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Wizards need combination of better defense, more from Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, to keep winning

Wizards need combination of better defense, more from Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, to keep winning

There are plenty of reasons to believe the Wizards' recent success is sustainable, that they can indeed crack the playoff picture sometime soon. But lately, and especially in their loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night, they have shown some cracks that they will need to address to prevent what happened to them last season.

Last year, they also found initial success without John Wall, winning 10 of 13 after he had knee surgery in late January. But by the time he returned in March, the bottom had fallen out. 

This time they don't have his return to look forward to if things do go south. They will get Markieff Morris back, and Dwight Howard too, though probably not anytime soon. 

Howard had surgery on Nov. 30 and the team said he would be re-evaluated in two-to-three months. The two-month end of that timeline is coming up in a few days.

As of last week, there was no date set for him to either be re-evaluated by Wizards doctors or to return to D.C. to rehab with the team. It is looking like much closer to three months than two, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Wizards get daily reports on his progress, and it looks like Howard will be re-evaluated later in February, but that's just an evaluation. From there he will have to work his way back in practices before he plays in games.

The Wizards, for the most part, are going to have to make do with what they have and, as they have shown in recent weeks, they still have enough to win. But several things can't happen if they are to keep up their current pace.

For one, they have to play more committed defense than they did against the Spurs. San Antonio didn't have their top scorer, DeMar DeRozan, yet they dropped 132 points, shot 57 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three on 34 attempts. They out-rebounded the Wizards 49-32.

According to NBA.com's advanced box score, the Spurs contested 19 more shots than the Wizards. The Spurs had 18 boxouts. The Wizards had four.

That suggests the effort wasn't there. Perhaps some guys were tired, having played three games in four nights. 

Certainly, some will point to the minutes a few players logged. Trevor Ariza played nearly 42 minutes against the Spurs and has averaged 38.1 per game since he joined the Wizards six weeks ago. Bradley Beal played 39 minutes and is second in the NBA this season only to Jrue Holiday in total minutes played.

But the Wizards just had a stretch of two games in 10 days thanks to their overseas trip to London to play the Knicks earlier this month. They are more rested at this point than most teams.

Plus, head coach Scott Brooks often pushes back on that premise. He rolls his eyes at complaints about players logging too many minutes and it's not just because he played in the 80s and 90s. He cites how they manage players' workloads in practice and with off-days that become more frequent later in the season.

There may be something, however, to the idea of players carrying too much responsibility on both ends of the floor. The minutes for guys like Beal, Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. are more strenuous now than they are when the Wizards have a healthy roster.

Beal, Ariza, and Porter may be showing some signs of wear as the Wizards' top scoring options. They have led the Wizards in shots since Wall got injured.

At first, Beal and Porter thrived in Wall's absence, but lately, they have been struggling. In his last five games, Beal is shooting just 40 percent from the field and has averaged 3.8 turnovers. His shooting numbers are also skewed by a fourth-quarter barrage against the Magic on Friday. Against the Spurs, he shot 8-for-20 and finished -29 in the box score.

Porter has been reeling. He had 13 points against San Antonio but shot 5-for-13 (38.5%). In his last three games, Porter has averaged 10 points while shooting 28.2 percent overall and 25 percent from three.

Ariza continues to have trouble making shots since he joined the Wizards. He is shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from three after coming over in a trade from the Suns in mid-December.

In order to win games with their injury-ravaged roster, the Wizards need to play spirited defense and get production from Beal and Porter on offense. Lately, they haven't been getting those things consistently and on Sunday night it cost them.

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Wizards bringing in UNC teammates Coby White and Nassir Little for pre-draft workout

Wizards bringing in UNC teammates Coby White and Nassir Little for pre-draft workout

The Wizards are holding their highest-profile pre-draft workout yet on Monday, hosting UNC teammates and projected lottery picks Coby White and Nassir Little. 

White earned All-ACC and All-Freshman honors during his lone season in Chapel Hill, averaging 16.1 points and 4.1 assists per game. Little's season with the Tar Heels did not go as smoothly as White's, but he is an NBA-ready athlete with tons of upside. 

Both White and Little could be options for the Wizards at No. 9 and would provide solutions to some of Washington's major needs. White would give the Wizards a primary play-maker while John Wall recovers from his Achilles injury, while Little would fill Washington's hole at small forward and bring some much-needed defense and rebounding to the team.

Before White and Little, the Wizards had brought in very few projected lottery picks during their pre-draft process, outside of Kentucky forward Keldon Johnson and French prospect Sekou Doumbouya. But with the 2019 NBA Draft looming on Thursday, the Wizards are ramping up their search for the player they'll pick at No. 9. 

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Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

Anthony Davis trade to Lakers gives Silver Spring's Josh Hart fresh start with Pelicans

The Anthony Davis trade will have ripple effects across the NBA, not only on teams, but also on the players involved.

Josh Hart, who was traded from the Lakers to the Pelicans as part of the package for Davis on Saturday, could stand to benefit from the move.

First, here's a look at all of the assets reportedly swapped in the deal, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Now, where does the Silver Spring, Md., native figure in the proceedings?

Hart spent his first two NBA seasons with the Lakers. He averaged 7.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game in his two years in Los Angeles. 

Still, Hart was often the Lakers' third or fourth option at shooting guard behind starter Brandon Ingram and shared minutes with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Reggie Bullock and Lance Stephenson. 

LeBron James and the Lakers' win-now strategy left little room to develop Hart last season.

Now in New Orleans, he is part of a franchise rebuilding around presumptive No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. The trade gave the Pelicans both a younger roster and a long enough timeline for success to develop players.

That can only be good news for Hart, giving him the chance to start fresh and impress Pelicans general manager David Griffin and head coach Alvin Gentry with his potential. 

Where the Sidwell Friends alum fits into the lineup depends on several factors.

At first glance, the new-look Pelicans could start Lonzo Ball at point guard, move Jrue Holiday to shooting guard, then complete the lineup with Ingram at small forward, Williamson at power forward and Julius Randle at center. 

If both Ingram and Holiday remain healthy, Hart would compete with Stanley Johnson to be the first wing off the bench for New Orleans.

But if Ingram does suffer recurring issues related to blood clots, Hart could press his case to start. 

The only issue complicating his place in New Orleans' plans is the No. 4 pick that was traded from the Lakers.

If the Pelicans keep that pick and draft a wing player like Jarrett Culver, Hart could find himself on the outside looking in again. 

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