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Wizards pick up first win vs. Blazers

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Wizards pick up first win vs. Blazers

Go ahead and pop those champagne bottles and rattle those pots and pans.

Ding dong -- the wicked streak is dead.

Led by Jordan Crawford [19 points], Trevor Ariza [14 points] and Kevin Seraphin’s second double-double of the season [10 points, 10 rebounds] the Wizards finally recorded their first win of the season Wednesday night, defeating the Portland Trailer Blazers 84-82 in front of a sparse but jubilant crowd at Verizon Center.

One male fan was so enthused by the win he fell over a railing near the Wizards bench and was saved from hitting the floor by Wizards center Emeka Okafor.

“He had a big smile on his face,” Okafor said. “Like the rest of us.”

No one felt the weight of the Wizards’ 12-game losing streak to start the season more than Wizards coach Randy Wittman and the 53-year-old coach wore a post-game smile for the first time all season.

“We just broke through the ice,” Wittman said. “I lived in Minnesota for 15-17 years and that ice was four or five feet [thick]. But it’s broken through now.”

With the win, the Wizards avoided the embarrassment of remaining the NBA’s only winless team the old fashioned way – they played defense like junkyard dogs.

That was certainly the case in the final minute when Wizards center Emeka Okafor came up with a huge block on J.J. Hickson, then drew a foul on LaMarcus Aldridge at the other end of the floor and drained both free throws.

“We were flying,” Okafor said. “If we were making mistakes defensively we were doing it at 100 miles and hour.”

Seconds later, Chris Singleton pulled down a huge defensive rebound on a miss by Damian Lillard [20 points] and the Wizards had their first win.

“I thought Chris was huge for us,” Wittman said. “He battled Aldridge probably better than anybody we had tonight … and Trevor Ariza was spectacular.”

Still, it came down to defense.

The sharpshooting Trail Blazers came into the game with a 44 percent shooting percentage, but were held to a season-low 35 percent Wednesday night.

The Wizards really clamped down in the second and third quarters when they held Portland to 24 percent in the second and 29 percent in the third to pull out to a 69-59 lead heading into the final quarter.

It marked just the second time all season the Wizards had a lead through three quarters and that advantage swelled to 15 points on a drive to the basket by Nene with about 9:30 to play.
That’s when things got interesting. Too interesting if you were Wittman.

Led by Damian Lillard, Portland went on a 12-0 run midway through the fourth to close within 79-76 with 4:31 to play.

That’s when Wittman called a timeout and gathered in his players.

Seconds later Hickson slammed down a two-handed dunk and the Wizards’ lead was down to 1. Hickson tied it less than a minute later by sinking one of two free throws and Nicolas Batum gave the Blazers the lead by dropping one of two from the line.

Crawford gave the Wizards an 82-80 lead, but Aldridge knocked down a jumper to tie it. That’s when the Wizards turned up the defense and ended their losing streak.

“We’re excited we won tonight,” said Nene, who finished with six points in 19 minutes. “Now we have fresh air.”

Ariza agreed, but with upcoming games against New York, Miami and Atlanta, he knows the work has just begun.

“It’s a huge, huge weight off your back as a team,” Ariza said. “But we can’t stop there. It’s only one and we’ve got a lot of digging to do.”

 

 

 

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

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Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

Five things to know about Wizards general manager search candidate Tim Connelly

The Washington Wizards have reportedly offered their vacant general manager position to Tim Connelly. The news was first reported by the Athletic.

Here are five things to know about him...

1. Connelly is a Baltimore native who transferred to Catholic University in D.C. during his junior year in college, graduating from there in 1999. 

2. Connelly began his NBA front office career with the Wizards, starting as an intern in 1996. He spent a decade with the organization, holding such roles as assistant video coordinator, head scout, and director of player personnel. 

3. After leaving the Wizards, Connelly spent three seasons serving as the assistant general manager of the New Orleans Pelicans. 

4. Connelly joined the Nuggets organization in 2013 as the executive vice president of basketball operations. He was promoted to President of Basketball Operations in 2017. Connelly has been part of a Denver front office that has drafted the likes of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris over the last five years. 

5. Connelly has six siblings, including four brothers: Joe, Pat, Dan and Kevin. All four of them have also worked in basketball in some capacity, Joe, Pat, and Dan all following Tim into the NBA ranks. 

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