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Wizards fall apart in fourth quarter

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Wizards fall apart in fourth quarter

In their first three games, all losses, the Wizards showed flashes of dominance and glimmers of hope before falling apart in the final minutes.

Friday night at Verizon Center the Wizards took a significant step backwards, falling apart early in the fourth quarter and turning a close game into a lopsided 101-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The defeat dropped the Wizards’ record to 0-4 heading into a three-game road trip that takes them to Indiana Saturday night, Charlotte on Tuesday and Dallas on Wednesday. Last season the Wizards went 0-8 before they recorded their first victory.

The game ended with tempers flaring and Wizards rookie Bradley Beal and Bucks guard Brandon Jennings ejected.

With 23.7 remaining and the Bucks leading 99-90 Bucks guard Monta Ellis was cruising in for an uncontested layup when Bradley Beal caught him from behind and knocked him to the floor with a hard foul, along with Trevor Booker.

Ellis landed on a female attendant on the floor and Beal quickly extended his hand to Ellis to lift him off the floor. That’s when Jennings arrived and pushed Beal from behind onto the floor in retaliation for the flagrant foul.

Players pushed and shoved and Beal and Ellis, each of whom finished with a game-high of 22 points, were escorted to their locker rooms.

It was an ugly ending to an ugly finish for the Wizards.

Trevor Ariza [15 points] and Emeka Okafor [11 points] awoke from their early-season slumber and Bradley Beal added a season-high 22 points, but the Wizards could not recover from a horrid five-minute stretch to begin the fourth quarter.

Trailing 75-72 after three quarters, the Wizards missed their first seven shots of the fourth quarter and watched the Bucks, who lack a strong inside game, extend their lead to 85-72 with very little resistance.

The Wizards did not get on the scoreboard in fourth quarter until just under 7 minutes remained when Beal sank a pair of free throws. That sparked an 8-0 run but the Wizards never drew closer than five points.

After three straight games in which his bench outscored his starters by a 161-103 count, Wizards coach Randy Wittman had to weigh the option of replacing struggling starters Okafor and Ariza with Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton.

He didn’t and his two veterans rewarded his patience.

Ariza and Okafor each scored six points in the opening quarter and the Wizards hit their first six shots to open up a 12-0 lead with their best start of the season.

That lead grew to as much as 14-3 before the Bucks went on a 17-2 run and took a 56-47 lead into the half.

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

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John Wall offers thoughts on Wizards' biggest offseason additions including Dwight Howard

At his final media availability of the 2017-18 season, John Wall highlighted specific types of players he wanted to see added to the Wizards roster this summer. Most notably, he pointed to an athletic big and bench scoring.

The Wizards ended up adding those things and more.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green to free agent deals, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. Howard is the athletic big and Rivers is the bench scorer Wall coveted.

Whether coincidental or not, Wall got his wish. And he's excited for the possibilities now that the Wizards appear to have shored up some weaknesses.

In his recent interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall offered thoughts on each key addition.

On Howard: "Even though he's older, he's still an athletic big and still has respect in this league. I mean, averaging [16.6 ppg and 12.5 rpg], he's a guy who can score in the low-post and block shots, a guy that gets a lot of rebounds and a guy that can catch lobs and do things that when teams switch against us or we're attacking the paint, if they help for a second then we're throwing lobs. Now, do you get more layups? Probably. Or, you get more wide open threes because guys are going to have to crack down on him. If you don't crack down on him, that's an automatic layup or a lob. I think that benefits us a lot. It's going to help. If you look at [Clint] Capela, DeAndre [Jordan] and those types of guys that are athletic, JaVale [McGee]. Even JaVale at times, being athletic and just getting to the paint. Guys are stepping up and you're throwing lobs to those guys. We have a person that can do that."

On Rivers: "I think it's going to be fun and interesting. Austin is someone who I've always watched since high school. He's a competitive guy. He definitely can score the ball. High volume shooter, once he gets it going, he's going. I think it just gives us that guy that we've never really had off the bench, that can create for himself and can create for his teammates at the two-guard position."

On Green: "Just being able to switch one through four, a guy that can post up if you put smaller guys on him. He can guard every position. He's athletic and can run the floor with us in transition. He does the little things that a lot of people don't notice."

On Brown: "He's very poised for his age. He doesn't try to force anything. The only thing I would tell him is just be more aggressive... and make mistakes. Try to make mistakes and improve your game to get better. It's going to be hard to find minutes and at practice at times with [Kelly Oubre, Jr.] and Otto [Porter, Jr.] and those guys being there."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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