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Proper lineup blend fuels winning Wizards' fourth-quarter finish

USA Today Sports

Proper lineup blend fuels winning Wizards' fourth-quarter finish

With the Washington Wizards’ bench, it’s been less about the ingredients and more about the blend. In Saturday’s 116-110 win over the Miami Heat, head coach Scott Brooks discovered a flavorsome mix just in time.

The Wizards would never admit desperation, but their 2-9 record had them starving for success. For once on this three-game road trip, they were in the position to gobble up a needed victory without a huge rally. John Wall had 28 points and nine assists in 41 minutes. He joined four reserves for the start of the fourth quarter, including Jeff Green and Austin Rivers. Those three fueled the scrumptious finish.

The situation already tasted less bitter starting the fourth quarter compared to the previous two games on the road trip. The Wizards trailed the Heat entering the final 12 minutes, but only 85-83 compared to a 15-point hole Friday at Orlando and a nine-point deficit Tuesday against Dallas. Washington didn’t exactly secure momentum in third, but Miami failed to grab hold either. Winning for the third time in 12 games was indeed on the menu.

Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ian Mahinmi also walked onto the court opening the fourth. The Wizards took the lead for good at 86-85 on a successful drive from Rivers, who delivered his most potent game of the season with an aggressive 18 points. Wall sent a perfect alley-oop toss to a streaking Green for Washington’s subsequent basket and then scored the next four points with a mid-range jumper and two free throws. 

Starters Bradley Beal (18 points) and Dwight Howard (11 points, 16 rebounds) re-entered midway through the fourth and helped push the lead to 17. Green finished with 19 points. Another dunk off a Wall lob put Washington in control at 114-97. These Wizards have endured some wild moments, but they weren’t about to ruin this opportunity. For one of the rare times this season, the pieces fit. 

Having a starter on the court from the beginning of the period helped.

Despite consistent backfires, Brooks often deploys an all-bench lineup opening the even-numbered quarters (if not toward the end of the prior period), though more the second than the fourth. The four main components of that second unit – Green, Rivers Oubre Jr., and Tomas Satoransky – are legitimate pieces. Individually, each offers possible help. When joined together this season, results were bitter. 

While the fifth reserve/player rotated some games, the core four of Oubre, Green, Rivers, and Satoransky played together in the previous 11 games this season. Their net rating of -33.1 in 81 minutes was the worst of any four-man lineup in the league this season (min. 75 minutes).

Good signs were forming with the second unit throughout Saturday's game. Rivers, a lost soul for the opening 11 games with his new team, attacked the basket with purpose. Green sank his first seven field goal attempts. His 10 rebounds helped Washington win the battle of the boards for the first time this season. 

Mahinmi, who played Saturday after sitting out the previous three games, contributed in big man ways during the second quarter. Oubre finished with a team-best two steals. The first half efforts collectively did little to change the game.

Brooks went with the second unit including Satoransky (scoreless in six minutes) with 1:51 remaining in the first quarter and Miami leading 30-23. While the reserves avoided falling significantly further back as was the case in recent losses to Oklahoma City and Dallas, they didn’t make a push either. The margin stuck in the 8-12 range until the starters began tricking back in midway through the second quarter. That this served as a good result says plenty about the second unit’s work this season.

Having Wall on the court certainly helped. Deploying the five-time All-Star __ or for that matter, Beal, Porter or Morris __ with the reserves hasn’t been a staple. Some teams find success using all reserves. Orlando did in the first half of its 117-108 win Friday night. Washington hasn’t this year or last. 

This all-bench bad talk doesn’t mean shunning the reserves. Sitting Markieff Morris and Otto Porter for the entire fourth quarter in two consecutive games is notable, though ultimately seems circumstantial. Washington started strong at the beginning of both final periods and, as often the case when seeking a slump-busting win, the coach rode with momentum. 

Porter’s effectiveness exceeded his modest box score numbers of seven points in 23 minutes. Brooks went elsewhere late. He has options. It's just a matter of proper mixing and matching.

Using Wall 40-plus minutes on back-to-back nights is hardly ideal. Beal could undoubtedly serve as the lineup anchor, Porter, and Morris as well at times. When it comes to keeping a starter on the court always, the head coach ideally sticks with what worked Saturday when the Wizards cooked the Heat. That blend made for a delicious finish.


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DeMatha alum and Pacers star Victor Oladipo stretchered off with scary leg injury

USA Today Sports

DeMatha alum and Pacers star Victor Oladipo stretchered off with scary leg injury

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indiana Pacers lost All-Star guard Victor Oladipo with an apparent right leg injury in the second quarter of Wednesday night's game against Toronto.

Trainers quickly put a towel over the leg and players from both teams surrounded Oladipo as he lay on the floor. Fans gave him a standing ovation as he was carted off the floor on a stretcher.

The injury occurred when Oladipo fell awkwardly while trying to defend an outlet pass to Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, who landed on top of Oladipo with 4:05 to go.

Oladipo made his first All-Star Game last season after being acquired in the trade for Paul George. He is the Pacers' top scorer this season at 19.2 points per game.

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Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

Bradley Beal doesn't care if he's named a 2019 NBA All-Star starter

The 2019 NBA All-Star starters are set to be announced on Thursday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal is not optimistic he will be chosen. That is despite a growing number of supporters in the media, but Beal understands their votes only count for 25 percent of the equation.

Fan voting makes up 50 percent and NBA players the remaining 25 percent. With Beal in a distant 10th among Eastern Conference guards in the fan voting rounds that have been made public, he has set his expectations accordingly.

"I'm not going to be a starter so it doesn't matter," he quipped after Wizards practice on Wednesday. "I'm positive. Let's just be honest. Right? We all can be honest, right?"

Beal, who made his first All-Star team last season as a reserve, will almost certainly be an All-Star again this year one way or another. Coaches vote on reserves and those will be announced on Jan. 31.

But Beal has a solid case to be a starter despite his Wizards sitting at just 20-26 and outside of the playoff picture. He is posting career-highs in points (24.7), rebounds (5.0), assists (5.0), steals (1.3) and blocks (0.9). He has appeared in all 46 of the Wizards games this season while many of his teammates have been absent due to injury.

Boston's Kyrie Irving appears to be a lock for one of the two starting guard spots in the East. He has a strong case with his numbers, his team's success and has fared well in fan voting. But the second spot has no clear favorite.

Ben Simmons has played well for a good Sixers team. Victor Oladipo of the Pacers also has a case, though due to injuries his numbers have fallen off.

Kyle Lowry has helped the Raptors post one of the league's best records. Kemba Walker of the Hornets has had the best season of his career and plays for the hometown team with the game taking place in Charlotte.

There is also Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, a future Hall of Famer who might be a starter if it were based solely on fan voting. If he gets support from players or media votes, he could get in as a legacy pick given this is the final season of his legendary career.

Basically, Beal has a lot of competition. He gets it and insists he isn't losing sleep over the pending announcement.

"Even then I don't let it consume me. It's not like a goal of mine like 'oh, I've gotta be an All-Star.' If I am, it's great. It's even more motivation to continue to get better. Even if I'm not an All-Star, I'm not going to be mad or upset," he said.

Beal said his No. 1 goal is winning and mentioned how the Wizards remain six games under .500 despite reeling off seven of their last 10. Washington happens to be hosting the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday night, so he has plenty on his plate.

Beal will likely be an All-Star representing the Wizards in the Feb. 17 showcase. But it doesn't sound like he will be doing any of the other festivities.

Beal has participated in the three-point contest twice in his career and both times was a runner-up. He has not been invited yet to this year's contest and probably won't participate even if he is asked.

"I would probably take a break this year because it was definitely a lot last year, just all the off-court stuff," he said. "I'm not saying I won't do it for the rest of my career, but I don't think I'm doing it this year."