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Wizards believe Dwight Howard can make them one of NBA's best defensive teams

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USA Today

Wizards believe Dwight Howard can make them one of NBA's best defensive teams

As the Wizards opened training camp this week at the Medstar Performance Center in Southeast Washington, head coach Scott Brooks' first message to his team was about defense and how he believes they can make a significant leap this season. Part of his thinking is rooted in the fact they added Dwight Howard through free agency this summer, as Howard gives them a level of rim protection they have not enjoyed in years.

It also wasn't that long ago that the Wizards were a top-shelf defensive team. When Washington first began making playoff runs with John Wall and Bradley Beal running the show, they were an above average team on defense. From the 2012-13 season through 2014-15, they were top 10 in points allowed.

Their roster has changed significantly from those days and some of their best defenders like Trevor Ariza moved on. But last year they were 15th in defensive rating and 15th in points allowed, and Brooks feels a jump into the top 10 isn't out of the question.

Howard himself believes they can be even better than that.

"Playing against this team last year, I thought their one-on-one defense was pretty good. So, you add that in with myself and other guys that like to block shots and protect the paint and we should be top-5 in defense this year," Howard said.

The mere presence of Howard has Wizards players believing they are collectively capable of reaching new heights. Power forward Markieff Morris remarked at media day on Monday that the Wizards could lead the NBA in blocks this season, despite the fact they finished 22nd last year.

Morris said the rim protection from Howard plus Wall, whom he referred to as "the best shot-blocking point guard in the league" will push them over the top. Though other Wizards players did not go as far as Morris, many of them spoke of the advantages in having Howard in the paint behind them.

"People don't really get around me as much as they used to, I would say. But when they do, I have big Dwight back there to beat it off the glass if need be," forward Kelly Oubre Jr. said.

In his earlier days, the 32-year-old Howard was the best defender in the NBA and arguably one of the best the league has ever seen. He won three defensive player of the year awards in succession from 2008 through 2011. He has made All-Defense five times, though not since 2012, six years ago.

Howard blocked 1.6 shots per game for the Charlotte Hornets last season, a far cry from the nearly three blocks per game he averaged in his prime. But that sounds pretty good to the Wizards, who saw Wall - a point guard - lead the team in rejections last season. He was the only player on the Wizards to average more than 0.7 per contest.

Howard remains an elite rebounder and last year ranked fourth in defensive rebounds and third in defensive rebound percentage. In the eyes of his Wizards teammates, he is essentially still the same force down low that he's always been.

"I think he changes the game because people still forget who Dwight is," Wall said.

"I kind of hate that people are saying he has to revive his career here and start all over," Beal said. "Dwight is Dwight. Dwight has always had an impact on the game. We're happy to have him. He's a big part of what we want to do."

One prevailing thought from the Wizards' guards about Howard's addition is that they can't allow his presence to change the way they operate. While defending the perimeter, Wall and Beal want to treat him as a safety net, not as a crutch.

"The most important thing for us, the guards, we can’t just lay off without playing defense because we have a shot blocker now. We got to still play the same way we played like we don’t have a Dwight there," Wall said.

"Two things: one, I don't want it to make us lazy in thinking that we can just rely on Dwight all of the time because there's no guarantee that they're going to call everyone a blocked shot," Beal said. 

"They're going to call some fouls, so it's important in that aspect that we keep him in mind and knowing that we need him in the game. On top of that, he's pretty much an emergency. He's always going to be the emergency, that emergency brake whenever you need it. So, I think in that regard I think it challenges us to keep guys out of the paint. But in a way, it eases us a little bit mentally knowing that we have a guy who can still protect the paint if that does happen, if a breakdown does happen."

Howard will not necessarily allow other Wizards players to let up in their on-ball defense or to take more chances, knowing he can clean up their mistakes. But it will sure be nice to have him back there.

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Indiana Pacers star and DMV native Victor Oladipo out Monday vs. Wizards

Indiana Pacers star and DMV native Victor Oladipo out Monday vs. Wizards

The Indiana Pacers will be without their All-Star guard when they take the court Monday afternoon against the Washington Wizards.

Nearly 90 minutes before tip-off, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan announced that Victor Oladipo would rest for Monday's game versus Washington, as the team is taking extra precautions with the guard as he continues to recover from a torn quad injury.

The guard is expected to play in Indiana's game Tuesday versus Orlando and is sitting out Monday's contest to prevent playing in back-to-backs, according to McMillan.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS LOSS TO NETS

Oladipo has played in just 14 games this season on a minutes restriction, averaging a career-low 26.4 minutes per game. The 28-year-old originally planned to opt-out of the Orlando bubble, but Oladipo changed his mind and rejoined his team before the restart began.

Although the game is taking place in Orlando rather than D.C., Monday's game versus Washington would have been a semi-homecoming for Oladipo.

The guard played his high school ball at DeMatha Catholic, a national powerhouse located in Hyattsville, Md., just over the D.C. border. Additionally, Oladipo would have faced his former high school teammate, Wizards wing Jerian Grant. 

Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Oladipo and Grant's high school coach, Mike Jones, will join the broadcast.

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Lakers' LeBron James says 'The Great Wall of John coming soon' after watching Wall's workout video

Lakers' LeBron James says 'The Great Wall of John coming soon' after watching Wall's workout video

John Wall threw a bomb into the NBA universe when he posted this snippet of his workout on social media and looked like an absolute monster. 

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Just Wait On It...🤫👌🏾‼️

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Many players around the league hopped into Wall's comments section to send the 5x All-Star some love and one of them happened to be the King, LeBron James.

"Yessir!!! The Great Wall of John coming soon!!" James said. 

Wall and James have been good friends since Wall entered the league in 2010 — the two have exchanged advice over the years, trained together in the offseason, and participated in heated head-to-head battles as well. 

"LeBron's a great leader," Wall said back in 2014. "Patience — that's something he has preached to me since his rookie year."

A few more high-profile athletes showed Wall some love on Instagram Sunday night — Former Wizards' star Gilbert Arenas, former Wizard Isaiah Thomas, and Washington Football Team QB Dwayne Haskins. 

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