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Wizards lose tiebreaker in crucial defeat to Pacers: Five takeaways

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Wizards lose tiebreaker in crucial defeat to Pacers: Five takeaways

In the Wizards' last game, on the road at the Cleveland Cavaliers, it wasn't a must-win. Saturday, vs. the Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center, it was but they succumbed to two late free throws by Paul George with three seconds left to lose 100-99.

The Pacers (33-30) win the season series 2-1 and hold the crucial tiebreaker with a month left in the regular season. George (38 points) led all scorers and was followed by Monta Ellis (17).

In their 10th home sellout, the Wizards (30-32) there for the first time in seven games and are 7-4 since All-Star break. 

Bradley Beal (12 points) re-entered the starting lineup for the first time since the break while Garrett Temple (11 points) returned to his role off the bench. John Wall had his 36th double-double of the season (25 points, 12 assists) as Marcin Gortat (eight points, 17 rebounds), Markieff Morris (14 points) and Nene (10 points).

With the East so contested below the top two seeds, Cleveland and the Toronto Raptors, the rest of the field is wide open. The Wizards still have a chance to win the season series with the Chicago Bulls (1-1), Detroit Pistons (2-0) and Atlanta Hawks (0-1) to give themselves the tiebreaker edge which is the first criteria to determine seedings as well.

The Wizards had a chance to win it at the end but Wall's jumper was long at the buzzer.

  • Beal and Wall went at Ellis repeatedly in matchups in the first half and it gave them results. Not the strongest defender and undersized, they were able to get going early until Beal went down with 6:17 in the third quarter with a sprained pelvis. Pacers coach Frank Vogel switched to Solomon Hill, who is bigger and a much better defender, in the second half and for most of the final two quarters the Wizards only had 23 points. Ellis defended Temple, who likely will be back in the starting lineup but the second unit which previously benefited from Beal's output. Beal logged 24 minutes before exiting.

  • Provided he can play starter's minutes, Alan Anderson (nine points, four assists, 24 minutes) might prove to be the best option at small forward. The moment Anderson came in the game he hit his first shot, a three-pointer, on a catch-and-shoot from Wall.  Another option that could be on the table -- if Anderson is pain-free with his left ankle -- is moving Porter to Beal's role in the starting five and slotting in Anderson. Of course, that would have a ripple effect with the bench which would lose some of it's punch.

  • The rebounding issues that the Wizards had early on seem resolved. They won the battle on the boards 46-42 with Gortat's activity. Morris had eight rebounds, Wall six and Temple four.

  • Down the stretch when the Wizards needed defense, they got it. Anderson was physical with George moving off the ball and when he reversed Gortat was there to bump him to slow down his movement so Anderson could recover. Morris created a steal when George made an entry pass to Ian Mahinmi cutting to the rim, poking it away for Gortat to pick up. Anderson was hit with a questionable foul call at the end that put George on the line to make the winning foul shots, but it appeared that he lost the ball on his own. It's noteworthy that coach Randy Wittman went with Anderson over Otto Porter (six points, 19 minutes) with the game on the line.

  • Nene took an elbow to the face from Jordan Hill with 10:15 left in the second quarter on what was ruled an offensive foul. Nene had to leave but returned at 2:35 with a bandage over his right eye after he needed stitches. He made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Wizards ahead 99-98 going into the final possession for Indiana. 

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By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

By the numbers: A beyond the box score stat each Wizards player can improve this season

The Wizards kick off their 2018-19 season on Thursday against the Miami Heat, as they look for much better results than they got last year. The Wizards want to push for 50 wins and get past the second round of the playoffs and in order to do so, will need to improve in a variety of ways.

Here is a look at some stats that go beyond the box score that each Wizards rotation player could improve upon...

John Wall, PG, 1.8 contested threes per game

Bradley Beal is one of the best in the business at contesting three-pointers, at least when it comes to the frequency of closeouts. He was ninth in the NBA last season in the category with 4.1 per game and that was down from 4.4 the year before, when he placed fourth. Wall, on the other hand, has generally averaged less than half of Beal's output. 

Some of that can be explained by the fact Wall is usually guarding the primary ball-handler, while Beal is asked to defend a shooting guard and shooting guards generally shoot a lot of threes. But if Wall could improve in how many closeouts he gets on threes, the Wizards could become one of the best teams at defending the perimeter. They were already good last year at opponents three-point percentage, but could make strides in the amount of threes they allow. Last year they were 12th with 10.2 per game.

Bradley Beal, SG, 30% on pull-up threes

Beal's offensive maturation has been a joy to watch over the years and last season was the All-Star season breakthrough we all expected to arrive someday. But there is still room to grow and for a shooter as good as Beal, he could be better at pull-up threes. Many of the best scorers in the NBA have killer pull-up threes and last year Beal lagged behind, shooting just 30 percent on those plays. 

The good news is that he shot over 37 percent in each of the previous three years. If he gets back up there this season and works it back into his game that now includes an improved attack off the dribble, he will be incredibly hard to stop.

Otto Porter Jr., SF - 0.1 charges drawn per game

Porter does so many things well and is one of the more underrated players in the league. But no one in the Wizards' rotation took fewer charges than Porter. Now, that's easier said than done when LeBron James is barreling down the lane. But small forwards can be some of the most effective charge-takers on the floor because they often operate in the midrange and can step out of traffic to confront guards. Just look at Shane Battier's career.

Markieff Morris, PF, 1.5 screen assists per game

Morris didn't have a ton of opportunities to rack up screen assists last season as he was often playing alongside Marcin Gortat, who was especially good at setting screens and played a central part of the pick-and-roll. But Morris may play some more at the five spot this year in small-ball sets and executing good screens will be one of the biggest determinants of his success.

Dwight Howard, C, 0.5 fastbreak points per game

This one isn't going to be easy for the big man, who will likely be starting many of the Wizards' fastbreaks by rebounding the ball and dishing it out immediately to Wall or another guard. But Howard could get so many of his points this season simply by hustling up the floor in transition. Since he may have to sacrifice some of the post-up opportunities he enjoyed in Charlotte, fastbreak dunks could help him compensate. He just has to keep up with Wall. Sounds easy, right?

Kelly Oubre Jr., SF, 2.7 deflections per game

This number for Oubre is actually pretty good. He was tied for 24th in the NBA in the category and for a guy who doesn't play super-heavy minutes, that's not bad at all. It's just that Oubre has the potential to be one of the very best players in the game at deflecting passes. He has the wingspan, the quickness, and the instincts to wreak havoc like few players can. This is also one of the stats that GMs will notice when they determine how much to offer him next summer. If he finishes, say, top-five in the NBA, that will be a major selling point.

Ian Mahinmi, C, 15.6 defensive rebound percentage

Mahinmi had the best offensive rebound percentage on the Wizards last year, but was fourth on the defensive end. The Wizards want to be better defensively and play with more pace and Mahinmi will be a big key to accomplishing those goals for the bench. They need to get the ball off the rim and out to Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky as soon as possible.

Austin Rivers, SG, 36.3 percent on catch-and-shoot threes

Rivers' 64.2 free throw percentage is his biggest area to improve this season, but since the point of this article is to go beyond the box score, let's go with his catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. Rivers was decent last year and has been better in the past, but his ability to space the floor and fire it away quickly off a pass is going to be important for the Wizards' second unit this season. Last year, Rivers was better at hitting threes off the dribble, but will need to knock down shots on catch-and-shoot plays to reach his ceiling playing alongside Satoransky.

Tomas Satoransky, PG, 0.0 percent on pull-up threes

What was true for Rivers is the opposite for Satoransky and to an extreme degree. Despite leading the NBA with a 52.2 percentage on catch-and-shoot threes, he literally did not make a single attempt from three off the dribble. 

Don't believe that? Check his NBA.com splits page. Satoransky is 6-foot-7 and has a high release point. He is also getting more and more comfortable creating off the dribble. The next step for him as a shooter is to diversify how and where he shoots from on the floor. 

Jeff Green, PF, 1.0 deflections per game

Green was one of the best players on the Cavaliers last season at contesting shots, but ranked 12th on the team in deflections. He has the size and athleticism to get in passing lanes, despite playing much of the time around the rim.

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Scott Brooks reiterates patience with rookie Troy Brown Jr.

Scott Brooks reiterates patience with rookie Troy Brown Jr.

When the Wizards initially drafted Troy Brown Jr. this summer, the anticipation was that his versatility would be valuable long-term, but his talent was still raw.

Scott Brooks reminded everyone Wednesday that nothing's changed, and Brown will get plenty of opportunities to grow his game both in the G-League with the Go-Go, and up a level with the Wizards.

This is the right approach by the team, and the best situation with the young rookie who just turned 19 back on July 28th (he was born in 1999 by the way, in case you want to feel old). 

Sure, at the time he was drafted, the team lacked depth, and fans may not have wanted to see a player so young and raw when there were plenty of needs to fill.

Once Jeff Green and Austin Rivers were added to the roster though, it made Brown's development a process that can be moved along at a slower pace.

Brown showed plenty of flashes that show his skill set brings promise, but now, he can take the time to work on them, without the pressure of high expectations and a larger role right off the bat.

The NBA is all about finding players that can do a variety of things now, and Brown, with the right amount of patience, can bring just that to the Wizards in the future. 

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