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Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

Wizards running out of answers, but players don't seem to want trades

As the Wizards have shown this year, and really since the beginning of last season, there is one particular type of NBA team that gives them trouble. It's the team that plays collectively, with toughness and an edge on defense.

The Wizards allow their opponents to set the tone and the aggressive ones that punch them first usually don't get a punch back.

So far this season, blue-collar teams like the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets have given the Wizards fits. In those losses, Washington was just trying to keep up, hopelessly reacting on too many plays just a half-or-full-step slower than they needed to.

Though the Blazers are a high-scoring team led by big-name stars, they possess the qualities that expose the Wizards when they are in their most listless form. On Sunday, Portland came out with want-to on defense and a commitment to moving the ball to find open shooters on offense. 

That simple combination was too much for the Wizards, who let the game slip away early, trailing by as many as 20 points in the first quarter alone.

It was hard to watch for everyone on the Washington side; for fans, the coaches and also the players who are losing patience as they grasp for answers to what will fix their persistent woes.

The prevailing message from head coach Scott Brooks' postgame press conference and from the locker room was that they are actively searching for a solution, but that they have no clear sense what that solution is.

"It's embarrassing,” Brooks said, citing effort and energy like he often has this season. “Just trying to figure that out. It's on me."

"I'm not sure. We have to figure something out," forward Markieff Morris said.

"Honestly, I really don't have an answer," forward Jeff Green said, genuinely perplexed.

As the Wizards wilt at 5-11 and in last place, the general consensus from those on the court and the bench seems to be that no major changes need to be made. Brooks suggested he needs to find "five guys on the court that are playing for their team." But he says that all the time and has ever since he took the job before the 2016-17 season.

It doesn't mean wholesale changes are coming.

Guard Bradley Beal pleaded the fifth when asked if trades or firings need to be made.

"I have no idea. All I can do is my job and just like everybody else, and just come in and try to get better every day. At the end of the day, that's Ted [Leonsis'] job, Ernie [Grunfeld's] job to make those decisions," he said.

Morris and guard John Wall each expressed confidence in the players already on the roster.

“I don't think so," Wall said of potentially breaking up the core. "We can still figure it out."

"It's not time for a fire sale," Morris told NBC Sports Washington.

The best insight into what is plaguing the Wizards came from backup guard Austin Rivers. Though he can't put a finger on it, either, he sees some bad signs.

"Our team is like loaded with talent and we're losing game after game. You just start to question it," he said. 

"Guys are like tentative now when they're on the floor. You can see it. You guys can watch it and see it. It doesn't even take a basketball expert to watch... When you lose, guys start getting unsure. We're running and our spacing is terrible. It's just a snowball effect."

Rivers, like Green, went out of his way to say Brooks wasn't the root of it, that it's on the players. He also highlighted his backcourt partner Tomas Satoransky as someone who was exempt from their issues.

"Sato is definitely not the problem. Sato doesn't do anything wrong," Rivers said.

Satoransky was one of the few Wizards players who came out of Sunday's defeat with reasons to hold their chin up walking into the locker room afterwards. He had 10 points, seven assists and was +22 in the box score. 

Like Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. played well. He had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He was +14. Others like Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr., two youngsters who only played when the game was out of hand, provided a spark of energy off the bench and helped cut the Blazers lead down to single digits late in the game after Portland led by as many as 29.

Brooks has been wary of major lineup adjustments since he arrived in Washington, but it's never been quite this bad. At 5-11, this start is even worse than two years ago, his first season on the job, when they rallied to win 49 games.

If their losing continues, Brooks will have to do something drastic at some point. Maybe that is moving Oubre into the starting lineup and taking Morris out to help guide the second unit. Morris could thrive as a small-ball center, while Oubre could help set a tone defensively with the starters. 

Oubre is their most energetic and active defender. Perhaps that would rub off on Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

It's clear the Wizards need to change something and the rotation is the logical first place to start. Rivers, for one, wonders if things will get better if they simply stick to the current plan.

"You're just like 'stay with it and it will turn around.' But when? You're digging yourself a farther and farther hole," he said.

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Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Wizards come out of All-Star break facing Hornets with playoff stakes on the line

Eight full days will have passed between games for the Wizards when they tip off against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington). That week-plus gave plenty of time for the Wizards to rest up and reset for the final 24 games of the season.

It also offered time for reflection and for where they currently stand in the playoff race to set in. While the game-by-game churn before the All-Star break allowed the team and their observers to get lost in the rhythm of the season, the reality is they have lost seven of 10 and are three games out of a playoff spot.

The Wizards will come out of the break hoping the time off shifted their momentum in the other direction. While teams that were on winning streaks aim to keep it rolling despite they layoff, the Wizards will look for a fresh start.

It won't be easy to make up the necessary ground in time before the regular season runs out, but they have a real opportunity against the Hornets. Charlotte is seventh in the Eastern Conference and 3 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards in the postseason hunt. 

A win against the Hornets would allow the Wizards to inch closer in the standings and give them a second victory against Charlotte this season. Head-to-head records can determine playoff tiebreakers and the Wizards won the first of four meetings between the teams back on Dec. 29.

There are four total games between the Wizards and Hornets this season. The final two are both in March. If the Wizards win on Friday, they will have two chances to take the tiebreaker.

There is some irony in the timing of the Wizards' match-up with the Hornets. It was this Charlotte team that Washington began their initial surge without John Wall against.

They learned Wall would be done for the season the day of their first meeting with the Hornets. That night, they beat Charlotte and went on to win eight of 12 games. 

The Wizards will need at least one more run like that if they are to climb back into the playoff race. They have to get hot and sooner than later.

Working in their favor will be the return of Tomas Satoransky to the starting lineup. The point guard missed the final two games before the break due to the birth of his first child

Perhaps they can get things going once again by starting with the Hornets, just like they did nearly two months ago.

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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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