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Pacers hand the Wizards their 9th loss in 12 games as playoff hopes dim

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Pacers hand the Wizards their 9th loss in 12 games as playoff hopes dim

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 119-112 on Saturday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. For the Wizards to make the postseason, a goal they have maintained despite their salary-shedding trades at the deadline, it may end up requiring a modern basketball miracle.

Because they just keep on sliding, unable to stop the bleeding that began before the All-Star break and has persisted afterward. With their loss to the Pacers on Saturday night, the Wizards have dropped nine of their last 12 games. 

That leaves them at a season-worst 12 games under .500. They are in a tailspin and have two good teams awaiting them on their upcoming road trip in the Nets and Celtics. The odds it gets worse from here are good.

2. The more the Wizards trip over themselves on defense, the more their offseason priorities are becoming clear. This team needs a major overhaul defensively and should make that their focus in free agency, trades and the draft. Get someone who can protect the rim, guys who can rebound and some guards who can cover lots of ground on the perimeter.

The Wizards have no defensive identity. They lack players who are committed to closing out on three-point shots and who show toughness in traffic. Many of the trades the Wizards made this season were designed to change that, but they haven't done enough.

Not everyone is at fault. Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza still bring it on most possessions, but they can't cover up an overall lack of ability on the defensive end.

It's a problem now and it could be worse next year if the front office doesn't fix it. At some point next season, they will get John Wall back, but he will be returning from Achilles surgery. It might be very difficult for him to stay in front of NBA point guards at first. The Wizards need to build a structure that minimizes the limitations he will likely initially have.

Though it's a different situation, the Pacers could be seen as an example. They have Bojan Bogdanovic, who was a defensive liability in Washington. But on the floor with four good defenders, his shortcomings aren't as noticeable.

They have enough good defenders to play him heavy minutes, yet still rank No. 1 in points allowed and No. 2 in defensive efficiency. The Wizards should flood their roster with defense-first players and try to follow the same model this summer.

3. Speaking of Bogdanovic, the man once again made easy work of his former team. He knocked down outside shots and got by his defenders with surprising ease. The Wizards knew Bogdanovic as a shooter, not a slasher. In this game, he did both and scored 18 points on 8-for-15 from the field.

Bogdanovic has been enjoying a lot of success this season, now as the top scorer on the Pacers, who rank third in the East. Victor Oladipo went out and he stepped up to fill the void as their offensive leader.

The Wizards' decision to let him walk in free agency and re-sign Otto Porter Jr. has been second-guessed and debated. But the fact he is playing this well and they don't have either Porter or Kelly Oubre Jr. to show for it is really something. It wasn't that long ago they had all three.

4. There was a change in the Wizards' starting lineup, as Thomas Bryant was pushed to the bench and Bobby Portis took his place at center. Head coach Scott Brooks explained the move pregame as partly because they want to evaluate their new players, including Portis, and this is just a continuation of his experimenting with the rotation.

Though Portis started hot, Bryant seemed to respond better to the move. He ended up with 23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.

5. The Wizards were completely dominated at the power forward spot. Both Jeff Green (four points) and Jabari Parker (12 points) struggled, while Thaddeus Young (22 points) and Domantas Sabonis (13 points, 11 rebounds) of the Pacers went off.

Parker had a particularly rough night. He had five turnovers in his first 11 minutes.

Keep in mind these frontcourt problems for the Wizards came in a game Myles Turner didn't play due to injury.

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Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Wizards District Gaming takes JBM with No.1 pick in 2020 NBA 2K League Draft

Sixty eight gamers' lives changed on Saturday night. 

One of those very lucky individuals was Jack Mascone, who was selected by Wizards District Gaming with the No.1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA 2K League Draft. 

Wizards’ managing partner Ted Leonsis had a special message for the point guard from New York, who joins the Monumental Sports & Entertainment family. 

“On behalf of the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go we’d like to welcome JBM to the Monumental basketball family. Congratulations on your hard work paying off. We’re excited to have you run the District with us,” Leonsis said.

Wizards District Gaming also drafted small forward Justin Howell in the second round, No. 30 overall, small forward Antonio Newman, No. 37, and utility Brandon Richardson at No. 51 in the third round. 

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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