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Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

We’ve reached Tuesday, a game day. The Los Angeles Clippers and Marcin Gortat are in town. What timing. Their arrival and the contest itself aren’t the main focus, not after Monday's drama. What changes if any the Wizards make is.

In the short-term, think lineup and rotation. For the big picture, don’t start crossing names off the roster just yet.

Monday’s headlines included an ESPN report  that the Wizards “started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios.” It would be the surprise of all surprises for a trade to go down before Tuesday’s tipoff.

Despite the 5-11 start and contrary to the report, Wall and Beal have not been made openly available on the trade market, multiple league sources tell NBC Sports Washington. Despite the frustrating and taxing start, 66 games remain in the regular season. For a needed turnaround, Wall and Beal are the types of talented players required.

Yet something must change immediately. The Wizards have lost two in a row, both by at least 10 points. They trailed by 20 points in the first quarter and by as many as 29 in the second half during Sunday’s 119-109 setback against Portland. Head coach Scott Brooks called the effort and enthusiasm “embarrassing.” 

“There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates,” Brooks said Sunday. "And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

That comment alone doesn’t signal an impending change. Brooks has used such language often over the last two seasons yet the starting lineup remained the same outside of injuries. It’s possible Tuesday is different. Lineup changes are being explored ahead of the Clippers game, according to multiple sources familiar with the Wizards thinking.

There’s a possible cheat here. Center Dwight Howard exited Sunday’s loss in the first quarter with a reoccurrence of aggravated gluteal soreness. He did not practice with the team Monday. 

The simple solution means starting Ian Mahinmi if Howard sits, which is actually something he literally cannot do during games because of the soreness. Using Jeff Green for a smaller look is a tick more outside the box. Going with second-year player Thomas Bryant is next level.

Let’s ponder a Wizards roster with all intact.

For all the talk surrounding Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and, based on injury, Howard, Markieff Morris is the starter struggling the most. Never a strong rebounder, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward is averaging 3.6 boards in nine games this month.

Whether he’s slowed by an undisclosed injury or another factor, Morris isn’t providing needed energy and big man production. Those aspects are required when Brooks wants to deploy small-ball lineups, and use Morris as the 5-man. Morris, one of the eight players on the roster entering some form of free agency this summer, played only 19 and 20 minutes respectively in the last two games.

Green, Morris' primary backup, had 13 rebounds in 25 minutes against Portland. That level of board work is abnormal, but the 32-year-old’s athleticism has stood out all season. While the streaky shooter’s numbers are starting to trend the wrong way after a hot start earlier this month, Green is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

With Green starting, Morris could serve as the anchor for the second unit, or Brooks could manipulate his rotation so that the pair play together. Neither is a needed rim protector, but both provide more offense than Mahinmi.

Sliding Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup – for Morris, not Otto Porter – is another consideration. The Oubre-Porter pairing along with Wall, Beal, and Gortat was among the top net-rating lineups in the entire NBA over the last two seasons. Brooks hasn’t used a similar look as much this season.

Where Oubre offers clear help is energy. The 6-foot-7 forward flies around the court continuously even during games where teammates don’t. Defending opponent’s straight-on, even small guards, is another strength. Starting Oubre opens the door for using him against guards when Wall and Beal struggle to keep foes from penetrating.

This shouldn’t be considered a promotion if it occurs. Oubre remains prone to gaffes in team defense concepts. He is shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers. We’re talking about changing the Wizards’ trajectory. All options should be explored.

In either case, another way for more urgency in the lineup could come from using first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. or Bryant. Both were on the court as the Wizards rallied against the Blazers. Brown is an obvious Oubre replacement on the second unit if Oubre joins the starters with Mahinmi the likely odd-man out in the spot. Bryant has modern big man skills and appears aggressive on the boards.

Here’s the hope for the Wizards: Whatever anger was unleashed recently leads to the needed fix now that the expressions of frustration reached the public. Teams squabble. Feelings are hurt. There is no denying Washington isn’t right. Surely, other teams are checking in per usual, but with a bit extra interest since doors may be open. For now, that’s not the case.

It’s easy to say Washington would be wise to get its collective head straight, put forth a good effort against the Clippers and move forward from Monday’s show. We’ll see what happens. Based on the opening 16 games and Monday’s tabloid-esque headlines, we’ll see. Something must change. If it's not the roster, that leaves the lineup.

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Markieff Morris' success off Wizards' bench no accident, parallels his twin brother, Marcus

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Markieff Morris' success off Wizards' bench no accident, parallels his twin brother, Marcus

Markieff Morris is just as amused as the rest of us when it comes to parallels between him and his twin brother, Marcus -- stuff that he likes to refer to as "twin s---." They played together at every level, including the NBA, before they were split up by trades from the Phoenix Suns. Yet the same things always seem to happen to them.

This year has been no exception, as Markieff has followed a similar path with the Wizards as Marcus has with his Celtics. Like Marcus, Markieff was moved to the bench and happens to be enjoying a good deal of success in his new role.

Marcus was the first to go from starter to reserve. He played mostly off the bench last season and then in his first 17 games this year before getting bumped back to the starting lineup.

Marcus thrived with the second unit in Boston and that success showed Markieff a blueprint. After all, it's easy to visualize yourself doing something when you have an identical twin who did it first.

"S--- happens. I mean, it's crazy how that switch happened," Markieff said. "Watching my brother and the success he had off the bench kind of helps me also, seeing [him] come off the bench after being a starter for a long time."

Wizard head coach Scott Brooks made the change before the team's Nov. 20 match-up with the Clippers. Markieff was moved to the bench and at the time was replaced by Kelly Oubre Jr.

In the 10 games since, of which the Wizards have won six, Markieff has put up improved numbers. He is scoring more, getting more rebounds and shooting more efficiently:

Markieff as starter (15 G) - 9.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 43.0 FG%, 34.0 3PT%, 103 off. rating
Markieff as reserve (10 G) - 15.0 ppg, 6.6
rpg, 46.3 FG%, 36.8 3PT%, 109 off. rating

Markieff is even playing more minutes. He's averaging 28.3 off the bench compared to 25.1 as a starter. Brooks is trusting him more to finish games. When he was starting, Markieff averaged 6.3 minutes in the fourth, but as a reserve, he leads the team with 9.9 minutes on average in the final frame.

Markieff explained his success off the bench in part based simply on the competition being different. He's used to going up against the best frontcourt players each team can offer. Now, he's facing their back-ups.

"I'm playing against second unit guys, so the game is easier," he said.

But Markieff sees other advantages from the switch, ones that Brooks was aiming for when he first explained the move. Markieff gets to take more shots now. He is the most reliable scorer on the Wizards' bench and, because of that, is getting more looks.

Markieff is averaging 12.3 shots as a bench player compared with 8.1. But, as he explained, it's more than just the attempts.

"It's me being involved in the offense more. It's the ball touching my hands a lot more in the second unit. I'm finding guys and scoring the ball. I've always got a rhythm," Markieff said. 

"Obviously, the first two options are John [Wall] and Brad [Beal]. They demand a lot of the offense in the first unit. We just need some structure in the second unit, a go-to scorer, a guy that is basically myself that structure the offense better."

Markieff has also noticed an advantage in beginning the game off the bench. He can watch how the opposing team is defending the Wizards on a given night. He can see how they are switching, whether they are helping on post touches and what they are trying to take away on pick-and-rolls. By the time Markieff hits the floor, he knows what to expect. 

All of that worked for Marcus in Boston, so, sure enough, it is the case for Markieff in Washington.

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John Wall won't play in Wizards' Monday night clash with Pacers

John Wall won't play in Wizards' Monday night clash with Pacers

John Wall acknowledged he probably shouldn't have played in the Wizards' Saturday loss in Cleveland. It appears Washington's five-time All-Star will listen to his body Monday in Indianapolis.

Head coach Scott Brooks told reporters at Monday's shootaround that Wall would sit out the final game of the Wizards' four-game road swing, which takes place at 7 p.m. ET on Monday night. The point guard battled bone spurs in his left ankle in the 116-101 loss to the Cavaliers. 

Wall, who was also under the weather in Cleveland according to Brooks, scored a career-low one point in what he called the "worst game of my life." He missed all five of his field goal attempts in 26 minutes.

“It’s just like a bone spur but today it got really hot," Wall said Saturday. "Probably shouldn’t have played. That’s my fault… I’ve had it for a while. It comes and goes from days where it’s hot and today it’s like I really couldn’t run.”  

Wall played in the opening 24 games for Washington, but will now miss two of the last three. He sat out Wednesday's 131-117 win at Atlanta for "personal reasons." 

The Wizards thrashed the Hawks, setting a season-high with 35 assists. Bradley Beal established a new season-best in Atlanta with 36 points. Washington's other All-Star is averaging 28 points over the last four games.

Despite the shocking result in Cleveland, Washington is 2-1 during the current road swing. Finishing with a winning record won't come easy against an Indiana (16-10) squad that has won three in a row despite the continued absence of injured guard Victor Oladipo. The Pacers lead the NBA in points allowed (101.5) and rank fifth in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

Brooks played coy Monday over who replaces Wall in the starting lineup. Austin Rivers handled such duties against Atlanta, finishing with nine points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

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