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Three things to watch for Wizards' fourth preseason game against the Pistons

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Three things to watch for Wizards' fourth preseason game against the Pistons

The Washington Wizards continue their preseason schedule on Wednesday night at the Detroit Pistons. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on Monumental Sports Network.

Here are three things to watch...

Last NBA dress rehearsal

This isn't the final preseason game for the Wizards, but it is their last one against NBA competition, as on Friday they will close out their exhibition schedule against the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. No offense to the Long-Lions, but if head coach Scott Brooks wants to test out his lineups with a true barometer of what to expect in the regular season, this is the time. Friday's game will likely be an opportunity for a lot of the younger guys who haven't played much so far to get an extended look.

Unfortunately, Brooks still can't get deploy Dwight Howard, as the center remains out with a buttocks injury. Howard, in fact, is in real jeopardy to be ready for opening night in eight days. For once, the preseason seems too short for the Wizards.

There are other combinations Brooks will probably continue to test out like his three-guard lineup with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Austin Rivers. Maybe he will go super small again with Jeff Green at the five. Markieff Morris will probably see some time there as well, though Ian Mahinmi has done plenty to lock up the starting job in the case Howard can't go.

Will Meeks or Allen play?

Through three preseason games, two veteran players have been noticeably absent. Both Jodie Meeks and LaVoy Allen have yet to appear in a game, despite their combined 15 years of NBA experience.

Meeks not playing probably tells us something about how the Wizards view his chances to contribute this season. The 31-year-old is set to serve a 19-game suspension to begin the year for performance-enhancing drugs, and will be on the outside of the rotation looking in anyways with the addition of Austin Rivers. Still, he is expected to have a roster spot.

Allen is looking to make an NBA comeback after not playing at all last year, but on paper entering training camp it seemed he would have a decent shot at competing for the 15th and final roster spot. Not playing through three games certainly shifts the expectation there.

Will the Pistons be good?

Though LeBron James' departure has seemingly created an opening in the Eastern Conference, the hierarchy remains relatively clear in that the top teams are likely to be some combination of the Celtics, Raptors, Sixers, Wizards, Pacers and Bucks. One team trying to disrupt those expectations is the Pistons.

This offseason they hired Dwane Casey and added a slew of veterans to their bench. They also kept the team they renovated on the fly last season largely intact, meaning Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond remain their core two players.

The preseason only tells us so much, but Wednesday should give us a solid glimpse at the depth Detroit will offer this season. We will get to see how their young players like Luke Kennard, Henry Ellenson and Stanley Johnson are coming around. 

Also, keep an eye out for Khyri Thomas. They took him in the second round of the draft in June, but he was at one point a first round grade and offers intriguing upside, particularly on the defensive end.

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For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

For now, Wizards anticipate leaning on Dwight Howard's experience more than his body

WASHINGTON -- Dwight Howard’s official return to the Wizards practice facility came with a new job description: Mentor.

“Since he can’t be on the practice court or the game floor, he’s going to have to share his wisdom,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the 14-year veteran.

Howard stepped onto Washington’s practice court Thursday for the first time since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30. The veteran center began his rehab work in his native Atlanta before rejoining the team.

“He feels great. Said he has no pain,” Brooks said of Howard. “That’s good. That’s part of the process.”

For now Howard remains limited to non-contact work and is perhaps weeks away from game action.

Brooks intends on putting him to work regardless by having Howard impart his NBA insight onto Washington’s young big men, Thomas Bryant and Bobby Portis.

“The guy has a lot of experience. A lot of years under his belt,” Brooks said of Howard, an eight-time All-Star. “Now he has the ability to be around our guys every day. [Bryant and Portis] have to be a sponge. They have to pick everything up.”

Bryant, 21, replaced the injured Howard as Washington’s starting center. The Wizards acquired Portis, 24, on Feb. 6 in a multi-player trade that sent Otto Porter to the Chicago Bulls. Bryant and Portis, both restricted free agents this summer, represent Washington’s best interior options now and perhaps key building blocks going forward.

“You get better in this league by being around good veteran players that want to share their knowledge,” Brooks said, “and Dwight is going to be a guy that’s going to be able to do that for the next how many weeks until he gets on the court.”

Basic movements – sitting, for example – were issues for Howard pre-surgery. Brooks said he was not sure how much running Howard would do this week. He will start on the court solo. Eventually, a coach or three will work with Howard for 5-on-0 drills. Full contact practice with teammates comes later.

Howard was seen shooting free throws after practice concluded. Injured players are not required to speak with the media until participating during an official practice.

For now, the coach took pleasure in welcoming the projected opening game starter back to town.

“It was good to see him, good to have him back,” Brooks said. “He did some treatments and then did some work on the court, light shooting. That’s about it. It’s good to have him back. He has a good way about him. He’s always positive, always has a good spirit about him.”

Integrating the low-post presence into the small-ball approach Brooks leaned with Howard sidelined becomes a curious topic. That’s for later, perhaps weeks away, as the coach suggested. The playoff-pushing Wizards must forge on without Howard, who has played in only nine games this season.

Washington (24-34), 11th in the Eastern Conference and three games back of Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot, has 24 games remaining in the regular season.

Howard will stay behind when the team opens the post-All-Star-break phase Friday at Charlotte, but likely travels with the team going forward, Brooks said.

“He’s happy to be back,” Brooks said of Howard. “Now it’s just a phase of getting him on the court. I don’t know how long that’s going to be.”

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Scott Brooks on Zion's shoe explosion: 'I've seen it many times'

Scott Brooks on Zion's shoe explosion: 'I've seen it many times'

When Zion Williamson's shoe exploded in the Duke-North Carolina game on Wednesday night, the video quickly caught fire on Twitter, spreading far and wide as fans all over reacted to something most had never seen before. Shoe technology has reached a point where someone basically running through their seams is almost unheard of.

That is, unless you are a professional athlete or around them all the time. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and forward Jabari Parker each said it's not as uncommon as those reacting on social media may have believed.

"There's a lot of powerful athletes and I've seen it many times throughout my career," said Brooks, who was a 10-year NBA veteran player before joining the coaching ranks.

Parker, 23 and in his fourth NBA season, has both seen it and experienced it.

"It happened to me in practice, but the shoes that I had were much older," Parker said. "It's usually like older shoes. But yeah, that's a first for a new shoe."

Williamson is a star freshman at Duke, not unlike Parker once was. He went second overall in the 2014 NBA Draft after one year with the Blue Devils. Parker was in a similar position, playing out one season in the college ranks before jumping to the pros, as most expect Williamson to do.

That one year in college can carry some risk. Fortunately, Williamson appears to have avoided serious injury. But the now-infamous play certainly reminded everyone that one split-second can change everything, especially for an athlete with millions of dollars and what his hopefully a long NBA career in his future.

Parker has twice torn his ACL, so he is no stranger to serious knee injuries. He could tell right away that Williamson wasn't seriously hurt.

"Just looking at it, I didn't think it was that bad. His body really stayed in line, he didn't really go outside of himself. He just slipped," Parker said.

And after processing it all, Parker wasn't all that surprised Williamson would break through a shoe. Parker has done it and so have others he has played with. And though he's around explosive athletes all the time, Williamson is on a different level.

"He's like a Bo Jackson-like athlete. He'll break through his gear, that's how powerful he is," Parker said. "You've gotta remember that. It's not a matter of his body being weak in spots, it's about the product that he's using around him."
 

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