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Shooting and defending 3-pointers were problems for the Wizards, now they are strengths

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USA Today Sports

Shooting and defending 3-pointers were problems for the Wizards, now they are strengths

In the modern NBA, three-point shooting is the name of the game. Teams must shoot them and must be able to defend them. For most of this season, the Wizards have done neither.

That is until recently, when they have made significant strides in both areas. Over the past several weeks, they have caught up to the times, and it's winning them games.

The Wizards beat the Magic on Friday night for their eighth win in 12 games. They shot 15-for-27 (55.6%) from long range and held Orlando to 7-for-33 (21.2%). The Wizards are now 18-6 all-time when they make 15 threes or more. 

Against the Magic, Jeff Green led the way with six threes on nine attempts. He tied a season-high with 22 points. Bradley Beal went 5-for-7 from deep with a team-high 27 points.

Green and Beal have helped turn the Wizards into a dangerous group from the perimeter in recent weeks. Since Dec. 29, they are shooting 38.8 percent from three, good for fifth in the NBA. They are also fifth in the league in threes made per game (12.8) during that span.

Those are marked improvements from their season numbers. On the year, the Wizards are 26th in three-point percentage (33.9) and a mediocre 15th in makes (11.2/g).

During this 12-game turnaround, Green is shooting 40 percent on 5.4 attempts per game. Beal is shooting 38.8 percent on 8.2 attempts.

Tomas Satoransky has hit on 48.5 percent from three during this stretch, Sam Dekker has shot 41.7 percent, Otto Porter Jr. 41.1 percent and Chasson Randle 39.1. That's six rotation players hitting 38.8 percent or better from long range.

The Wizards' turnaround from three has coincided with the absence of John Wall, who went down for the season with left heel surgery before this run began on Dec. 29. Without looking at the numbers, some may guess the improvement in three-point shooting is because they are passing more without him and therefore getting more open looks. But that isn't the case.

The Wizards are passing more, but they are actually creating fewer wide open three attempts (defender 6+ feet away). They are just making them more often, perhaps a result of guys just finally heating up after slumping for months to begin the year.

From the start of the season to Dec. 28, the Wizards shot just 34.8 percent on open threes, 26th out of 30 NBA teams. Since Dec. 29, they are hitting on 40.4 percent of them.

Making threes is good. So is stopping other teams from making them, and the Wizards are doing that, too.

The turnaround for their three-point defense happened around Dec. 22. If you're looking for a corollary, it was two games after Trevor Ariza joined the Wizards in a trade from the Suns.

Ariza was brought in to help shore up their perimeter defense, and that he has done. On Friday night, the Wizards held the Magic to seven threes one night after doing the same to the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, of course, are pretty decent at shooting from deep.

Since Dec. 22, the Wizards are holding opponents to 35 percent from three, 11th-best in the NBA. Their 10.8 threes allowed per game in that stretch ranks 10th in that stretch.

Now compare those numbers to the Wizards' dreadful stats for the full season. They are 27th in threes allowed per game (12.0/g) and 28th in opponents three-point percentage (36.9).

Ariza has helped and so has Porter, who returned from injury on Jan. 2. The Wizards have also seen solid effort on the perimeter from Satoransky and Randle. And going small with Green at center more often has made them better-suited for switching on shooters.

Add it all up, and the Wizards are becoming a much better team on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. Given how important threes are these days, it's no coincidence they are turning things around.

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Former Wizards Mike Scott, Jared Dudley deliver the drama in Sixers-Nets Game 4

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Former Wizards Mike Scott, Jared Dudley deliver the drama in Sixers-Nets Game 4

The 76ers-Nets playoff series has been wild from the start, but the trash talk and physical play reached the next level in the Sixers' Game 4 victory Sunday. 

The contest featured two ejections as well as a game-deciding shot with 19.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter. In the middle of it all? None other than Jared Dudley and Mike Scott, who played for the Wizards in 2015-16 and 2017-18, respectively. 

Tensions between Dudley and the Sixers had been simmering since he slammed Ben Simmons in the media after Game 1.

With 7:42 left in the third quarter Saturday, Joel Embiid committed a flagrant foul on Jarrett Allen under the basket. An incensed Dudley shoved Embiid, prompting Jimmy Butler to push Dudley away.

When Simmons to try to separate the two, he and Dudley got tangled up and tumbled into the front-row seats. Both Dudley and Butler were ejected on the spot. 

The Nets held a 67-61 advantage when Dudley and Butler were tossed, but that lead dwindled to one point with under a minute left to go. 

Brooklyn made the mistake of leaving Scott open in the corner, where Embiid set him up for a go-ahead three-pointer with 19.7 seconds remaining.

A pair of Tobias Harris free throws sealed the Sixers' 112-108 win, putting them up 3-1 in the series. Scott and company can finish off Dudley's squad in Game 5 on Tuesday. 

In the meantime, listen as Scott goes 1-on-1 with Chris Miller in the latest Wizards Talk Podcast. 

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Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Enormity of the Wizards’ offseason and long-term future will hinge on the May 14 Draft Lottery

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 5: WILL THE WIZARDS GET LUCKY IN THE DRAFT LOTTERY ON MAY 14?

Though the Washington Wizards made some poor decisions to create the mess their next general manager will need to clean up, they have also been struck with a good deal of bad luck. John Wall falling in his home and rupturing his Achilles tendon certainly qualifies. Dwight Howard suffering a relapse with his back and requiring surgery to repair a herniated disc was out of their control. And if Bradley Beal makes All-NBA and qualifies for a supermax this summer, the timing would not be ideal as far as their finances are concerned.

The Wizards have long been one of the most snakebitten franchises in sports and even stand out in a city where curses are often blamed for sports misery. They could use some luck for a change and especially on the night of May 14.

That's when the 2019 NBA draft lottery will take place in Chicago, Ill. ESPN will broadcast the event live at 8:30 p.m. as the ping-pong balls fly through the air, determining the order for the June 20 draft and therefore the future of the league.

The Wizards will for the first time since 2013 have high stakes in the lottery. They had finished with at least a .500 record for five straight seasons before bottoming out in 2018-19. But their 32-50 record this past season gave them the sixth-best lottery odds and, in the first year under new lottery rules, that has left them in excellent shape ahead of May 14.

The Wizards lottery odds will break down pick-by-pick like this:

1st - 9.0%

2nd - 9.2%

3rd - 9.4%

4th - 9.6%

5th - N/A

6th - 8.6%

7th - 29.6%

8th - 20.6%

9th - 3.8%

10th - 0.2%

The two most important numbers to consider are nine and 37.2. They have a nine percent chance at the first overall pick and a 37.2 percent shot at selecting in the top four.

The Wizards' nine percent odds at No. 1 are only five ticks lower than the top teams in lottery odds, the Knicks, Cavs and Suns who are tied at 14 percent. Though their chances are still less than one-in-ten, that means they will be very much in the mix to land the ultimate prize, Duke forward Zion Williamson.

Williamson would change everything for the team that drafts him, but perhaps especially for the Wizards, considering the alternative direction their franchise could go. They already fired their general manager and have an uncertain future with their head coach Scott Brooks and arguably with their best player, Beal, as well. They appear to be teetering on the brink of a rebuild and Williamson could jumpstart them into the other direction.

No draft prospect, maybe with the exception of LeBron James in 2003, offers guarantees. Williamson could top out as a good, but not great player. But few who have dominated college basketball quite like he did have then failed to live up to the hype. Consider the fact he is only the third freshman ever to win the Naismith award for NCAA's best player. The other two were Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant.

One NBA front office executive told NBC Sports Washington he believes Williamson will be an All-Star as a rookie and not just because of fan voting. He has superstar potential, both from a production and marketing standpoint. Williamson would likely step right in as at least the Wizards' second-best healthy player and as the face of their franchise, the player most associate them with.

Landing the top pick is not the only way May 14 can result in a success for the Wizards. Jumping into the top four would be a major victory, especially in this year's draft which appears to be top-heavy. That could mean a chance to draft Ja Morant of Murray State or R.J. Barrett, Williamson's teammate at Duke. 

Barrett would be a nice fit alongside Beal and Wall when he returns from injury. He complements them positionally and has All-Star potential.

If Morant is the best player on the board, the Wizards should take him. But doing so would create a brand new storyline of how he would co-exist with Wall, who plays the same position. That dynamic would be hard to ignore for as long as they are together in the organization.

Though the Wizards have a better than one-in-three shot at the top four, their two most likely landing spots are No. 7 and 8 overall. If the Wizards did not make a major jump in the lottery, they may be wise to trade back and acquire more picks. They do not have a second round pick this year and not until 2023. They also have roster spots to fill and could use more young (and cheap) players.

The Wizards may not have to trade back very far to stock their cupboard with more picks. Last June, the Hawks got a lightly-protected first round pick from the Mavericks for going back from No. 3 to No. 5. The Sixers traded back from 10th to 16th with the Suns and scooped the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first round pick.

In a draft that most consider to not be deep outside of the top four or five picks, the Wizards may not see a huge difference in the eight pick and, say, selecting 12th. And that could be the key to getting another first or a collection of second round picks.

There are so many scenarios for the Wizards that all depend on their luck on May 14. Who they choose to send as their representative will be interesting. Will it be Beal, who right now is their biggest star? How about Wall, who was the first overall pick in 2010 and would be able to impact the franchise in an indirect way despite his long-term injury absence? It could also be whomever they hire as their new GM, or someone in the ownership group.

The Wizards, like the 13 other teams in the lottery, will be hoping for a blessing from the basketball gods.

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