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NBA PM: Improved Defense Has The Washington Wizards Back On Track

Improved bench scoring and transition defense have the Wizards back on track.

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Not even a quarter of the way through a new NBA season, the Washington Wizards have already experienced ups and downs. The team opened the season with three wins before enduring five losses over the next seven games. That stretch culminated in a home loss to the Dallas Mavericks, currently tied for the worst record in the league.

Despite the struggles, Washington sits at third in the Eastern Conference. Coach Scott Brooks said after a third straight win Monday over the Sacramento Kings that improved transition defense has been a key to getting the season back on track.

“Against Cleveland, we gave up basically 32 points [in transition] and only got 12 ourselves,” said Brooks. “Even with LeBron James having the monster 57-point game, we gave them 20 extra points in transition.”

Brooks said the league-wide shift in favor of the three pointer has changed how teams must approach transition defense.

“It’s a different game,” said Brooks. “We’ve got so many shooting teams. The old school way, you can run to the paint. But the new school way, you’ve got to run back to the three-point line and guard it.

“I’m pleased with the way we finished up our homestand,” Brooks added. “We held the last three games in the 90’s. Now we’ve got to go do it on the road.”

In addition to cleaning up the defense, the Wizards have received an offensive boost from former Hawk Mike Scott, who had a season-high 15 points Monday against the Kings and has scored in double figures six times.

“I think he’s our best scorer off the bench,” said Wizards point guard John Wall after the win. “We know what he can do against our team. He did it a lot when he was with Atlanta when he was playing in their rotation. I think he’s a great backup to have behind Kieff [Markieff Morris], somebody that can score in the post if they switch and have mismatches.”

Scott made his reputation in Atlanta as a stretch four, but Wall said he’s been happy to learn that Scott facilitates ball movement as well.

“He can definitely shoot the ball from three, but he plays the right way,” said Wall. “Sometimes he has open shots [and] he’s willing to make the right pass or the extra pass, and it helps our team.”

Brooks had a lot to say about how pleased he’s been with the acquisition of Scott.

“He just knows how to play,” said Brooks. “He’s in the right spot. He’s not searching for shots, he’s just playing. We want to build our mentality as good-to-great passing. He makes the extra pass. If he’s open, he shoots it.”

Scott wasn’t as known for his defense prior to joining the Wizards, but Brooks saw nothing but positives in his contributions to team culture.

“He gives you a great effort on the defensive end,” Brooks continued. “I’m still learning his game. I like how he competes. I like how he practices. I like how he comes in every day before practice and stays after. He wants to win the free throw game that we have every day. He’s a great professional for our team.”

For himself, Scott said that he has tried to continue the ball movement ethic he practiced with the Hawks while also working to diversify his game.

“[It’s] kind of the same way I played in Atlanta, keeping the ball moving, having energy off the bench, scoring, doing a little bit of everything,” said Scott after Monday’s win. “I worked a lot on that over the summer, being more versatile. I’m starting to see it pay off a little bit during the game [but] I have a lot more to go, especially with my left hand.”

While improved transition defense and improved scoring punch off the bench have helped the Wizards get back on track, the team must now face a brutal stretch of 11 of their next 14 games on the road. Washington won’t play consecutive home games again until mid-December. The road is a tough place to stabilize a team’s season, but that’s the challenge that lies ahead for the Wizards.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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