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Wizards can't shake those scoring droughts

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Wizards can't shake those scoring droughts

Right now for the try hard Wizards, all the scrap in the world cannot overcome those dreaded - right now persistent - scoring droughts.

Rewind the season to November 3 against the Celtics. The Wizards rally and take their first lead with just under three minutes remaining only to never score again under a wave of missed shots, turnovers and inspired Kevin Garnett-led defense by the visitors.

Four days later in Boston, Washington fights its way into overtime against the star-studded Celtics, but miss 7 of 10 shots in the extra session. Another loss.

Friday night against the Bucks, the game tied at 72 with four seconds remaining in the third quarter, Milwaukee converts a 3-point play. That starts a 13-0 run as Washington goes over five minutes without a point, never seriously challenged the Bucks again.

"You go from a one, two point game to down 10, 11," Randy Wittman said following the loss to Milwaukee. "Somehow, we got to figure out how to alleviate those things from our game. We just struggle offensively to score."

The Wizards coach would make similar comments Saturday night following the 89-85 loss at Pacers, which dropped Washington to 0-5. There was not one, but two notable stretches where the scoring spigot went dry.

Facing his former team, A.J. Price's starry night included scoring five points during a 9-0 second quarter run that gave Washington a 47-40 lead with 3:32 left in the half. Good times, right? Close the half with the lead and even better, extend it. At least, that was the plan. Despite several opportunities to push the margin out further, the Wizards came up empty, scoring only two more points before halftime. Instead, Indiana tied the game at 49 heading to the locker room.

"We didn’t close out the second quarter," Wittman following Washington's eighth straight loss in Indiana, the coach's home state. "I think it was 47-40 and we have to come with a lead." 

Holding the ball with a three-point lead and a chance to run the clock down to around five seconds in the quarter, Bradley Beal's driving attempts missed with 11 seconds remaining. With time for a final play, Indiana's Paul George hoisted a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Splash, tie game.

"We give them the last shot when we should have taken the last shot," Wittman said. "We shoot too soon and they come down and hit a three. There’s three more points that they shouldn’t have."

Similar tale in the fourth quarter. Jordan Crawford's 3-pointer put Washington ahead 75-70 with 11:33 remaining. The Wizards next points came on a Booker dunk nearly five minutes later. In between Indiana scored 10 straight points. The lead remained with the home team from then on, though Washington pulled within two points and put up the potential tying shot with four seconds remaining. Trevor Booker's half hook missed.

The non-scoring at times is not simply about missed shots. Five of Washington's 12 turnovers came in the fourth quarter, two by Beal.  

"One of our problems is that we turn the ball over too much towards the end of games," said Beal, who matched Emeka Okafor with a team-high 17 points, but had two of those fourth quarter turnovers. "We’re hesitant in our movement and our passes and a lot of other things. We have the parts we need, it’s just putting it all together and having better overall execution.”

Those late turnovers are also a function of who is not playing.

Good things happened against Indiana, including  Price doling out a career-high 14 assists. Emeka Okafor had his mid-range jumper working. Beal and Jordan Crawford combined for six of the team's 10 3-pointers. Yet for the most part, they aren't closers. Until John Wall and Nene return and everybody can return to their proper roles, this team simply lacks a go-to scorer when needed.

Back to Beal. The rookie's take on why the costly miscues crop up is both accurate and a message to himself. Beal's becoming more aggressive with each passing game, not to mention accurate; he made all three of his shots from beyond the arc against Indiana. However at times he passes on open looks, being overly deferential to his less accurate teammates.

He'll learn from that. Heck, he's only 19 with five NBA games on his growing resume. The Wizards collectively must learn from their bouts of scoring woes. Yes, the season is still young, but these droughts are getting old while the losing streak grows and grows. The team cannot afford to wait for those missing to return to action before solving the problem.

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John Wall knows the decision between loyalty and money is a tough one for Bryce Harper

John Wall knows the decision between loyalty and money is a tough one for Bryce Harper

In just a few months, Nationals star Bryce Harper could become one of the biggest free agents not just in baseball history, but sports history. He will decide whether to stay in Washington with the team that drafted him and oversaw his development as a young player, or to leave for another city.

Wizards guard John Wall has twice faced the prospect of free agency and twice has decided to sign contract extensions to stay in D.C. Though the salary structures of baseball and basketball are different, there are some parallels between the two. 

Wall has a unique perspective on the call Harper has to make and gave his opinion on the matter in a 1-on-1 interview on the latest episode of our Wizards Tipoff podcast.

"Well, it’s kind of tough. It depends on if you want to do it off of loyalty, or if you want to do it to make sure you make the most money you can make. That’s the toughest decision that you can have. I have the opportunity here where I have loyalty and I can also make the money, so that was a bonus and a plus for me in both situations," Wall said. 

Wall noted how as an NBA player he can have the best of both worlds. The league's collective bargaining agreement allows teams to pay players they drafted significantly more money.

That, however, has not stopped NBA stars from changing teams. Wall in many ways is an outlier as many superstars have left money on the table to depart their original teams. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Paul George have all done that, to name a few. Kawhi Leonard could be next.

Harper, though, may also be able to make more money elsewhere. The Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox or some other team could conceivably offer more money than the Nats and there are some cities like L.A. and New York that could open up more endorsement opportunities.

There's no question it pays to be the best player on the Yankees. Look at Derek Jeter and how his stardom was boosted by that distinction.

Loyalty is also going to come into play for Harper and the past few days have shown he is a sentimental person, as he has talked about all the people he has connected with over the years and how much the Washington community means to him.

Wall took all of those things into account when he decided to stay in D.C. and not look elsewhere via free agency or trades, which have become commonplace for All-Star players in the NBA.

"It was how much what the city means to me is the reason I wanted to stay and what I want to bring here is a championship, it’s what I promise and I hope I can do that," Wall said. "My dad’s from here. Just the way they welcomed me from the first day I came here. Sticking with me through the tough times, when we wasn’t winning early on and then we started to win. The city just embraced me and I embraced the city back. It feels like home and I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else."

Though the difference in money likely won't be as drastic, Harper will have to choose how much loyalty and the human connection he has with people in Washington matters in his free agency decision. Wall knows the feeling.

Hear Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

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Wizards have talked to the Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, report says

After already making significant changes to their roster, the Wizards may not be done this offseason, as they have been in talks with the San Antonio Spurs about a potential trade for superstar Kawhi Leonard, according to a new report by ESPN

Read this from Adrian Wojnarowski:

Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said.

The Wizards certainly make sense as a Leonard suitor. They are in the East, meaning the Spurs could trade Leonard to them and not have to worry about facing him as often. Plus, they have a solid group of tradeable assets and ones that seem to fit the Spurs model.

Otto Porter is a versatile, young player under team control who plays an unselfish style and would likely embrace playing in a small market. He also has a salary ($26M in 2018-19) that isn't far off from Leonard's ($21M in 2018-19), so the money could be easily matched.

The Wizards also have Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr., two young and up-and-coming players. Plus, they have draft picks, though ones that are unlikely to convey as lottery selections.

The Spurs have reportedly been more interested in getting players that can help now rather than draft picks to rebuild. That makes sense, as they still won 47 games last year despite Leonard only playing in nine of them due to injury.

The question in any Wizards and Spurs talks would be whether they would want one of Washington's All-Stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. It would be tough to imagine the Wizards parting with either guy for Leonard, who carries some risk not only because of his quadriceps injury but also because he can opt out of his contract and leave after next season.

Just because the Wizards have talked to the Spurs doesn't mean they are serious contenders for Leonard, but it does show they are serious about improving their roster this summer. If they got Leonard and didn't part with Wall and Beal, that would be some team.

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