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Moe Wagner's best defensive strategy is not pretty, but it worked against Andre Drummond

Moe Wagner's best defensive strategy is not pretty, but it worked against Andre Drummond

WASHINGTON -- Defense is not a strength for the 2019-20 Wizards, but Monday night's win over the Detroit Pistons showed one tactic of theirs that could work on a given night, if the match-up is there. 

With Thomas Bryant struggling against Pistons center Andre Drummond, the Wizards deployed back-up Moe Wagner, who basically just did everything he could to push back against one of the NBA's most imposing physical forces. Wagner used his fouls, his chest and his elbows; whatever he could to impede Drummond's path to the rim.

Though it likely left Wagner with some bumps and bruises, it worked. While Drummond went 4-for-7 in match-ups with Bryant, he went just 1-for-8 against Wagner, and Wagner blocked three of his shots.

Wagner's contribution was a big reason why Drummond shot 6-for-20 from the field, good for 30 percent, which was a major blemish on his otherwise impressive night of 15 points and 24 rebounds. 

"First, you've gotta realize he's strong, like different level strong," Wagner said of Drummond. "I weigh like 240 [pounds], but he's like 280 and he can move, too. You have to use your entire body to fight against him and be aware of him at all times because the moment you aren't, he's got you tucked in." 

As Wagner described, he isn't the strongest big man on the court most nights. So, he has to do what he can to compensate. One way is by taking charges. He has already taken five of them in six games this season, good for third-most in the NBA.

Another way is by committing fouls. Back-up big men in the NBA are generally view their fouls as more expendable than others because they aren't playing heavy minutes, and because they are the final line of defense at the rim. Wagner had four fouls in 22 minutes on Monday and he leads the Wizards with 3.5 per game.

"Moe is going to give you great effort every time. He's going to try to get under his opponent's skin by just playing physical and tough," head coach Scott Brooks said.

Holding Drummond to 30 percent shooting was part of an overall solid defensive performance for the Wizards. They held the Pistons to 99 points on 41.5 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers.

Much of that was made possible by the Pistons missing a host of regulars including Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Reggie Jackson. Those are three of their top offensive players.

Drummond was the main guy left who could have beaten the Wizards, so they did all they could to make sure he wouldn't. Wagner was happy to be tasked with guarding him as he continues to view everything he does in the NBA as a learning process. 

Wagner is in his second season and last year as a rookie barely played for the Lakers. Now, he is getting to guard top NBA centers in key moments for the Wizards.

"It's fun to be able to play through mistakes and realize I'm getting better," he said.

The Wizards do not have an ideal defensive option in their frontcourt. But with Bryant sixth in the NBA in contested shots, and Wagner playing like a pest, they might be able to get by some nights.


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Bradley Beal knows how much returning to NBA games will mean to John Wall

Bradley Beal knows how much returning to NBA games will mean to John Wall

The NBA currently has plans to open its 2020-21 regular season in December. If that holds true, John Wall will take the floor for the first time in nearly two full years.

He had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles in February 2019, but had been out since the previous December due to bone spurs. Two years is a long time to sit out, especially when it coincides with what should be a player's prime.

Bradley Beal, meanwhile, has continued to lead the Wizards in Wall's absence. And now that his 2019-20 season has been shut down, he too is looking towards next year and he can't wait to reunite with his partner in the backcourt.

"Oh man, I'm beyond excited. I'm not going to lie," Beal said Sundy afternoon on NBC Sports Washington.

But beyond his own anticipation, Beal has grown close enough to Wall over the years to understand how much returning to the court will mean to him. Wall has not only been out of the game for a while, much has changed during that time. He has spoken sentimentally about what his first game will mean to him.

It will be the first game since his mother's death due to cancer. And it will be the first time he will play in front of his son.


Wall has lived a tumultous life. Beal knows full well what the game of basketball has meant to him throughout all of it.

"I'm more happy for him than anything because he gets to get back on the floor. He hasn't been on the floor in a long time," Beal said. "For him to be able to get his place of peace, his muse back and his love and joy back, I think that will be great. I'm definitely looking forward to just us together."

When Wall does play again, there will be plenty of focus on how he looks when he returns after so much time off and after a very serious injury. There have been encouraging reports and video footage of him playing in practice situations, but the true test will be in an NBA game situation.


In that time, Beal's game has transformed significantly. He has blossomed into a two-time All-Star who now counts an expanded repertoire of play-making skills. He was forced to add elements to his game with Wall out of the mix.

Though they have played seven NBA seasons together, there is some intrigue and mystery about how they will look when they reunite. Both should be different players and people than they were when they last shared the court.

The Wizards' roster has also been overhauled around them. They have young players on the rise like Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr. and Thomas Bryant.

"With where I've taken my game to him being a five-time All-Star, we can really grow our team and our young stars that we have in the making," Beal said. "I'm excited and I know the fans are too. It can't come any faster."

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Wizards-Pacers will be DeMatha High School reunion with Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant

Wizards-Pacers will be DeMatha High School reunion with Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant

DeMatha High School head coach Mike Jones can still remember the conversations between Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant when they were underclassmen, some of those discussions which were in passing, that they didn't even know he heard.

Long before they became NBA first round picks, the two were best friends. They would sit in the locker room in Hyattsville, MD and marvel over what it would be like to someday make it to the league.

"They used to talk about playing in the NBA, they used to talk about making it. They used to talk about playing against each other," Jones told NBC Sports Washington.

On Monday at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington, Grant and Oladipo's teams will square off in the NBA's campus in Orlando. Grant now plays for his hometown Wizards, the team his father also played for, while Oladipo is in his third year with the Indiana Pacers.

"To be able to see their dreams come true, it's incredibly rewarding because I know they did everything they were supposed to do to make that happen," Jones said.

As Jones can attest, both Grant and Oladipo did not take the path many first round picks did. Both arrived at DeMatha without any hype. They had to start out on the freshman team and work their way up to varsity. And they did it the hard way.


They would show up early in the morning before school to work out at what is known as the 'Breakfast Club.' The rules are simple. You show up dressed and ready to go by six in the morning or else you aren't allowed in the gym.

Grant would travel from 30 minutes away and Oladipo from 45 minutes out. Grant would set his alarm and walk into his mother's room and bounce on the bed to wake her up. 

"He woke his mom up, he woke his ride up to take him to the gym. It wasn't the other way around. That's love for the game," Jones said.


Once they arrived at school, the gym would be opened by David Adkins, who is now an assistant coach for the Wizards and will be sitting on the bench on Monday. Adkins cut his teeth in the high school ranks, but now leads an expansive player development program for an NBA team.

Those early morning workouts helped Grant and Oladipo rise through DeMatha's vaunted basketball system, which has produced many stars at all levels of the game. Monday's NBA slate also features other alums from the school like Jerami Grant of the Nuggets, Jerian's brother, and Quinn Cook of the Lakers.

But just having the talent and going to DeMatha isn't enough to make it to the sport's highest level. It takes a level of determination not everyone has.

Grant and Oladipo each went the extra mile to go from unheralded high school players to big-time college stars to NBA first round picks. They have become testimonials for Jones to cite to the young players he coaches today.

"It makes it easier for someone to listen to you, but let's be honest, kids are funny. You can say the No. 1 pick in the draft [Markelle Fultz] didn't play varsity until he was a junior, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft [Oladipo] didn't start on varsity until his senior year," Jones said. 

"I can throw those stories out to an eighth grader and he's looking at me like 'yeah, that's cool but I'm ready to play varsity today.' It probably doesn't help as much on the front end, but during the process it helps because when a young man doesn't have immediate success, we can point to those guys."

For those who are willing to put in the time, Grant and Oladipo represent shining examples of what hard work can lead to. Jones believes their success is validation for his program and also the basketball talent in the D.C. area as a whole.

But Jones knows that for this particular duo it also represents something on a more personal level.

"Just their friendship, their partnerhood, their bond together; I've never seen anything like it," Jones said. "I'm so proud to have been able to watch them up close."

Stay connected to the Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.