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Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

Five observations from Wizards' thrilling overtime win over the Blazers, including Markieff Morris' career night

The Washington Wizards beat the Portland Trail Blazers 125-124 in overtime on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Wild game, huge win: Though it was just the third game of the regular season, it felt like the Wizards needed this one. They had just lost their first two games to teams missing key players and battling through the second nights of back-to-backs. And up next is the defending-champion Warriors.

Lose this one and the Wizards could have put themselves in a very tough early season hole, but they rallied to overcome a sluggish offensive start to the second half to secure their first victory of the season.

Considering the alternative, this was about as important a win could be this early in the year.

Oubre showed some life: The shots finally started falling for Kelly Oubre Jr. After shooting just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 for three in his first two games, Oubre broke out with 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 3-for-3 from three in this one. He also added six rebounds, a steal and a block.

To his credit, Oubre didn't force anything out of frustration after the way he started the season. He began the night by calmly knocking down a three from the slot, then attacking the rim for a shot off the glass a play later. Oubre was aggressive getting into the lane and scored with both hands.

This was, quite easily, Oubre's best performance so far in 2018-19, including the preseason. He was active deflecting the ball on defense and played controlled, intelligent basketball on offense. 

There were many plays he made that won't show up in the box score that helped lead the Wizards to their win; deflections, a huge charge taken in the final minutes of overtime. He was absolutely locked in.

Now, there were some lowlights. Oubre let several players get by him too easily, including Evan Turner and Jake Layman. Oubre has the tools to stay in front of those guys. But all in all, Oubre made a big difference in this game and that was good to see.

Morris balled out: While Oubre had his best game in the past few weeks, Markieff Morris may have had his best performance in a Wizards uniform. The Wizards forward exploded for 28 points in 25 minutes with nine rebounds, a block and a steal. He set a career-high with six threes made on 10 attempts.

Two of Morris' threes came in overtime, including one with 38.5 seconds left to put the Wizards up by four. His role in closing out the win in Portland brought back memories of his game-winner in the same building in March of 2017.

Morris is one of the biggest wild cards on the Wizards because it's not always clear which version of him they are going to get. When he's at his best, he's hitting outside shots and playing physical defense. He did that and more on Monday night.

With Dwight Howard out, the Wizards need Morris to step up. Though he didn't exactly do that in their first two games, Morris came to play in this one.

Beal went off early: This game was billed as the return of Bradley Beal to the Moda Center where he dropped a career-high 51 points last December. It took him a bit to get going, but once he did, Beal caught fire and scored at a pace that for a while was reminiscent of that amazing night.

Beal had 19 points in the first half on 8-for-12 from the field and 3-for-4 from three. But then he cooled off a bit in the second half and finished with 25 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and one block. He had zero turnovers.

Beal has now scored at least 25 points in five straight games against the Blazers. Clearly, he likes playing in Portland but one reason for his success against them may deal with C.J. McCollum. 

Beyond the fact facing one of the best shooting guards in the NBA may bring the best out of him, Beal is a tough cover for McCollum because he's more athletic. He's a tick faster and can get higher on his jumpshot. 

McCollum is an underrated defender, but Beal kept him off balance with well-timed pump fakes and consistently got open off screens. Beal's points were mostly within the rhythm of the offense. He was moving consistently without the ball and using the smallest of separation to get his shots off.

Beal also deserves credit for his defense against McCollum. The Blazers star was limited to 13 points on 5-for-25 from the field and 1-for-9 from three. 

Damian Lillard also had a rough shooting night. He had 29 points, but on 7-for-21 from the field and 2-for-10 from three. Many of his points came at the free throw line where he went 13-for-15, 13 of his attempts in the first half.

Two centers are now hurt: The day began with head coach Scott Brooks sharing some bad news about Howard, who not only did not make the trip with the Wizards but is likely to miss at least several more games. Not too long into this game, they lost their backup center, too.

Ian Mahinmi was subbed out after getting two quick fouls and never returned. He went to the locker room to get treated with back spasms, leaving the Wizards perilously thin at the center position. They had to rely on Jason Smith and using forwards Markieff Morris and Jeff Green in small-ball lineups. Thomas Bryant still didn't get the nod.

Back spasms do not sound serious, but any time Mahinmi is unavailable puts a strain on the Wizards. It brings into focus the fact the Wizards have not one, but two roster spots currently vacant. 

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Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

Austin Rivers getting cut by Suns may change perception of Trevor Ariza trade to Wizards

When the Suns traded Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers, the thought by most was that Rivers, though not a perfect fit, would slide in at point guard to fill their biggest need. Instead, on the day the trade became official, Phoenix opted to waive Rivers and make him a free agent.

The Suns will pay about $8 million to let Rivers go, according to ESPN. He is now free to sign with any team except for the Wizards. That means he can return to the L.A. Clippers, where he played last season, if he wants.

Rivers, 26, has had a dramatic fall in a matter of months. In July, the Wizards sent starting center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers to acquire Rivers, who was coming off a career year. They believed he could solidify their backup shooting guard position and become an asset off the bench.

Rivers, though, proved a poor fit. He struggled with fewer shots and fewer minutes, averaging only 7.2 points while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from three. 

Rivers arrived in Washington with numbers that suggested he could score efficiently. But his stint with the Wizards showed he may need more volume to sustain a rhythm.

The Suns cutting Rivers makes the trade between the teams from a Suns perspective essentially an Ariza-for-Oubre swap. Phoenix wanted to clear some money and part with Ariza, who was wasting away on their last-place roster. Now they can see what they have in Oubre over the course of the rest of this season before he hits restricted free agency.

From the Wizards' side, this move shows how far Rivers' trade value had dropped, as one of the league's worst teams has cut him loose. That they were able to unload Rivers' salary while prying away Ariza may change slightly how the trade is viewed.

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With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

With Trevor Ariza now in store, Wizards begin new phase against Hawks

The Wizards have undergone a midseason roster renovation over the past week-plus, culminating with a trade over the weekend to acquire Trevor Ariza. On Tuesday in Atlanta, a new phase will begin for the Wizards as they take on the Hawks at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Ariza has joined the team on the road in anticipation of his debut. With Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers now out the door, the team brought back guard Chasson Randle. Those two will help make up a new-look rotation for Washington, as they try to recover from a 12-18 start to this season.

Ariza will likely slide into the starting lineup, certainly in the short-term as Otto Porter Jr. recovers from a minor knee injury. The changes should also present opportunities for a few players who otherwise may not have played.

Sam Dekker, for one, will clearly be in the mix. He has averaged 13.5 minutes per game since coming over in a three-team trade last week. On Sunday against the Lakers, he put up a season-high 20 points. Even when Porter returns, he should have a role, as his path to play was carved by Oubre's departure.

The adjustments should, in theory, also clear the runway for rookie Troy Brown Jr. The 2018 first round pick has only appeared in 13 of the Wizards' 30 games this season because of a logjam at his position. 

But on Sunday, the first game since Oubre and Rivers were dealt, he played 15:21 against the Lakers. It wasn't in garbage time, either. He entered in the first half and made an instant impact with three steals and two rebounds.

Though Tomas Satoransky has played an important role this season as a backup guard and temporary starter, his standing was made even more secure when the Wizards traded Rivers. They have Randle and two-way player Jordan McRae, but Satoransky is now their primary backup guard. Barring a trade or another signing, they have no choice but to rely heavily on him to spell John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Speaking of Wall and Beal, they will bear watching despite nothing changing in their roles with the Wizards. They, along with Markieff Morris and Porter, have been the core of this team throughout the tumultuous last two years. The Wizards brought in Ariza to help compensate for their shortcomings in defending the perimeter, rebounding and - this year, at least - three-point shooting. 

If Ariza's arrival has a domino effect on teammates, if it lights a spark and brings the best out of the Wizards, those are the guys to watch. The Wizards want consistency from them, more of what they saw against the Lakers. And Ariza's commitment on the defensive end, the team hopes, can rub off on others.

The Wizards have already played one game since trading Oubre and Rivers, but now that Ariza is in store and ready to debut, the Wizards can officially hit the restart button. Will this trade prove the catalyst and help get them back on track? Tuesday night will give the first answers to that question.

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