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Wizards and Cavs duke it out in overtime instant classic

Wizards and Cavs duke it out in overtime instant classic

The Verizon Center on a night in the first week of February is not where you expect to witness what an NBA lifer would afterwards describe as "an instant classic." It's the home of the Wizards, an upstart team still trying to find out how good they are. They knew Monday offered an opportunity to measure up against the NBA's best in the defending-champion Cavaliers. But not even they could have guessed what the matchup ultimately delivered.

Playing in front of a sold out crowd and a national TV audience, the Wizards and Cavaliers took turns dazzling the basketball world. All of the attention was on them and they responded with a 53-minute war of wills that ended up a 140-135 Cavaliers victory capped off by superstars making superstar plays.

LeBron James set a career-high with 17 assists and sent the game to overtime with a last-second, fadeaway heave from three that banked in off the glass. John Wall had 22 points and 12 assists and made big shots down the stretch.

Bradley Beal scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including two timely threes, and five points in overtime. Kyrie Irving scored 11 points in overtime after LeBron fouled out, including a swished three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining to essentially put the Wizards down for good. Kevin Love dropped 39 points. 

Both teams set season-highs in scoring. The stars were out and they delivered in key moments time and time again.

“It was an instant classic—a great basketball game by two really good teams," head coach Scott Brooks said.

"It is probably one of the best games of the year," point guard John Wall said.

[RELATED: LeBron denies Carmelo for Love trade report, calls reporter 'trash']

It's hard to compare what transpired on Monday night to playoff games of Wizards' past. It doesn't measure up in craziness to Gilbert Arenas' buzzer-beater to sink the Bulls in the 2005 postseason. It certainly falls short of Paul Pierce's "I called game" moment, or his would-be buzzer-beater that ended their season in the 2015 playoffs.

But Monday night was one that may be remembered for a long time, for as long as an NBA regular season game can be recalled. It stacks up with any of the wildest regular season games in Wizards' history - from Michael Ruffin literally throwing the game away to the Raptors, to anything Arenas or Michael Jordan did in town. 

The moment that will stand out is LeBron's miracle shot. The Wizards were up 120-117 with 3.4 seconds left after Wall sank two free throws. Kevin Love threw the in-bound pass from the other end of the court, a 60-foot toss that LeBron caught near the Wizards' bench. He turned, shot it over Beal, off the glass and in.

“Have to chalk it up to the basketball gods. He's the greatest player in the league, so he's going to hit stuff like that," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said.

"James [hit] an amazing shot, a fall-away three off the board and I didn’t think I heard him call it," Brooks joked.

LeBron may have gotten a little lucky on that one, but there is no taking away from what Irving did to cement the victory. Also with Beal guarding him, Irving pulled up off the dribble and drained a three from almost the same exact spot 26 feet out where he hit his famous shot against the Warriors in the Finals last summer. That put the Cavaliers up 136-133 with :35 seconds left and the Wizards couldn't answer.

How long a regular season game can stand the test of time is hard to predict. But this one, which snapped a 17-game home winning streak for the Wizards, may have the chops.

[RELATED: 5 (10) must-see moments from Wizards' loss to Cavs]

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The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

The Wizards' biggest offseason needs and the most realistic ways to address them

Back on April 2, the day Wizards owner Ted Leonsis addressed the media after firing Ernie Grunfeld as team president, he said he would commence an evaluation process of his organization to determine the next step. He said this process would take approximately three weeks.

Well, three weeks have now passed.

Though there has been little news about their plans, that means things should start picking up in terms of their targeting of candidates and the interview process.

Whomever takes over the Wizards will have a long to-do list. Paramount will be working around a cumbersome salary cap situation in light of John Wall's injury, few trade assets and the presence of just one draft pick this June. 

The Wizards also only have six players currently under contract for next season and that includes Wall, who will probably miss at least 50 games. That also includes Jabari Parker, whose $20 million team option is highly likely to be declined, and Ian Mahinmi, who can't really be counted on for a rotation spot given how things went last year. 

There is also Troy Brown Jr., who is only 20 and still finding his way, as well as Dwight Howard, who missed the final five months of last season after having back surgery. Outside of Bradley Beal, it is a bunch of unknowns.

Here is a look at the Wizards' biggest on-court needs and how they are most realistically going to be able to address them.

Wizards' Biggest Offseason Needs

1. Rim protection

This tops the Wizards' wish-list seemingly every summer but never before has it arguably been this bad. They posted the worst defensive rating in franchise history last season (113.9), ranking 28th among NBA teams in the category and 29th in points allowed (116.9/g). 

Though the Wizards had a litany of problems on the defensive end, protecting the rim was arguably their worst. No team allowed more field goals per game within five feet than the Wizards (22.1) and only two teams allowed a higher percentage (64.2). 

This year's draft is thin on big men at the top and in the Wizards' likely range. If they luck into the No. 1 pick and draft Zion Williamson, that would certainly help. But outside of him, the best options for rim protection are probably Texas freshman Jaxson Hayes and Maryland sophomore Bruno Fernando.

Per usual, the free agent crop of shot-blockers isn't deep. Brook Lopez and Nerlens Noel may be the best fits based on their likely price range. Still, it seems more likely they find some help in free agency.

2. Wing defense

One thing that can help rim protection is preventing opponents from getting there and the Wizards weren't good at that, either. Only two teams allowed more field goal attempts from within five feet of the rim than the Wizards (34.4). Washington was also bottom-five in the league in three-pointers allowed (12.1) and opponents three-point percentage (37). 

The numbers paint an ugly picture and the eye test didn't do them any favors. The Wizards just aren't a physical team on the perimeter. 

The good news is that they might be able to find help in the draft. If they find some lottery luck and vault into the top three, Duke's R.J. Barrett has the athletic tools and competitive drive to be a perimeter pest. 

The guy who stands out the most defensively is Virginia's De'Andre Hunter. He was the ACC defensive player of the year and a driving force in the Cavs' national title run. He is big and rangy and can guard multiple positions, a guy who has All-Defense potential at the NBA level.

In free agency, it will be hard to find a real difference maker given the money they are currently set to have. It's hard to see them affording Patrick Beverley, for instance, much less Malcolm Brogdon or a top tier guy like Jimmy Butler.

So, the draft is probably the best avenue.

3. Point guard depth

With Wall out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the Wizards need to stock their roster with some point guards to make do while he is out. The question will be how many resources do they want to apply to what is an important position. It could be seen simply as 'how badly do they want to win in 2019-20?'

If making the playoffs is the goal, then re-signing Tomas Satoransky is probably their best option. It is hard to see them doing any better than him in free agency or via trades. 

There are, though, some solid options in the draft. If they get lucky and land the second or third pick, that could mean Murray State's Ja Morant. If they fall in the seven-to-nine range in the first round, 6-5 North Carolina guard Coby White could be the guy.

This free agent class is deep with point guard options, but they would have trouble finding a starter-level player in their price range. You are probably looking at a group that includes Beverley and Cory Joseph. Beyond them, it's a bunch of players like Elfrid Payton, Jerian Grant and Jeremy Lin.

The best option is probably to just bring back Satoransky and hope Brown can continue to develop his point guard skills.

4. Rebounding

Rebounding was the Wizards' most glaring weakness in 2018-19. It affected both ends of the floor and made matters much more difficult defensively. Even when the Wizards would force missed shots, they couldn't complete their stops by rebounding the ball. That also affected their ability to start fastbreaks and play up-tempo.

Last season, the Wizards ranked 27th in total rebounds and defensive rebounds. They were 28th in rebounds against and 29th in offensive rebounds allowed. They gave up 14.1 second chance points per game and only five teams allowed more.

Though they were 32-50 on the season, they were 16-6 in games in which they rebounded their opponents. That means they were 16-44 when they lost the category, a huge difference.

Among draft prospects, Williamson, Barrett and Fernando are the best options, depending on where the Wizards land. But free agency will be deep with rebounders including DeAndre Jordan among the longshots and Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh among the potential bargains.

Even if the Wizards have Howard back and re-sign center Thomas Bryant, using what money they will have to acquire a rebounding power forward may be the smart move here. 

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Jeff Green 'would love to come back' to Wizards, add stability to journeyman career

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Jeff Green 'would love to come back' to Wizards, add stability to journeyman career

With six different teams in the past five years, Jeff Green has become one of the NBA's most itinerant journeymen.

Including his early-career move from Seattle to Oklahoma City, when the franchise transitioned from the Sonics to the Thunder, Green has played in eight different cities. Among active players, only Ish Smith (10), Marco Bellinelli (nine), Shaun Livingston (nine) and Anthony Tolliver (nine) have played for more teams.

Being in Washington this past season, though, was different. That's because Green is from the area, having grown up nearby in Maryland. He starred at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, then at Georgetown University in Northwest D.C.

At 32 years old (he turns 33 in August), Green does not prefer being a basketball nomad. He would like to stay with the Wizards this summer as he aims for a new contract in free agency.

"I would love to come back," Green said. "Great set of guys on this team. I loved playing with Brad [Beal], John [Wall]."

Green also mentioned playing for head coach Scott Brooks, for whom he played in Seattle and Oklahoma City. Brooks was an assistant on the Sonics staff when Green was a rookie, then took over as head coach in the middle of Green's sophomore season. Green left the Thunder after his third season and, 10 years later, was reunited with Brooks in Washington.

The biggest draw for Green to the Wizards, though, is the fact it is his hometown team. Though playing at home is a drawback for some players, Green found major benefits in being around family and in the town where he played college ball.

"Being in front of family every night was great for me. It allowed me to see my daughters more than a couple of times a year, which was great," he said. 

"Being in a familiar setting from my Georgetown days was great. Being able to go up to Georgetown and watch the guys get better, it was great. [Those are] things I haven’t been able to do since being in the league."

On the court, Green found individual success with the Wizards amid a disappointing season overall. He averaged 12.3 points and 4.0 rebounds while setting a career-high in effective field goal percentage (55.5). 

He did all of that while making the league minimum of $2.4 million. On a Wizards team that was in some ways defined by bloated salaries, Green proved a bargain. 

Hoping to come back to the Wizards was a familiar refrain from impending free agents during the Wizards' media exit interviews. Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Thomas Bryant and others all suggested they would like to return. 

But with a new front office leadership structure set to be installed, certainty isn't offered for anyone. For Green, the Wizards' new general manager will need to evaluate whether he was part of their problems. 

While Green probably exceeded expectations this season, he was on the floor when the team struggled to rebound the ball and defend just like his teammates were. The Wizards were 27th in the NBA in defensive rating this season at 112.8, according to NBA.com. Green's defensive rating was 112.6.

The Wizards and Green may ultimately not prove a fit in the eyes of the new GM. If that is the case, Green could move on to play in a new city, the ninth of his career. 

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