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Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

The Washington Wizards opened their 2018-19 regular season with a 113-112 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Olynyk does it again: A ghost from the Wizards' past returned on Thursday night to spoil the season opener in Washington, a game that up until very late seemed destined to go their way. The Wizards got several key stops late in the fourth quarter, but failed to box out Kelly Olynyk, who reeled in a Dwyane Wade miss and dropped in a go-ahead layup with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Olynyk had been booed all night by Wizards fans every time he touched the ball. Though he has changed teams, they still remember his dustup with Kelly Oubre Jr. back in the 2017 playoffs when he was with the Celtics. Olynyk heard it all night, but ended up sealing the win. Man, what a gut punch for the Wizards to start the season off.

Wall looked good: He may be wearing a headband and sporting a new hairstyle, but the John Wall who showed up on Thursday night to carve up the Heat defense looked awfully familiar. It was a version of him we didn't see much of last year in what amounted to a lost season due to missed games and injury-hampered play.

Wall looked a lot like the All-NBA force we saw two years ago when he put up career numbers and had the Wizards on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. Against Miami, he got to the rim with little to no resistance and collected 18 points in the first half alone. He finished with 26 points, nine assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. He shot 9-for-16 from the field.

One of the most intriguing parts of this season as it pertains to Wall is the potential he has with Dwight Howard, who in theory should make things a lot easier for him as a lob-devouring pick-and-roll monster. But Wall showed vs. the Heat he has the same spark we have seen over the years, the electric driving ability that was missing for so much of last season. 

He can create his own offense whenever he wants to. Imagine when he has Howard's help setting screens and drawing attention in the paint.

No Howard: Howard was a game-time decision and the Wizards ultimately made the call to sit him out. They say he's feeling great and getting better, but just hasn't had enough practice time to jump into the regular season line of fire.

It seems like Howard is very close and could be ready on Saturday when the Wizards host the Raptors. If not, he will still travel with the Wizards on their five-game road trip through the Western Conference.

With Howard out, head coach Scott Brooks appears to have more trust in Jason Smith to be the backup center rather than Thomas Bryant. Though he did go small with Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at center, that was only after Smith got into foul trouble.

Howard's absence was seen especially in the rebounding category. The Heat beat the Wizards on the glass 55 to 40 and Miami had 22 offensive boards. Though we haven't seen Howard in action with the Wizards, it's a safe bet they would have done better rebounding the ball with him on the floor.

Foul troubles: Howard's absence was compounded by key Wizards players racking fouls at an accelerated rate. Ian Mahinmi, who started for Howard, got his fourth just 15 seconds into the second half. By the end of the third quarter, Morris, Jason Smith and Bradley Beal also had four fouls by the end of the third quarter. Beal finished with five. 

All in all, it was a physical game between the teams, one that included a confrontation in the third quarter between Wall and Derrick Jones Jr. that resulted in a technical foul for Wall. It all started when Smith and Hassan Whiteside got tangled up on the floor. Wall came over and gave Jones a shove and some words to follow.

That play likely would have resulted in a technical foul last year as well, but it's worth noting the league has expanded its definition of 'hostile acts.' That type of stuff will not fly at all anymore. 

It was an interesting chicken-or-the-egg situation on Thursday because the quick whistles definitely contributed to some frustration between the teams.

Otto still deferred: Much of the talk about Otto Porter Jr. in recent years has been the need for him to shoot more often. He's the most efficient player on the Wizards, yet is the clear No. 3 option in the offense. That chatter reached a new level this preseason as Brooks joked to Wizards beat writers that they have permission to yell at Porter if he doesn't shoot.

So far, it was much of the same for Wizards swingman. He took seven shots in the game and only had three at halftime. Two of those came on the same play, as he missed a layup and then sank the putback. Porter didn't attempt a single three and had only nine points.

The Wizards want Porter to take more shots than he did last season (11.5 FGA/g), but it won't be easy. Keep in mind he posted that number when Wall missed 41 games and with Marcin Gortat as the center. Howard didn't play in this one, but when he returns he is going to expect more shots than Gortat was used to.

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Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Five weeks after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas returned to practice Sunday and was a full participant.

Originally expected to miss 6-8 weeks in recovery, Thomas is on track to play much sooner than anticipated. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t go as far to say Thomas would be ready for Washington’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, but he did seem optimistic that he’d be playing in the near future.

Thomas signed a one-year minimum deal with the Wizards in July. Once healthy, he’s expected to be the team’s starting point guard with Ish Smith and Justin Robinson coming off the bench.

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Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason


The Wizards closed their 2019-20 preseason schedule with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which means up next is the regular season opener on Wednesday night in Dallas. Now that the exhibition schedule is (finally) over, here are five takeaways from what we saw...

Injuries have added up

The Wizards entered this preseason with a lot of things to sort out in their rotation due to the significant roster overhaul they went through in the summer. But injuries complicated things further for head coach Scott Brooks, who wasn't offered anything close to a full cupboard to work with.

The most notable injuries were to Isaiah Thomas (thumb) and Troy Brown Jr. (calf). Both players will be key members of the rotation when they recover, but are each on track to miss the start of the regular season. The same goes for C.J. Miles, who has a foot injury. There is also Ian Mahinmi, who has an Achilles issue, though he is not likely to play a big role on the team this season.

Hachimura looks the part

The early returns on rookie Rui Hachimura have been good. The 2019 ninth overall pick has not looked timid or out of place on an NBA floor. He has shown he can attack the rim assertively and has even made a few threes. Those two areas will be key to watch for him this season; how he can adapt to NBA interior defenders and shooting threes from a longer distance.

Hachimura is a likely starter for the Wizards this season and should get ample shot opportunities. He is going to have a chance to be a focal point of the Wizards' offense and probably a long enough leash to play through his mistakes. As a young player, you can't ask for much more than that.

Also impressive this preseason were Moe Wagner, who was much better than he showed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Thomas Bryant, who looks like he is going to take another step from his breakout season last year. Bryant is more confident knocking down threes and has been a force on the glass. Don't be surprised if he averages a double-double this season.

Small forward is a question

The Wizards had Brown penciled in to be their full-time starting small forward, according to a person familiar with their plans, but his injury is expected to keep him out to start the season. He did a post-practice workout the other day and wasn't moving very quickly, either due to discomfort in his calf or to be extra cautious in fear of a setback.

Either way, he is still rehabbing and so is Miles. The Wizards also released Justin Anderson, leaving them with no obvious choice to start at the three. At this point, it looks likely they will have to either put someone there that is probably best suited for another position like Hachimura, Davis Bertans or Jordan McRae, or roll with someone who is very inexperienced like Bonga or Admiral Schofield. The odds seem better they choose the former.

Final roster spot?

The Wizards now have to decide who gets their final roster spot. The safe money at this point is probably for point guard Justin Robinson and wing Jordan McRae to be the 14th and 15th players on the roster and for Chris Chiozza to have his contract converted to a two-way deal.

The Chiozza part has been speculated for weeks and it is the direction the team is leaning, NBC Sports Washington was told. If Chiozza did get the two-way contract, he could remain with the team to start the season and help fill the void at point guard while Thomas recovers from his left thumb surgery. Chiozza would have 45 days allotted at the NBA level, but that clock would not begin until Oct. 28 when G-League training camps open.

Beal's commitment

This season took on an entirely different tone with Thursday's news Bradley Beal would sign a contract extension with the Wizards. This year had the potential to be overshadowed by Beal's uncertain future, but now that has been put to rest. The trade rumors can be set aside as Beal has made it official his commitment to the Wizards' plan.

Now, that could get interesting late in the year if losses are piling up. He ultimately wants to win and it will bear watching how he shows his frustration if the team isn't playing up to his standards.

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