Wizards

Quick Links

Wizards' confidence skyrockets: 'If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped'

Wizards' confidence skyrockets: 'If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped'

CLEVELAND -- Before Saturday's game tipped off, Scott Brooks didn't care much about the pats on the back his team received for losing on Feb. 6 at Verizon Center, ending a 17-game home winning streak. The only validation that matters is winning in the second game of a back-to-back.

"You have to go out there and play well every night. It's one thing to have a great game against the best team in the league and lose. Of course they're going to say great things about you," Brooks said of that 140-135 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It doesn't mean anything. That last game means nothing."

After trailing 8-7, the Wizards (45-28) led by as many as 17 points and dominated the defending champs at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night behind a combined 64 points and 17 assists from the starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The Cavs kept making a push to get back on top. They cut a 40-26 deficit after the first quarter to 65-59 with 1:03 left in the second. They trimmed a 71-61 halftime deficit to 92-89 with 1:28 left in the third. They got a 107-98 disadvantage down to 109-105 in the fourth, but in the end it was a 127-115 loss.

It puts Cleveland's hold to the No. 1 seed in the East in doubt. They're just one-half game ahead of the Boston Celtics. It keeps the No. 3 Wizards one game ahead of the No. 4 Toronto Raptors, but big picture it means more than any of that. 

Wall was unstoppable. It didn't matter if the Cavs (47-25) went under the screens because he'd hit the jumper. If they went over he'd get to the rim. If they blitzed him he'd either split the double-team or make the simple pass to find the open man for a clean look. 

"Whenever I get to knock down my first two mid-ranges, I was in a rhythm early of making shots," said Wall, who began making his first eight shots and finished 14-for-21 en route to his 47th double-double. "After that they started pressing up more and I started getting to the basket."

Kyrie Irving was no match for the second consecutive time in the matchup. He shot 8-for-24 before. He was 8-for-23 with just four assists this time.

"When John is shooting like that, because you know he's going to get those guys involved, they're a very tough team to beat," LeBron James said. "They've got so many guys that complement one another. Great starting five, great bench and that was without (Bojan) Bogdanovic, too."

Bogdanovic was a late scratch because of back tightness, but the more experienced and poised team down the stretch when stops were needed? That was the Wizards coming through and not the team that won the NBA title a year ago.

With 5:29 left in the game, Wall took over the team during a timeout. They'd gotten the lead back up to 115-105 after a putback from Kelly Oubre. Their point guard wanted to make sure the Cavs, who needed a Hail Mary three-pointer from James to force overtime a month ago, weren't given any daylight. He reinforced to them what to look for, what to take away and what to allow but never to lose the intensity that got them to that point.

"The thing that I see, the improvement as each month has gone by is his leadership," Brooks said of Wall. "That's a prime example when the game could go either way ... the voice of our leaders have to step up in the huddle. I thought John was tremendous throughout the game."

Cleveland sill won the season series 2-1, but winning on their floor is important to the Wizards who aspire to at least get to the conference finals. They've already clinched their third playoff berth in four years, but they only got to the semis and bowed out twice in six games. 

"We don't want to go into the playoffs and have to face those guys never having won against them in the regular season." Wall said. 

Markieff Morris, who has battled a sinus infection and foul trouble as he has struggled to regain his form since the All-Star break, anchored the middle in a 31-point fourth quarter for the small lineup. 

He has been salty about the matchup since the last loss. He played 11 of 12 minutes to end it and only shot 1-for-4 but did the intangible things to get them over the hump, but before that he faced up Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and James to get crucial baskets.

"Those are great players they got but we feel as though we're the best team in the league," said Morris, who has never been to the postseason in his previous six seasons. "If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped."

[RELATED: VIDEO: Jason Smith knees LeBron James in the groin]

Quick Links

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks. 

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: