Daily grind: Call it group ther­apy

By shar­ing the load, deep bench fu­els come­back win

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Can­dace Buck­ner

WASH­ING­TON — Af­ter Wiz­ards coach Scott Brooks sat down be­hind the lectern for his postgame com­ments Fri­day night, he had so many names on his mind.

His Wiz­ards had just pulled out a 111-101 win over the At­lanta Hawks, a come­back that hap­pened only be­cause a lim­ited team showed much depth. And Brooks needed time to pass around his praise. He went from Troy Brown’s abil­ity to stand out in mul­ti­ple po­si­tions to Ian Mahinmi’s very spe­cific role in the fi­nal five min­utes, then he beamed over Jor­dan McRae’s un­selfish per­for­mance.

The Wiz­ards (13-25) needed a team ef­fort in ev­ery way dur­ing their win over the worst team in the East­ern Con­fer­ence, the 8-31 Hawks. But with the vic­tory, the ros­ter that has been re­ar­ranged by in­juries proved it can fin­ish out the games sim­ply by shar­ing the load.

“I thought we just kept grind­ing,” Brooks said. “We had a good start, I think we were up 15 points. We couldn’t make any shots later in that sec­ond quar­ter… And that kind of changed the way the game was go­ing. They went up seven or eight points and I thought we grinded it out. That’s what we have been do­ing all year with the group of guys that we have.”

Wash­ing­ton, once com­mand­ing a 15point lead, needed a fourth-quar­ter rally to put away the Hawks. How­ever, the team pre­vailed with McRae scor­ing a game-high 29 points to go along with six as­sists and eight re­bounds, Ish Smith flirt­ing with a dou­ble-dou­ble (10 points and nine as­sists) and Davis Ber­tans ic­ing the game with a late three.

“[McRae] and I met be­fore the game. I needed him to be more of a play­maker and I thought he did that tonight even though he got a bunch of shots,” Brooks said, “but the way their de­fense was play­ing, it al­lowed him to get his own but he also had six as­sists. And he had a lot of ex­tra passes that could have been more as­sists.”

Also, Brown moved around the floor from the wing to the four spot and fin­ished with 18 points and 10 re­bounds. Mahinmi played the fi­nal 4 min­utes, 50 sec­onds of the game and with him on the floor, the Wiz­ards outscored At­lanta by 11.

“Troy was ef­fi­cient. I thought Troy was solid through­out the game and that is what we need,” Brooks said. “And then Ian last five min­utes was crit­i­cal. He came in, pre­vented some scores, got us some scores and set some great scenes.”

It takes a vil­lage to raze Trae Young, one of the league’s most im­pos­ing scor­ers with a 29.2 point-per-game av­er­age, and the Wiz­ards col­lec­tively worked to limit his im­pact. Though Young led the Hawks with 19 points, he needed 20 shot at­tempts and his team was outscored by 19 when he was on the floor. Young missed all seven of his looks from be­yond the three-point arc.

“Just make it tough on him. Cut his wa­ter off early and just try to dis­rupt him, get into a flow,” ex­plained Gary Pay­ton II, who started on Young but had help from team­mates. “Try to take away his threes. We did a hell of a job of that and just mak­ing him get to the rim and fin­ish over our bigs.”

Young couldn’t hit a three but thank­fully for the Wiz­ards, Ber­tans re­turned as their best three-point threat.

Ber­tans, the sharp­shooter who hadn’t

Ra­dio: played since Dec. 21, waited in the cor­ner as the Wiz­ards were clos­ing out the Hawks. What hap­pened next felt stan­dard. Ber­tans re­ceived a pass, did not hes­i­tate even for a mo­ment and, with a per­fect arc, his three-pointer ripped through the ny­lon.

Ber­tans played 21 min­utes against the Hawks af­ter miss­ing the past nine games with a quad in­jury. Through his lim­ited time, Ber­tans showed a glimpse of what the Wiz­ards had been miss­ing, mak­ing three three-point­ers and fin­ish­ing with 14 points that in­cluded a flash of ath­leti­cism with a base­line dunk.

Dur­ing the nine games Ber­tans missed, the Wiz­ards’ of­fen­sive rat­ing de­clined to 106.5, which would rank in the lower third of the league if stretched over the course of the first half of the sea­son. Rookie Rui Hachimura and cen­ters Thomas Bryant and Moritz Wag­ner also have not played over those nine games — and to be sure, they are key pieces within the ro­ta­tion. How­ever, the Wiz­ards missed the Ber­tans’s abil­ity to stretch the floor.

“Even when he doesn’t make the shot, there is so much at­ten­tion,” Brooks said. “Ish was able to drive around his guy one-on-one be­cause they have to be ready to help out be­cause our bigs do a good job of try­ing to get DB open so it cre­ated some op­por­tu­ni­ties for other guys.”

Still, the Wiz­ards did not re­turn to full health against the Hawks. Bradley Beal worked through a pregame shoot­ing ses­sion with­out any vis­i­ble lim­i­ta­tion, how­ever he had al­ready been ruled out and missed his sev­enth game of the sea­son with sore­ness below his right knee.

Beal has shown signs of near­ing his re­turn. He trav­eled with the team to Or­lando ear­lier this week. Had Beal re­mained in Wash­ing­ton for the onegame trip, then his day-to-day sta­tus would have seemed more un­cer­tain. How­ever, Beal spent an­other game rest­ing on the side­line un­der the team’s “su­per cau­tious” ap­proach, as de­scribed by Brooks.

“As a coach,” Brooks said be­fore the game, “I’d love to have him out there. He makes us a bet­ter team.”

The re­vised start­ing lineup, in par­tic­u­lar, could have used Beal’s pres­ence. With­out Beal draw­ing de­fen­sive at­ten­tion and cre­at­ing of­fense for him­self and oth­ers, the starters ap­peared dis­jointed.

While Pay­ton II started the game by mak­ing his first four shots, his back­court team­mate, Isa­iah Thomas, missed six of his first seven. Thomas, who shot 2 for 16 from the floor and matched his sea­son­low field-goal per­cent­age (.125), did not leave the side­line in the fourth quar­ter with the game on the line.

In­stead, dur­ing the fourth quar­ter, Smith ac­counted for 13 of the Wiz­ards’ 30 points by ei­ther get­ting to the rim and scor­ing or set­ting up team­mates. McRae poured in 12 points while Mahinmi, Brown and Ber­tans all gave a help­ing hand.

“I felt like it was one of those things where we knew we had to step it up,” Brown said of the col­lec­tive ef­fort. “We let them back in the game. As a team, I felt like we took that per­son­ally. We knew that we had to come out and keep get­ting stops and bring that en­ergy that we had in the first half.”

NICK WASS/AP

Wiz­ards cen­ter Ian Mahinmi dunks dur­ing the sec­ond half Fri­day in Wash­ing­ton.

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