As the Wizards recover, the defense could get in shape


Thirty-four games into the season, the Washington Wizards are nearing a milestone: For the first time, they could have every available rotation player on Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

If forward Deni Avdija’s lower back pain subsides, Tuesday’s matchup at Capital One Arena would be the first time coach Wes Unseld Jr. has had a full roster to work with.

“I don’t know when was the last time we had a good practice like this where everyone was practicing,” a sweaty Kristaps Porzingis said Monday. “Deni is still working to come back, but today was competitive.”

Unseld said Avdija is questionable until the Wizards see how he feels on Tuesday morning, but even so, Washington has finally cleared his long-term injury list. Substitute striker Rui Hachimura returned to Utah on Thursday after missing 16 games with a bruised right ankle, and backup point guard Delon Wright returned Friday in Sacramento after straining his right hamstring on October 25.

The Wizards close out a tough six-game road trip with a resounding victory over the Kings

Now that Hachimura and Wright are healthy, the Wizards (13-21) should benefit more on the defensive end. Wright said after practice Monday that his conditioning is far from where it should be and it will take time to get his rhythm back, but the Wizards will feel his presence.

from washington defensive rating ranked 21st in the NBA; the Wizards are allowing 113.7 points per 100 possessions. They allow opponents to average 49.1 points in the paint per game, an average of 16, but throw up the third-highest opponent three-point percentage at 37.6.

Wright will help in both areas and was the Wizards’ best perimeter defender when he was in shape. Philadelphia (20-12) is the second most efficient 3-point shooting team in the NBA (38.6 percent); Phoenix (19-15), visiting on Wednesday, ranks seventh (37.8 percent). On Monday, Unseld highlighted Wright’s ability to clog the lane.

“We have talked extensively about his ability to contain one on one. Hopefully that helps minimize some of the spots in the paint. It has a large size, activity in the hands,” Unseld said. “So that helps on defensive backboards. … He’s done a pretty good job in a short sample, of course, but he’s a top-level defender.”

Wizards are slowly getting healthier and need help fast.

Coming off the bench, Hachimura gives the Wizards a bigger body at power forward and provided the necessary spark at the end of a long road trip by scoring 21 points in Friday’s win at Sacramento. His performance was part of what Porzingis described as a mindset shift for the team.

“We just have more firepower,” Porzingis said.

Just as important as the on-court talents of Hachimura and Wright is the confidence Washington has in a healthier roster after a 10-game losing streak that dogged them for much of December. Porzingis credited a pregame speech by director of player development Alex McLean in Sacramento with bringing the Wizards out of a loss-induced fear.

“We have to,” Porzingis said when asked if the Wizards need to bring the same swagger they had in Sacramento to Tuesday’s game. “But you can’t pretend, too. Because if you’re losing 10 games in a row, how are you going to have a swagger about yourself, you know? you can’t. Once you start winning, you keep building that confidence on top of the wins. And two of our last three, we’ve won. If we can say that, then we have to build on those wins and get that confidence by doing good things.”

Wright is on a minutes restriction, playing just over 15 minutes against the Kings, and Unseld said the increase in playing time will be gradual.

Unseld hopes two-way player Jordan Goodwin will stay with the team for a while, rather than be assigned to G-League Capital City Go-Go, so the Wizards can avoid overburdening Wright, starter Monte Morris and the others. escorts. Goodwin has gained significant minutes as the third-string point guard in place of No. 10 pick Johnny Davis. He has impressed his coaches and teammates with his energetic and utility game, and he is averaging 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes.

The 24-year-old has played in 26 NBA games, just over half the 50 allowed for a player on a two-way contract.

“It’s not easy,” Unseld said when asked how the Wizards will develop Goodwin with Wright back in action. “I think Delon has shown that he has the ability to even start in this league. He’s obviously coming off the bench for us, and he’s done a very good job. [Goodwin] He has made the most of his minutes”.

For now, Unseld is happy to have another player as the Wizards try to get back into the Eastern Conference play-in race.

“Everything is on the line,” Unseld said of the defense. We have enough bodies. As we become healthy, whatever that time may be [and] whatever the game needs, we’ll do it.”

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