- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It’s been more than a year. It took 108 games. There has been a coaching change since the last time.

The Wizards’ record is better than .500.

Washington beat a depleted, game Chicago Bulls team, 101-99, thanks to a John Wall jumper with five seconds to play. It should have been easier. It wasn’t.

Instead of holding a parade, Washington will head to Boston Wednesday. There, it plays the deep and talented Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back. Boston lost to Toronto, 114-106, on Tuesday night.

The Wizards’ win put them into sixth place in the herky-jerky Eastern Conference and just a game out of fifth. There is, of course, a ton of basketball to play. But, Washington has cleared another moderate hurdle on its way to recouping following an atrocious start to the season.

Three points from Tuesday night:

The team has a track record of bad starts against wounded or unrenowned opposition. Remember the Philadelphia game earlier this season? No Joel Embiid and the Wizards were smashed by the 76ers? How about more recently. Remember Sunday afternoon? When the Milwaukee Bucks did not have Giannis Antetokounmpo? The Wizards trailed by seven at the end of the first quarter. Then, Tuesday night. What a mess to begin the game. The Wizards gave up 36 points in the first quarter to a Bulls team without Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Nikola Mirotic. A 7-2 Washington lead was followed by a 34-19 Chicago run to close the quarter. Asked how he would describe the first half, Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, “Exhausting.” Markieff Morris had more to say about the Wizards’ propensity for letting inferior teams get out to leads and hang around. “Defensively, the first half, we were horrible. To be a great team, when guys are hurt, just got to bury teams. No disrespect to them. But, without their best players they can’t even compete with us. We let them compete tonight and we eased out with the win. That’s the most important thing…. I think the first half, we just expected them to lay down and they didn’t. They had 34 in the first quarter. Like I said, without their two best players. That’s unacceptable.”

Kelly Oubre reverts. Two nights after Oubre had a strong night against Milwaukee — 17 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes — he went back to being nagged by the problems which have persisted this season. Oubre played 23 minutes, was 1-for-6 from the field to finish with three points and five rebounds. But, his problems were not in his personal stat line Tuesday night. They were more reflected in Denzel Valentine’s stat line: A career-high 19 points, 14 of which came in the first half when he was matched with Oubre. Valentine was able to move around the floor in the way four-year players for Tom Izzo at Michigan State do, often shedding Oubre or leaving him out of position. The Wizards were so cognizant of the issue that they switched Wall onto Valentine in the second half when Oubre checked in and placed Oubre on Rajon Rondo. Twice in the second half, Oubre guarded Valentine. Twice, Valentine scored. Once at the rim. Once from behind the 3-point line.

At a minimum, Jason Smith brings energy. Smith’s run of solid play continues. He finished Tuesday with seven points, six rebounds and three blocked shots in 22:30 on the floor (though he had three turnovers). He’s playing the backup four now, which puts him alongside Marcin Gortat on the floor. In December, Smith shot 67.3 percent from the field. Smith is shooting 50 percent and has seven blocks in five games. Considering the tumult around the Wizards’ bench to start the season, Smith’s consistent play is at least that: consistent. For once, Brooks knows what he will receive when sending someone to the scorer’s table.

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