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Wizards' defense clamps down in 4th to secure win over Suns

Wizards' defense clamps down in 4th to secure win over Suns

Defense has been such a point of emphasis for the Wizards early this season that even when head coach Scott Brooks is asked about their offense, he often circles back to the other end of the floor. He has said over and over that offense is not their problem, it's focus and consistency on defense, particularly late in games.

On Monday night at the Verizon Center, the Wizards' game against the Suns appeared to be heading down a familiar path. After scoring just 46 points in the first half, Phoenix exploded for 34 in the third quarter on 13-of-26 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three. 

Despite entering the game as one of the league's worst three-point shooting teams, the Suns were sinking them from all around the perimeter. Emerging star Devin Booker led the charge with 11 points in the frame, including three threes.

The same quarter saw Otto Porter go down with a right hip injury. Brooks turned to Kelly Oubre, Jr. to take his place and take Booker as his assignment.

The odds were mounted against the Wizards until the closing moments of the third quarter. Then, everything changed.

"We let them feel good about their offense…they got hot. They made shots in transition and easy shots," Brooks said. "I thought late in the third quarter, under two minutes when Marcus [Thornton] had a couple of threes that got us back going into the fourth quarter. Then we also had the two stops to back that up."

That sequence flipped the game in the Wizards' favor, particularly on defense. They clamped down and held the Suns to just 21 points in the fourth quarter. Phoenix shot just 8-of-24 in the final frame.

The Suns were held scoreless in the final 87 seconds as the Wizards secured a 106-101 victory. The final two minutes saw John Wall and Marcin Gortat make key blocks on Eric Bledsoe, both sending his layup attempts into the crowd.

"We really locked in the fourth quarter," power forward Markieff Morris said. "Down the stretch we made some good key stops and got the victory."

"Lock in. That's all it is," said shooting guard Bradley Beal, who scored a career-high 42 points. "Defense is just a want, wanting to go out there and put in the effort and the intensity. We can't control whether the ball goes in all the time, but you can control how hard you play on the defensive end. I think we all accepted the challenge that coach brought to us over the last couple days and really applied it tonight."

The fourth quarter looked like a breakthrough for the Wizards defensively, a culmination of what they have been preaching over the last few weeks while stumbling out to a slow start. But carrying success over from game to game has been easier said than done this season. The Wizards will get another chance for their first consecutive wins of the season on Friday in Orlando.

[RELATED: TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS' 4TH WIN OF SEASON OVER SUNS]

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Chris Miller wraps up NBA All-Star weekend with Bradley Beal, Michael Lee and Dennis Scott

Chris Miller wraps up NBA All-Star weekend with Bradley Beal, Michael Lee and Dennis Scott

Washington Wizards basketball is almost back. After a wild month for the team capped off by the NBA All-Star game, Bradley Beal and the Wizards get back to action Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets. 

Before the second half of the season starts, get up-to-date on what's been happening around the league in the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. 

Chris Miller sat down with Beal moments after his All-Star Game performance to chat about the weekend, how he probably did travel in their game against the Pistons and his efforts to recruit big name players to D.C..

Then Yahoo Sports' Michael Lee sits down to talk the possible repercussions of Anthony Davis not being traded, the impact of John Wall's Achilles injury and how the Wizards can move forward. 

Finally, NBA TV's Dennis Scott got candid about the Wizards' playoff chances with 24 games left to go and a ton of turnover on their roster. 

"Oh, it's going to be a tough fight," Scott said on their playoff chances. "I would like for them to because when you're trying to retool your team and now Otto [Porter's] gone, you've brought in two young guys. Bobby Portis, oh my goodness. I know you like what you've seen from him so far and hopefully Jabari [Parker's] knees can hold up. That thing still has some [gas] left in the tank.

So, can those young guys give you enough firepower to? Maybe. Maybe."

To hear all of these interviews, click the podcast player above. 

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Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard is back. Back in town, at least.

According to a report from The Athletic, the Wizards’ center, sidelined since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30, is expected to start on-court work in Washington.

The original timeline indicated a 2-3 month recovery timeline for Howard, who played in nine games for the Wizards but none since Nov. 18 against Portland. Howard, 33, has primarily rehabbed post-surgery in his native Atlanta.

Washington returns to practice Wednesday following the NBA All-Star break. The Wizards, 24-34, face the Hornets Friday in Charlotte before hosting the Indiana Pacers Saturday.

Needing to jump three teams for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards could certainly use more help. Whether that help comes from Howard remains to be seen. The report did not indicate if Howard would rejoin the team's full practices or when he would return to the lineup.

Howard missed training camp, preseason and the opening seven games while dealing with back and gluteal pain. The future Hall of Famer only played seven minutes against the Trail Blazers before exiting.

Less than two weeks later Dr. Robert Watkins performed a L4-L5 lumbar microdiscectomy after consultation with the Wizards’ medical staff determined disc herniation was causing severe nerve irritation and gluteal pain.

Washington signed the free agent center to a two-year, $11 million contract in July after trading longtime starter Marcin Gortat in June. The Wizards hoped Howard’s interior presence on both ends of the court would provide the team with needed low-post scoring, rebounding and rim protection.

Though he averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, Howard labored athletically. Washington struggled throughout the season on the boards.

His absence created an opportunity for second-year center Thomas Bryant, who has developed into an efficient scorer and energy provider.

The second season on Howard’s contract is a player option, an option he seemed likely to execute without returning to the court this season. For now, the question is how much can he help the Wizards with 24 games remaining.

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