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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

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In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks returns from All-Star break with positive news on Dwight Howard's rehab

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks returns from All-Star break with positive news on Dwight Howard's rehab

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks returned from the All-Star break to the team's practice facility on an icy evening in Washington with something he hadn't provided in months: an update on Dwight Howard.

The Wizards center, who has been recovering from back surgery since Nov. 30, is due to arrive in D.C. soon to continue his rehab. Since the procedure, he has been working out in Atlanta, slowly building strength and flexibility.

Howard is now ready to take the next step in that rehab. He is set to begin on-court work and would have done so on Wednesday if it weren't for a flight cancellation due to the weather.

"Hopefully he'll be back tomorrow and get back on the court," Brooks said. "It's exciting to have him back."

Howard, 33, still has a long way to go. As Brooks explained, Howard isn't ready for much more than light shooting work. He hasn't been cleared for contact or even 1-on-1 drills. 

Brooks gave no sense of a timeline for Howard to return to game action.

"I don't know how that long is going to be before he can participate in a game, but that is not our concern right now. Our concern is to get him some good work every day and let those days pile up on one another and see where it takes us," Brooks said.

Signed as a free agent by the Wizards last summer, Howard has appeared in only nine games due to the injury. It was first revealed on media day, the day before Wizards training camp began. He missed their entire preseason before making his debut on Nov. 2. He last played on Nov. 18 in a loss to the Blazers.

News that Howard would need back surgery came two weeks later. The procedure was to relieve a herniated disc.

He was given a timeline of two-to-three months before he would be re-evaluated. Jan. 30 marked two months since the surgery and soon after that milestone, the Wizards sent a trainer to Atlanta to check on him.

The Wizards have 24 games remaining on their schedule. If Howard can play any number of those, it should help the team. His biggest strength is rebounding and the Wizards have been among the worst teams in the league on the glass this season.

There are also salary implications to a Howard return. He has a player option for next season worth $5.6 million. If he can come back and play well, the odds of him opting out to test free agency would seemingly go up. Such a move would give the Wizards more financial flexibility this off-season.

As Brooks said, we could be a long way away from Howard's return. But Wednesday was a good sign that he's getting closer, even if he wasn't physically with the team yet.

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New dad Tomas Satoransky returns from All-Star break ready to guide new-look Wizards down closing stretch

New dad Tomas Satoransky returns from All-Star break ready to guide new-look Wizards down closing stretch

WASHINGTON -- Integrating new additions comes with the territory for point guards. Tomas Satoransky is living the adjustment life on, and most excitedly, off the court. 

The Washington Wizards reunited Wednesday following the weeklong NBA All-Star break. The practice session was the Wizards’ first since a pair of trades on Feb. 6 added Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker and Wes Johnson to the roster. Playing four games in six days left no time for formal practices. More group work comes Thursday before the playoff push continues Friday at Charlotte.

“We’re glad for that,” Satoransky said of the practices. “When we made those trades we were in game rhythm. It’s obviously tough to practice (during the season). I think our offense is definitely going to be better.”

The 27-year-old Czech Republic native’s world became infinitely better during that busy game stretch. Becoming a first-time father has that effect.

Satoransky missed the final two games before the break to be with his wife, Anna, as she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sofia. 

Always a natural smiler, Satoransky practically floated when asked about the life-altering event coming during the season’s lone extended break.

“It was great timing,” Satoransky said. “I could spend all the time with my family. Words can’t describe the feeling. It was huge for me. Very emotional.”

We can, therefore, imagine Satoransky’s thoughts were perhaps a touch divided on the first day back at work, though he ended the previous quote with, “Looking forward to getting back to work and finishing the season strong.” 

The Wizards (24-34) need collective resolve from all their key figures over the final 24 games. Washington sits in 11th place in the Eastern Conference and three games back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff berth.

“Everything is still open,” Satoransky said of the playoff chase. "Like everyone says, we have to take it game by game. We still feel like we have a chance. We have good potential with this group.”

This group might as well be considered a new team. Six of Washington’s top seven scorers from last season are no longer with the team or, in the case of John Wall, out with a season-ending injury. More than half of the players in the current rotation were not on the team six weeks into the season. Portis, Parker and Johnson play their fifth game with their new team Friday.

“I’m kind of used to this,” Satoransky said of the changes. “Observing new players, trying to help them get in our system. That’s kind of what a point guard has to do.”

Another change looms. Center Dwight Howard is expected to rejoin the team Thursday for the first time since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30. The eight-time All-Star did his rehab work in Atlanta. Head coach Scott Brooks said Howard, whose return to Washington was delayed a day because of snowy conditions in the area, would begin with non-contact work before the medical staff established new timelines.

For now, that means a heavy-dose of small-ball. Brooks primarily kept only one traditional big man – Portis or Thomas Bryant – on the court with a combination of Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Parker at forward. Satoransky believes the versatility with these pieces – including two-time All-Star guard Bradley Beal – offers upside.

“I feel like we have a defensive minded group,” Satoransky said. “We can switch everything and make it tough on the opposite team. I think we got better at that.”

If the Wizards are lucky, a trait not often associated with the team during this most frustrating season, no additional modifications are required beyond Howard’s potential return. 

“There’s a lot of things that happened this season. Hopefully, this is it,” Satoransky joked.

Even if new or unforeseen events lead to additional tweaks, who better to handle than a point guard floating on air.

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