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Big questions linger for Wizards as Dwight Howard begins recovery from back surgery

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Big questions linger for Wizards as Dwight Howard begins recovery from back surgery

For the second straight season, the Wizards will be without one of their starters for months at a time. Last year it was John Wall, and this time it is Dwight Howard, who had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back on Friday and will be out for months.

The team announced they will re-evaluate Howard in two-to-three months, meaning he is likely to be absent until at least the All-Star break. The worst-case scenario has him returning late in the year, not long before the playoffs begin.

There are many layers to this development and many after-effects for the team's short- and long-term future. Howard was signed this offseason to be their starting center. He was supposed to solidify their defense and anchor their pick-and-roll. They will now have to make do without him.

As we have seen already this season, the Wizards are better in key areas of the game when he is in the lineup. They allow nearly 10 fewer points per game and about eight fewer rebounds for their opponents. Defense and rebounding have been among the Wizards' biggest issues this season.

The Wizards have some decent options with Howard out. They have second-year center Thomas Bryant, who has shown promise starting in his place. Both Markieff Morris and Jeff Green have proven competent at the five-spot and they still have Ian Mahinmi, who could play a factor again at some point.

But the overall results for the Wizards without Howard paint a bleak picture. They are 4-8 without him this season and 4-5 when he's in the lineup. 

Defense has been a major issue overall for the Wizards. The Wizards are allowing a league-high 118.2 points per game this season, most for any team since 1990-91.

Howard's timeline will give the Wizards a conundrum as it pertains to the Feb. 8 trade deadline. They have time to evaluate their roster without Howard, meaning if Bryant doesn't work out or the rebounding issues in small-ball sets persist, they have months to weigh their options.

But they won't be able to assess Howard after his return and before the deadline. If something goes wrong in his recovery, or he doesn't return the same player, they could pay for waiting.

Where the Wizards may really be hurt by this is in the long-term. Howard has a player option for next season worth $5.6 million. Entering this year, it seemed unlikely that would convey, given Howard is used to making about four times that much money and only signed with the Wizards on a bargain deal because he was bought out by the Brooklyn Nets.

But now, as Howard's season has been derailed by injuries, the chances of him exercising that option would seem much higher. In hindsight, it was a clever move by Howard and his agent to get the second year. Regardless of how he returns this season, he is going to have missed a lot of games.

Also worth noting is the nature of Howard's injury. He had a similar procedure, a lumbar discectomy, in 2012.

When Howard last had this type of operation, he was 26-years-old. This time he is 32 and just over a week away from his 33rd birthday.

The good news, if there is any, is that the injury was located and is expected to be fixed. The piriformis muscle strain, his original diagnosis, had proven stubborn. Howard suffered multiple setbacks and even when he played, was not 100 percent. At least the mystery has been solved.

Now the Wizards can only hope Howard will make a full recovery, not only to help them this season but potentially next year as well.

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Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

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Wizards fall flat in battle with young Grizzlies

The Washington Wizards lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 128-111 on Saturday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. It was just over a week ago the Wizards had their best win of the season against the Sixers. Saturday night was one of their worst.

They went into Memphis to play an emerging, but struggling team and got their you-know-whats handed to them. The Wizards jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first, then lost the momentum and never got it back.

By halftime the Wizards were down 15. That deficit grew to 24 in the second half.

The Wizards ended up losing by 17, but it wasn't as close as the score would suggest. It was Washington's seventh loss in eight games.

Maybe it was the three-day layoff. Perhaps they weren't sharp. Whatever the reason, that was a bad one.

2. As this game went on, it became very obvious that Memphis' gameplan was to make sure Davis Bertans didn't beat them. They swarmed the Latvian Laser on the perimeter and guarded him well beyond the three-point line.

Bertans was held to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting and 1-for-6 from three. His one three was a quick release shot from about 27 feet out. Soon after that, the defense was picking him up at halfcourt.

 

This type of treatment was inevitable for Bertans, who has been the biggest surprise of the Wizards' season so far. He has turned into one of the league's best three-point shooters and the second-best scorer on the team. Teams now know it.

3. Rui Hachimura's college teammate stole the show in this one. Brandon Clarke, who played last year with Hachimura at Gonzaga, put on an impressive scoring display highlighted by a series of vicious dunks. He measured a max vertical of 40 1/2 inches and used every inch of it to dunk all over the Wizards.

He had 19 points in the first half, including an alley-oop where his head was level with the rim and a poster dunk on the fastbreak that nearly ended Ian Mahinmi's career.

 

Clarke had 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting with four rebounds. Coming out of the draft, he was considered a good defensive player but too old (he's 23) and too raw offensively without a three-point shot.

So far, he's looking like a major steal at the 21st overall pick. 

4. The Grizzlies might not be good, but they are fun to watch and have a nice young core with Clarke alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant. Jackson is a unicorn at 6-foot-11 with the ability to drive coast-to-coast and hit threes. Morant is a force of nature, able to play well above the rim despite being 6-foot-3.

Morant nearly pulled off one of the most disrespectful plays in basketball on Bradley Beal. He tried to pull a "Michael Jordan on Ron Mercer" by snatching the ball off the glass with two hands. But he clipped the rim and was called for goaltending. Still, it was impressive because of how high he got in the air.

Memphis has an exciting young team. They might contend for a playoff spot next year with a good offseason. If they were in the East, they could really make some noise.

5. The Wizards were without several key regulars once again. Isaiah Thomas missed his fifth straight game with a left calf strain and Moe Wagner was out with his left ankle sprain after playing in the past four games.

They did get back Garrison Mathews, though. The two-way guard played in his first game since Oct. 25 after sitting out due to a stress reaction in his right leg. It was Mathews' third professional game, but he made his first shot - a corner three. It happened to come in his home state of Tennessee. 

Mathews might actually get some minutes in the next few weeks because he is the second-best shooting guard on the roster with Jordan McRae out due to a finger injury.

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

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Wizards release statement on the passing of John Wall's mother

The Washington Wizards announced the passing of John Wall's mother, Frances Pulley on Friday. 

Wall's mother had been battling cancer before her passing. She was 58. 

In a statement on Twitter, the Wizards said, "Sending thoughts and love for John Wall and his family after the passing of his mother, Frances Pulley. She will forever be a part of our #DCFamily."

Zach Leonsis, the senior vice president of strategic initiatives at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also released a statement

"Thinking of @JohnWall and his family right now. Keeping you guys in our prayers. So terribly sorry for your loss and know that she will be remembered forever. #DCFamily

Wall's Kentucky coach, John Calipari also expressed his condolences for his former star: 

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