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Wizards are kicking themselves after 5-5 start, knowing opportunities have been squandered

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards are kicking themselves after 5-5 start, knowing opportunities have been squandered

The idea that the Wizards would get off to a commanding start to this season, benefitting from their continuity in an Eastern Conference where most made significant changes this summer, has not quite gone as planned.

Ten games do not make a season and the Wizards clearly have enough talent to end up with one of the top records in the league. But they currently sit an even 5-5, knowing at least a few of those losses should have resulted in wins against inferior teams.

It happened again on Tuesday night. The Wizards unraveled early on defense and couldn't complete a comeback against a 2-10 Dallas Mavericks team that entered with the worst record in the NBA. This defeat followed a road loss to the Lakers and a home loss to the Suns, two teams that like the Mavs are almost certainly going to fall short of the playoffs.

One loss to a bad team here and there is understandable. But the best NBA teams, the ones who earn the top seeds come April, generally take care of their business against lesser foes. Three of these types of losses is too many for a two-week span.

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Making matters worse is the way they feel they lost those games. In their eyes, it comes down to effort. That is fixable, of course, but a tough pill to swallow.

"It's just a matter of us looking at ourselves in the mirror," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "See the things we accomplished last year and be hungry for it. We gotta get hungry again. I think we are great team but we got to act like we are a great team and go out there and prove it.”

An optimist could compare the Wizards' 5-5 record favorably to their 2-8 mark after 10 games last season. They were able to rally for a 49-win campaign and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. A similar trajectory this season might push the Wizards over the 50-mark, a stated goal for the organization.

What bothers the Wizards is that the same issues that were plaguing them this time last season are hurting them now. Their bench is a mixed bag and their defensive effort hasn't been consistent.

"We do this every year. This is not the first time," point guard John Wall said. "The only difference is that we are .500. That is the only difference in my opinion."

Like last season, the Wizards will likely heat up at some point and start rising the ranks in the Eastern Conference. That, however, may not fully negate what is adding up to a lost opportunity to bank some early wins. Plus, what if teams like the Pistons, Magic and Knicks keep winning, and the East is better than people predicted?

Speaking of predictions, between the Celtics and Cavaliers, many expected those teams to struggle early with all the offseason changes they made. The Celtics have been fine. They lead the East at 9-2, having won nine straight games. The Cavs, on the other hand, are just 5-6.

The Wizards could have built some early breathing room on a Cavs team they know will be there at the end in May in possibly June. Like last year, the Wizards' so-so start will be interesting to revisit come playoff seeding time.

It's far too early to draw major conclusions, but the Wizards are understandably frustrated with how things have begun through 10 games. Last year they had built-in excuses with a new coaching staff, nine new players and Wall on a minutes restriction. This time, it's on them and they know it.

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Day 1 of Wizards training camp features focus on defense, Mahinmi hitting threes, praise for new facility

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USA Today

Day 1 of Wizards training camp features focus on defense, Mahinmi hitting threes, praise for new facility

The Washington Wizards' new practice facility features all sorts of bells and whistles between a virtual reality room and a sensory deprivation tank. The biggest takeaway, though, from players and coaches after the first day of 2018-19 training camp was the simple fact they have more space.

The Wizards used to practice at Capital One Arena at what was known as the practice court. Notice that 'court' is not plural. They had one, and all the Wizards players had to share it.

Now, the Wizards have two courts in their practice area and technically a third if you count where the Go-Go and Mystics will play their home games. All three are located at the newly-minted Medstar Wizards Performance Center in Ward 8.

Beyond simply having more room to stretch out their NBA-sized frames, Wizards players don't have to share hoops or wait their turn as often while practicing their shot.

"It just makes us better prepared," forward Otto Porter, Jr. said. "I think more guys can get more shots up, more goals. I'm tired of everybody shooting on my goal. I have the freedom to get extra shots up."

There are more courts and more rooms at their disposal. Front office executives even have offices that overlook the practice area. 

"There’s so much space, and there’s so much room for the coaches. It’s like a coach’s dream," head coach Scott Brooks said. "You got a lot of baskets. You got all the facilities, the weight room, the training room, everything, the film room. Everything is outstanding. So, it’s important."

Defensive mentality

A brand new building helps the mindset of new beginnings for the Wizards as they open another training camp with another season on the horizon. Brooks said Day 1 was a productive one, highlighted by tone-setting conditioning drills and a sharp focus on defense.

The first message Brooks wanted to deliver to his team this season was that they have to improve on that end of the floor.

"First thing is defense," Brooks said. "We need to get better defensively. I really believe we should be top 10. I’m not saying we should lead the league in defense, but we should be top 10. Last year, [we were 15th in points allowed and defensive rating], middle of the pack. We don’t wanna settle for middle. We wanna be a top-10 team."

Brooks believes having newly-acquired center Dwight Howard protecting the rim can help that cause. And after the Wizards get their stops, Brooks wants to see more zip up and down the court.

"[Second is] playing with pace. We’ve got a lot of speed. We’ve gotta use that every time down the court, because it can be intimidating. We can score early in the shot clock. We got the fastest point guard in the league [in John Wall], and in order to do that, we need all four other guys running with him," Brooks said.

Mahinmi for 3?

Day 1 of training camp can bring all sorts of goals, some loftier than others. Like, for instance, is it realistic to expect center Ian Mahinmi to develop a three-point shot?

Mahinmi, like the other Wizards' big men, participated in three-point drills towards the end of practice and actually made a few.

Mahinmi has never made a three-pointer at the NBA level and has just eight attempts in his 10-year career. Brooks, though, says it's not all that crazy of an idea.

"Don’t be surprised if he shoots threes. He made 65 out of 100 last week," Brooks said.

Like any season, reality will set in at some point. But don't blame the Wizards, now training in a new facility, for thinking bigger.

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A calm, cool & composed Troy Brown Jr. checks off first day of NBA training camp

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NBC Sports Washington

A calm, cool & composed Troy Brown Jr. checks off first day of NBA training camp

NBA training camp is officially underway as all 30 teams in the Association hit the hardwood Tuesday.

In southeast D.C., all eyes were on Washington Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr.

Following a media day that the 19-year-old handled like a seasoned veteran, Brown Jr. went back-to-back completing his first full day of camp with a certain charisma, composure and confidence that has the guys around him talking.

"We've seen versatility out there. He's getting up and down the court. He's a sponge. He's soaking everything up. He's running new concepts and learning what they mean. We're making sure that he's following right behind us," Otto Porter said.

Like Brown Jr., Porter left college (Georgetown) early to declare for the draft. The 25-year-old is entering his sixth year in the league and has improved statistically each season. Just one summer removed from signing a big-time maximum deal with Washington, Porter could be a great blueprint for the rookie to emulate.

Head coach Scott Brooks was quick to point out how impressed he was by Brown Jr.'s Summer League performance over a five-game span. In no way will this already high-powered offense revolve around the versatile forward who can play multiple positions, but his effort and attitude have been on full display right out of the gates, and that certainly won't hurt his bid for playing time.

"The thing I love about him is he puts [in] work. He’s not shy at being in the front of the line or jumping in the station. He wants to get better. So that’s 90 percent of the battle and our coaches are going to help him along the way.” Brooks said.

In Tuesday's media scrum, Brown Jr. mentioned he's not afraid to ask questions. Apparently he's not afraid of who he asks said questions either.

"When I go ask John [Wall] a question he answers it thoroughly to help me understand as if he was a rookie. He understands that there's going to be questions here and there. I appreciate that," Brown Jr. said.

Why not go straight to the top? Perhaps there's a student-to-teacher relationship forming between the rookie and five-time All-Star.  

As the teenager well beyond his years transitions to the world's greatest basketball league, he's making it clear that he understands his role.

"My job is just to come in here and do whatever is necessary to help us get a W," Brown Jr. reiterated Tuesday.

A coach's dream.

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