' 36 fourth-quarter points in that 13-point comeback in Milwaukee.

“We just tightened up our defense. We played the defense that we usually played last year. When we added pressure to those guys they kind of folded and didn’t take good shots and gave us the opportunity to push the pace and get into transition," Wall said. "Guys just made big shots. We had the same kind of open threes that we had throughout the whole game. We just missed them. Then in the fourth quarter we made like seven of them."

It's far too early to say if the Wizards are cured. Their three-game losing streak in which they were blown out by double-digits still is fresh in their minds. They've shown that they can play pace-and-space offense without turning the ball over liberally. They've gone from 50 giveaways in losses at the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks to 19 total as they went 1-1 vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder and Magic. 

“It’s early but I think we’re starting to see we can’t win games with a lot of turnovers," Wizards forward Otto Porter said. "It’s making it harder on the defense. We jut got to buckle down, play defense and go from there."

The Bucks have length and athleticism all over the floor with their starting unit.

“This is where you’re really going to get the sense of us," Wall said. "We only showed one sense of us for a whole game. That was San Antonio. Orlando and Milwaukee, we showed glimpses in the fourth quarter when we wanted to play defense. ... I don’t think we put a full package together when we played defense for a whole game and move the ball the way we want it to offensively."

MORE WIZARDS: Shoulder keeps Bradley Beal from practicing with Wizards again

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

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USA TODAY Sports

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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