What the Wizards should do when the lockout ends…

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We’re trying to be optimistic about the lockout here at PBT, and as part of that we are looking at what all 30 NBA teams should do when the lockout ends. And we’re sticking with when, not if, it ends. To see the full Western Conference list, click here.

Last season in Washington D.C.: For a team with a lot of young, talented players, the Wizards were just flat out bad. They won only 23 games, they were 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, 24th in offense. Defensively they blocked shots and not much else. On offense the Wizards didn’t take a lot of threes and didn’t make a lot when they did (they shot 33.2 percent from deep, 28th in the league). John Wall was slowed by injuries most of the year and seemed to be finding his way in his rookie NBA season. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee were consistently inconsistent.

Since we last saw the Wizards: They got new uniforms and logos, which are actually throwbacks to an older, Bullet look. The Wizards are a very patriotic red, white and blue now. It’s better than the blue at least.

They also had a nice draft, but it adds more questions and youth to a team with plenty. They drafted Jan Vesely (he of the girlfriend you remember from draft night), who is big and talented and raw. They also picked up forward Chris Singleton and guard Shelvin Mack, both of whom likely will make the team but we’ll see how much run they get.

When the lockout ends, the Wizards need to… Sign Nick Young to keep him in house, grow up and start to play some defense. Then run more.

Nick Young is entering the last year of his rookie deal, the Wizards extended a qualifying offer, now they need to keep him around. He’s not an All-Star, but he is developing into a quality two in the league who a number of teams other teams covet. The Wizards are a team that needs points, and while Young could use to be more efficient getting them, he can get the points.

The Wizards already have about 14 guys that will be on the roster (if all three rookies and a couple other guys are brought back with Young), but what they could use is a veteran point guard to back up Wall and be a steadying influence on this team. Earl Boykins could work. Over at SB Nation Mike Prada likes two-guard Reggie Williams most recently of the Warriors, to provide scoring punch off the bench, and that works for me, too. But they need a veteran who can show guys how to be professionals and win.

Aside that, there will be growing pains for a young Wizards team, hopefully for them just fewer of them. They need to learn from the mistakes of last season and take steps forward. It’s going to be gradual, like what we’ve seen over the past several seasons in Oklahoma City. The thing is, OKC gets very consistent play from its stars, the Wizards do not. Washington has to, especially from Blatche and McGee, two wildly talented guys who cannot put it together night in and night out.

Also, what they really need to do more is run. They ran some last season — ninth fastest pace in the NBA, which was a big step up from previous years — but that is not enough with this roster.

Watching John Wall in person at the Impact Training Series, I was reminded just how insanely fast he is with the ball in his hands. Wall is healthy now — he had nagging injuries all last season — and much more explosivethan he was when he last put on a Wizards uniform. He’s blowing by defenders that are just getting back and turning around. Add in Vesely — a big that really moves well up and down the court and can finish — plus Young, Blatche and McGee and you have a lot of guys who can close out in transition. Washington’s secondary break with bigs trailing the play should be deadly, and they should run drag screens all game long (where the trailing big sets a high screen for Wall or whoever has the ball, before the defense sets). This team should be a beast in transition.

But here’s the thing — transition offense starts with good defense. Not just making steals (although that’s nice) but getting the stop, the rebound and throwing a smart outlet pass to start everything. Keep taking the ball out of the basket and your running game can stall out. With the blocking machines that are McGee and Blatche in the paint, the Wizards have a good presence in the key. But Washington’s help rotations, defensive decisions and individual defense was just bad last season. That is the end where the Wizards need to improve if they are serious about improving as a squad.

The Wizards commitment to defense will determine just how big a step the team takes next season.

Russell Westbrook has beef with Joel Embiid after hard foul (VIDEO)

Associated Press
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Russell Westbrook is always looking for something — real or imagined — to use as motivational fuel.

He found something real Saturday in Joel Embiid.

With 1:46 left in a close game on national television, Westbrook was off to the races in transition with just Embiid back and the result was a hard foul.

Westbrook was pissed after the game thinking this was not just a hard foul (warning, NSFW language):

Embiid essentially shrugged.

The actual foul was hard but a bit of a fluke. Embiid went up to block the layup/dunk but Westbrook lost his dribble for a second, and the result was an airborne Embiid crashing into Westbrook. Hard. Was there a little bit extra in there? Depends on if you’re on Team Westbrook or Team Embiid.

But the NBA could use more feuds, so bring it on.

The Thunder went on to beat the 76ers on a Paul George game-winner.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart goes after Hawks’ Deandre Bembry, gets ejected

Associated Press
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Marcus Smart will be lucky if all he has to do is write a check to the league office. This is the kind of thing that can lead to a suspension.

Midway through the third quarter in Atlanta Saturday, Boston’s Smart picked up his second technical foul jawing with Atlanta’s DeAndre Bembry before a jump ball. That got him ejected. But it was when it charged back after Bembry rather than leaving the floor that the real trouble started.

Predicting the league office on fines/suspensions is like predicting a roulette table, but that looks like it could cost Smart a game. Smart had picked up his earlier technical arguing calls.

Boston came from behind to win Saturday in Atlanta, with Kyrie Irving leading the way scoring 32.

Bucks to retire jersey Marcus Johnson’s number

via NBA.com
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Marcus Johnson is a Milwaukee legend. He averaged 21 points a game in his seven seasons with the Bucks and is sixth on the all-time franchise list in points (10,980), is its all-time leader in offensive rebounds (1,468), is third in total rebounds (3,923), and made 4,546 during his time in Milwaukee. He is now a color commenter for the team.

Now, the team is going to retire his No. 8.

The ceremony will be March 24, a story broken by the Journal-Sentinel.

Johnson will be the ninth Bucks player to have his number retired and the first since the team’s move to its new home Fiserv Forum.

Current Bucks legend Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Journal-Sentinel he was happy. Antetokounmpo turned to Johnson at points for help with footwork, post moves, and more.

“I’m really happy for him, I think he deserves to have his jersey retired,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s amazing. He’s just sitting down there like a normal person, but this guy was one of the best players in the league when he was playing. … He’s a legend.”

Johnson won an NCAA national championship at UCLA under the legendary John Wooden before going on to an NBA career that included five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams.

Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115

Associated Press
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.

Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.

Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.

George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.

The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.

Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.