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Wizards' problems late deeper than who gets last shot

Wizards' problems late deeper than who gets last shot

Until the Wizards figure out how to close games, the question about whether or not John Wall or Bradley Beal should be taking the last shot will come up time and again. But it's bigger than that and more about what happens in the waning minutes as the offense goes stagnant.

The Wizards found themselves ahead 99-92 with 3:10 left to the Oklahoma City Thunder just as they were ahead two nights prior to the Sacramento Kings. It was 91-86 with 2:24 following a three-point shot from Wall. In both games, however, the Wizards had to go into overtime. 

While they beat the Kings 101-95, they were steam-rolled 21-10 in the extra session in a 126-115 loss to the Thunder. 

Wall ran a pick-and-roll with Markieff Morris (19 points, seven rebounds) and got a mismatch when Jerami Grant switched off. Wall appeared to have a floater or finish at the rim possible, with Russell Westbrook switching onto the 6-10 Morris. Wall tried to make a last-minute pass that almost was stolen and Otto Porter found the loose ball and missed the potential game-winner. Against Sacramento, Wall ended regulation by taking a difficult jumper that had no chance of going in. 

"They were so focused on me, they were leaving guys open," said Beal, who had a team-high 31 points on 10-for-21 shooting in a game that the Wizards fought back from a 16-point hole in the first half. "They weren't helping off me so John just kept running high pick-and-rolls and we kept hitting Keef on the roll. They weren't guarding it. I don't mind that. I probably got to be more aggressive and go and get the ball."

The Wizards (6-11) blew their chance to win at Chesapeake Arena for the first time in franchise history. Wall had a chance to win a game on the final shot there in overtime in 2013 when he missed in the lane as Jeremy Lamb struck him over the forearm and didn't get the call. 

Their record this season is 1-2 in overtime. At the end of regulation in their first overtime loss, Wall made a bad read vs. the Memphis Grizzlies in the second game this season. He didn't get off a quality look as he went into the teeth of the defense without a screen to set the table. And the Wizards were ahead 96-88 with 3:17 left in that game.

Maybe fatigue is playing a factor, too. In the last six games, Beal has played 40, 40, 38, 38, 41 and 42 minutes. Wall has played 37, 38, 39, 37, 43 and 44.

"It's tough playing 40 minutes a night, having to come back and play all these tough teams all over again," said Beal, who'll have to play at the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. "I think they'll die down eventually. I think we'll get rolling. I think it's just a matter of us getting over this hump. We're right there. Our effort is there. We're playing defense the right way, the way we want to. The offense is there. We just got to put it all together now."

Closing games is difficult to do. As the leaders of the locker room, Wall and Beal have done most of the heavy-lifting. They need help. In the end though, teammates will look at them to make the right plays and the confidence they clearly lack in the clutch.

"This," said Wall, "is probably the most difficult one of the season, being up seven with (three) minutes to go."

[RELATED: Takeaways from the Wizards overtime loss vs. Thunder]

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With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

At the beginning of the week, the Washington Wizards had 12 games left on the schedule and needed to win a minimum of eight or nine of those games if they hoped to make the playoffs.

It’s Thursday night and Washington’s loss to the Jazz makes three in a row.

With nine games left on the schedule, where do they stand in the East postseason race and the draft lottery order?

Eastern Conference Standings

Losing three-straight games hasn’t actually dropped the Wizards from the 11th spot in the East, where they’ve hovered the last couple weeks. For that they can thank the tanking Atlanta Hawks.

Don’t think those L’s aren’t costing Washington, though. In the same span of time, the 8-seed Heat have won three in a row.

Now Bradley Beal and Co. are a full six games out of the final playoff spot with nine games to go. They also trail Orlando (34-38) in ninth and Charlotte (32-39) in 10th.

They’re not absolutely, certainly, 100-percent eliminated from playoff contention, but they must win every game left.

Even that might not be enough.

NBA Draft Lottery

Back-to-back-to-back losses took a major toll on whatever playoff hopes Washington had left. For a silver lining, look no further than the team’s draft lottery position.

The Wizards started the week ninth in the draft lottery order, which gave them 20.3 percent odds of scoring a top-four pick (preferably in the form of a Duke freshman or Ja Morant). That ninth spot also carries a 4.5 percent chance at the top-overall pick.

While the Wiz kids were busy dropping 3 games, the two teams immediately ahead of them in the lottery order had better luck.

The Grizzlies won their only game so far this week, while the Pelicans won one of two.

Those results dropped New Orleans to number nine, boosted Washington to number eight and left them tied with Memphis at 15.5 games out of number one in the lottery order (though Memphis’s win percentage is fractionally lower and keeps them in seventh).

If the Wizards can pass the Grizzlies and climb into seventh, that’s a big deal in terms of lottery odds. Simulating the drawing, the ninth-place team gets a top-four pick once in every five simulations. The seventh-place team gets a top-four pick once in every three simulations.

Look Ahead

Washington can’t lose another game if they want to make the playoffs. This is literally must-win territory.

Even winning out is no guarantee they’ll advance to the postseason.

Up next, Washington hosts Miami at home on Saturday, followed by a West Coast road trip the following week.

Games to Watch

Heat at Wizards, Saturday 7 PM

Timberwolves at Grizzlies, Saturday 8 PM

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Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

The Washington Wizards selected John Wall first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Other lottery picks followed in subsequent years. None were point guards. Nobody bothered contemplating such a scenario.

That’s no longer the case.

There is Wall’s uncertain physical status for next season and beyond because of a ruptured Achilles.

Thursday’s mind-blowing performance from Murray State point guard Ja Morant put such contemplation into overdrive.

For many NBA-only fans, the 12th seeded Racers' 83-64 thrashing over no. 5 Marquette in its West Region first-round game marked the initial opportunity to watch the buzz-worthy Morant. He did not disappoint.

Morant, who only trailed Duke phenom Zion Williamson for jaw-dropping highlights this season, dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists for the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. His next chance to wow comes Saturday against fourth-seeded Florida State.

Imagine the Wizards receive some lottery luck ahead of June’s NBA Draft. Not the overflowing pot of gold kind that means grabbing Williamson first overall, but jumping up above the average options to the second or third selection. Washington (30-43) has a 26.3 percent chance of landing a top 4 selection, according to the draft website Tankathon.

Williamson might be the only player selected ahead of Morant in June in what one NBA executive deems a two-player draft. “Zion makes it feel better than it is. After Zion and Ja, just an average draft,” the executive said.

You’re on the clock. Duke’s RJ Barrett is another top 3 candidate, but Morant gained ground on the wing guard and others all season by averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 assists and multiple viral video moments a game. By June, Morant might be the clear-cut second-best player.

Wall’s recovery timeline keeps the five-time All-Star sideline for the majority if not all of the 2019-20 season. He will eventually return, however. That factor cannot be ignored especially with his 4-year, $170 million supermax contract starting next season. Ideally, the selection compliments Bradley Beal and Wall in the starting lineup.

Wall also turns 29 in July and recovery from such a devastating injury presents significant unknowns.

Tomas Satoransky, Wall's primary backup and the current starter, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards would like him back, but the marketplace might have other ideas.

Time’s up. Turn the selection card in. Take Morant or not?

“Hell, yes!” multiple college basketball sources responded via text.

Others went with a standard roster-building approach.

“I take the best player available and figure it out,” an NBA scout texted.

In other words, hell yeah on Morant.

Another NBA scout received his first extended look at wispy yet athletically super-charged Morant last summer at Chris Paul’s basketball camp. “I thought he was ordinary because he played more off the ball,” the scout said of the 6-foot-3, 174-pound Morant. “But now he’s really, really good. Can pass with either hand.”

The scout offered an NBA comparison: John Wall. “Not as fast as John, but he’s got the same explosive athleticism at the rim.”

The counter-argument, a mild one at that, looks beyond next season.

Playing time ranked high among the reasons why the Wizards sought low-cost backup point guards over the years for Wall. Combo guards aside, if Wall goes 35-38 minutes nightly, why invest significant assets into a 10-13 minute-a-game player.

There’s some debate over whether Morant could play off the ball next to Wall. The sophomore is shooting 33.6 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season.

Based on the initial reaction from the various sources, nobody cares. Take the talent and figure out the rest. It's unclear what the Wizards have in Wall going forward. Maybe trade one of them down the line. The Wizards only have three healthy players under contract for next season. The 2019 first-round pick could immediately become a high-rotation player.

Such expectations rise if the Wizards jump up in the lottery. Historically there’s no chance they consider a point guard in the lottery with Wall on the roster. Times are different especially if there’s a chance to grab a hell yeah talent like Morant.

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