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Markieff Morris says Wizards are close to hitting their stride after inconsistent start

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Markieff Morris says Wizards are close to hitting their stride after inconsistent start

It was in the month of December last season when the Wizards hit their stride, when they put behind them an inconsistent start and took off on a run that cemented them as one of the best teams in NBA. Though it was early December when that happened in 2016, Wizards forward Markieff Morris believes the Wizards are close to a similar run.

"It's coming. Don't worry about it," Morris said. "Trust me, it's coming."

From Dec. 8 through March 11 last season, the Wizards went 34-11, the best record in basketball during that span. They were 7-13 when it began and 41-24 by the time it was over.

At 17-14 after 31 games, the Wizards are outpacing themselves from this time last year when they were 15-16, but they haven't put everything together quite yet like they did during the 2016-17 season. Their longest win streak this season is just four games. Due to injuries and trouble against sub-.500 teams, the Wizards have yet to go on an extended run.


But Morris is seeing signs of life in the Wizards' locker room and can sense they are close to turning a corner.

"We'll get John [Wall] back and all the way back the way he needs to be. We'll get [Otto Porter] back. I'm almost there myself," he said.

Wall continues to work his way into midseason form after missing nine games due to a pair of knee procedures on his left knee. Porter has missed two games due to a right hip contusion.

Morris missed seven games to start the year after having offseason sports hernia surgery, but has not been himself in the months since. He's averaging just 9.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. His backup, Mike Scott, has been producing about the same (9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg) while shooting a much higher percentage.


Morris was a big reason for the Wizards' taking off last year in December. During the 34-11 stretch, he averaged 15.0 points, 7.1 rebounds 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 47.1 percent from the field.

Morris says his own improvement is a reason why he thinks the Wizards are close to breaking out. He's starting to get over problems with his right hip and left ankle by utilizing days off to rest and spending more time in the weight room.

"It's how I feel when I wake up," he said. "I feel it when I'm working and then the days after games, I feel better the next day."

There have been times this season where Morris' lack of production has appeared to be a missing piece for the Wizards, but he sounds confident that will change and soon.


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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually come into existence. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclamations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

Austin Rivers believes he can help the Wizards on defense as much as anything

When asked at his introductory press conference for how he will fit on the Wizards' roster from a basketball perspective, guard Austin Rivers didn't first cite his three-point shooting, his ability to affect games scoring off the bench or his speed to run the floor with John Wall and Bradley Beal. The first thing he point to was his defense.

That may have surprised some people out there as Rivers has long been known for his scoring ability and not so much his skills on the other end. It's not that he can't play defense, it's just that most of the highlights he's produced over the years have been due to his high-flying finishes at the rim and wicked pull-up jumper from three-point range.

Defense, though, is something Rivers takes pride in and he hopes to continue developing as a defender in Washington.

"With how much Brad and John have to do every night, for them to not have to always guard the best guard on the other team, that's something I can come in here and do. Try to bring that competitive spirit and be one of the defenders on the team," Rivers said.

Rivers' defensive ability has produced some controversy among Wizards fans and media members on social media. Some insist he does not bring value on that end of the floor, while some numbers suggest he does have some defensive potential.

Last season, Rivers averaged a career-high 1.2 steals per game. He was tied for fifth on the Clippers in defensive win shares.

However, his 113 defensive rating was his worst since 2013-14. It was an outlier on the Clippers and not in the good way. He also ranked nowhere near the top of the league in deflections or contested three-point shots, two hustle stats that guys like Wall and Beal fair well in.

Rivers points to two attributes that he believes make him a strong perimeter defender. One is his versatility and the other you could call scrappiness.

"On defense [the Wizards] can switch one through three or one through four. I think that gives us a lot of dangerous options," he said.

As for his scrappiness, Rivers says it comes from the early days of his career.

"I had to figure out ways to be effective without [a jumpshot] and that's how I became a defender. I guess everything happens for a reason, right? I'm happy I did have those early career struggles because it made me find a side of me that I didn't do [early on]. Because I promise you I didn't play any defense at Duke," he said.

The last line drew laughter from those gathered at his introductory press conference. Rivers insists that he now takes that end of the floor very seriously. The Wizards certainly hope he can back up his words.

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