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Wizards look to rebound against Garnett, Celtics

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Wizards look to rebound against Garnett, Celtics

Anderson Varejao's game is typically more subtle than highlight generating. The center's value stems more from rebounding and heady play than direct point producing. Perhaps also being lumped in with that "LeBron James has no talent around him" era has kept the Cavaliers primary big man in the underrated category.

Oh, those around the league know what Varejao brings to the court. Yet his lack of perennial All-Star street cred made his 23 rebounds and role in Cleveland's dominating effort on the glass against Washington in the season opener something of a stunner.

Nobody overlooks Kevin Garnett. The future Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics stalwart is the next interior presence the Wizards must contend with, starting Saturday night in Washington's home opener and again Wednesday in Boston.

"KG, he's a league MVP, a champion, brings a lot of experience," Wizards center Emeka Okafor said. "He knows how to play the game. With him, you just have to keep your eye on him, limit his effectiveness."

Regardless of the next opponent, the Wizards know they cannot have a repeat of their board work, especially the first three quarters, of the94-84 loss at Cleveland.

"Obviously, we’ve got to rebound the ball better than we did in Cleveland - and we’ve got to make sure that happens," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said following Friday's practice.

Being on the wrong end of a 54-39 rebounding total against Cleveland not only allowed the Cavs to score a truckload of second-chance points, it also prevented the Wizards from getting out on the fast break. Without John Wall, Nene, and Kevin Seraphin, Washington struggled to score in half court sets.

"We’ve got to have good pace of the game. I thought our pace was up and down in Cleveland," Wittman said. "When it was up, we were pretty good. When we walked the ball up and played five on five, it was a little hard, especially with the injuries we have. We’ve got to make sure we keep pace of the game, take care of the ball and rebound."

The frontcourt should receive a boost Saturday with Seraphin's expected return. The third-year center, out since Oct. 13 after injuring his calf during a preseason game, practiced for a second straight day on Friday.

Last season's Celtics ranked last in rebounding and Garnett averaged under seven boards in four games against Washington. Don't count on Wittman emphasizing those stats.

Garnett kicked off his 18th season by yanking down 12 boards in Boston's season opening loss at Miami. For the most part in this case, age is just a number.

"As you get older in this league, you learn how to be just more effective," said the 30-year-old Okafor, who has battled against Garnett many times over his nine-year career. "I was watching Tim Duncan last night. He's 36, 37 and he's just getting it in. Just shows if you know what you're doing you can do it."

One area about Garnett that Wittman might emphasize to his bevy of young players? That the 14-time All-Star is still cranking out strong campaigns despite all the wear and tear that comes with playing aggressively in the trenches.

"He’s been a pretty lucky guy from an injury standpoint, to withstand the years he’s played, the way he plays," Wittman said of Garnett. "That’s one thing people don’t realize. He plays as hard as anybody and to not have serious injuries, because of the way he plays through whatever it is, 17 years, is remarkable.

"But that’s a testament to him. He’s a guy that, this is a 12-month a year job for him and he takes care of his body. Takes care of himself. Always has. One of those guys, you never see him in trouble or hear stories about him off the floor and that’s just who is and why he’s had the success he’s had."

Well, you do hear some on-court stories about Garnett, frequently mentioned in the context of the league's "dirtiest player."

Said Okafor, "Whatever he does it works."

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NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

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USA TODAY Sports

NBA offseason grades: Wizards, Magic highlight Southeast Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Southeast Division...

Washington Wizards, B+

2017-18 finish: 43-39, 1st round of playoffs
In: C Dwight Howard, G Austin Rivers, G Troy Brown, Jr., F Jeff Green, C Thomas Bryant
Out: C Marcin Gortat, F Mike Scott, G Ty Lawson, G Tim Frazier, G Ramon Sessions, F Chris McCullough

Given the circumstances of their salary cap situation, the Wizards did quite well for themselves this summer. They shook things up by trading Gortat and actually got something solid back for him in Rivers. They then filled Gortat's spot with an eight-time All-Star in Howard and did so at a bargain price, the taxpayer mid-level exception. They also added Green at a nice price and Brown, who acquitted himself nicely in the Summer League. Whether the Wizards made a major leap forward is debatable, but the potential is there for them to re-install themselves as contenders in the East. The possibility things go wrong is also there, but all in all, a strong summer for the Wizards.

Atlanta Hawks, B

2017-18 finish: 24-58, missed playoffs
In: G Jeremy Lin, C Alex Len, G Trae Young, G Vince Carter, G Kevin Huerter, F Justin Anderson, F Omari Spellman
Out: G Dennis Schroeder, C Mike Muscala, C Dewayne Dedmon, G Malcolm Delaney, G Isaiah Tayor

The Hawks did a nice job with the draft by picking up an extra first round pick just to move back two spots (from third to fifth) in their trade with the Mavericks. They added Young with the fifth pick and then got Huerter later on at No. 18. The Len signing at two years and $8.5 million looks like a bargain and they added a nice mix of veteran free agents and young players to develop. It will probably be a few years before the Hawks are back in the playoffs, but they seemed to take a step forward this summer.

Miami Heat, D

2017-18 finish: 44-38, 1st round of playoffs
In: F Duncan Robinson
Out: G Dwyane Wade, G Wayne Ellington, F Luke Babbitt

The Heat had one of the least impactful summers of any team in the NBA. The biggest addition they have so far, and this is true, is Robinson. They didn't make any draft picks and struck out in free agency. What they did do is let go of Wade, Ellington and others. The only way the Heat improve year-over-year is if their young guys like Bam Adebayo or Justise Winslow take a big step forward. 

Charlotte Hornets, C+

2017-18 finish: 36-46, missed playoffs
In: C Bismack Biyombo, F Miles Bridges, G Devonte' Graham
Out: C Dwight Howard, G Michael Carter-Williams, G Treveon Graham

New Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak quickly turned the franchise into a different direction this offseason by trading Howard to the Nets. They then added Biyombo in a deal with the Magic and acquired Bridges through the draft. There isn't a lot to love or hate about the Hornets' offseason, so they fall in the middle of the grading scale. The real question now is what they do with Kemba Walker, who has just one year left on his contract.

Orlando Magic, B+

2017-18 finish: 25-57, missed playoffs
In: C Mohamed Bamba, C Timofey Mozgov, F Justin Jackson, F Jarell Martin, G Jerian Grant
Out: G Mario Hezonja, C Marreese Speights, G Arron Aflalo

The Magic had a strong summer. The re-signed forward Aaron Gordon, a rising young player, and drafted Bamba, who has the tools to become an All-Star and a dominant defensive force. They had some questionable moves, like trading for Mozgov, but the future looks a lot brighter for the Magic than it did just a few months ago.

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Familiarity for coach and GM should allow Capital City Go-Go to hit ground running

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Associated Press

Familiarity for coach and GM should allow Capital City Go-Go to hit ground running

Despite being a brand new franchise with a new roster and new facilities, the Capital City Go-Go will carry into their inaugural season a level of continuity. Both their general manager and head coach are familiar with what they are getting into and the people they will be working with.

GM Pops Mensah-Bonsu is no stranger to the D.C. community and the Wizards franchise. He made a name for himself starring at George Washington University, spent time with the Wizards as a player in their 2013 training camp and remained a frequent visitor to Wizards games as a scout for the Spurs in recent years.

"To be back in the community and the first general manager of the G-League team is special," Mensah-Bonsu said. "This is D.C.’s team. I want them to embrace us."

Head coach Jarell Christian played college ball in Virginia and goes back several years with Wizards coach Scott Brooks. Christian joined the Oklahoma City's G-League staff when Brooks was in his final year as head coach of the Thunder.

Christian began his coaching journey with an eye trained on how Brooks goes about his job.

"My introduction to pro basketball was under Coach Brooks and his philosophies. A lot of that stuff, I believe in wholeheartedly. That’s my foundation," Christian said. "I got a chance to know him through training camp and throughout that season. He and I developed a bond and a relationship that stood the test of time. To this day, we still talk often. It’s just another chance for me to reconnect with him and to continue to grow our relationship."

The Go-Go intend to make what they do as similar to the Wizards as possible. When guys like Devin Robinson, one of their two-way players, is called up he can step right in without a learning curve of the playbook or how they practice.

Having Christian in place will help that process in particular.

"There won’t be any issue or any slippage with guys going up and down to know what’s in store for them," Christian said. "A lot of the stuff that the Wizards will do, we will implement with the Go-Go. Just some offensive and defensive concepts. Some of the playcalls and the terminology will be the same."

"Whatever you see the Wizards doing, you will probably see the Capital City Go-Go doing, too," Mensah-Bonsu said.

The symmetry between the G-League and the NBA teams will also be helped by the fact they will share the same practice facility. Their proximity will come with many advantages from the Go-Go perspective.

"I think it’s going to help motivate these guys. We’re going to be practicing in the same place that the Wizards do and the Mystics do," Mensah-Bonsu said. "I think if these guys can see Dwight Howard and John Wall and Bradley Beal walking around every day, it will help motivate them to get to that next level."

"The exposure our players get with the Wizards [front office], the Wizards personnel, being able to watch them practice daily, watching their practice habits and what their routines may be, is really big," Christian said.

That element will also apply beyond the players. Christian, who is just 32 years old, will get to watch how an NBA coaching staff operates on a daily basis.

Christian has yet to take a tour of the new building in Ward 8, but he has seen blueprints. Among the amenities the Go-Go will enjoy that other G-League teams do not usually have is a dedicated dining area.

Many G-League teams do not go to that length.

"A lot of organizations do not provide food for their players on a daily basis, but we will. That’s the No. 1 thing in my opinion that’s gonna set us apart from our competitors," he said.

The Go-Go won't take the floor for their first game until November, but it seems like a good foundation is starting to take place.

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