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Wizards' Kelly Oubre says James Harden, not LeBron James, hardest to guard

Wizards' Kelly Oubre says James Harden, not LeBron James, hardest to guard

Kelly Oubre was subdued speaking to the media after the Wizards' 140-135 OT loss to the Cavaliers last night. But something he toward the end of his comments that could raise some eyebrows. 

Oubre was asked if the Cleveland offense was the toughest he'd had to guard this year. He said no. 

"No, it's not the toughest, but they do move the ball pretty well. You can't mess up on defense because if you mess up, they're going to capitalize," the Wizards wing said. "So I wouldn't say the toughest, but they're a pretty good team." 

A bit of an understatement for the defending NBA champions who also own the best record in the Eastern Conference. 

Reporters pressed him on whether LeBron James was the hardest player he'd guarded individually. Oubre was physical on James, but looked overmatched on several plays Monday night. 

"No. He's a great player, but I don't think he's the toughest matchup I've had to face though," 

Then who would that be?

"Um, I would say James Harden," Oubre said. "He's crafty with the ball. He can draw fouls. He's like a mixture between Lou Williams and Bradley Beal, he's tough to guard."

While it's not outlandish to say Harden is the toughest assignment in the league, it's dangerous to say anything that James could interpret as a slight. The King doesn't need any more bulletin board material. 

Meanwhile, these comments came right after James hit arguably the greatest shot of the year to send the game to overtime, though Oubre was not guarding him on that play. 

There's also the fact that James is averaging 29.5 points on 58.3% shooting per game against the Wizards this year. That's significantly more efficient than Harden's 27.5 points on 34.9% shooting per game against Washington. 

Wave Papi's own catchphrase probably says it best. 

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MORE WIZARDS: Even in defeat to Cavs, Wizards earn respect in East

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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