- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2017

John Wall searched out white channel after white channel on both toy-sized and regulation-sized basketballs Thursday. The hood of his sweatshirt was up and shower shoes were on his feet while he signed autographs for future handouts. Though practice had just ended, he was not sweating.

Wall sat out Thursday’s practice because of a sprained left foot, injured when attempting an out-of-sorts landing in the second quarter Wednesday night. Wall stayed on the floor for around 30 seconds before eventually limping to the locker room. He returned just before the end of halftime and played his normal minutes in the second half.

Thursday was spent trying to fix damage done. Washington’s All-Star point guard received treatment in the morning and no further testing after Wednesday night’s X-rays that were negative. He is slated for more care throughout the day and again Friday morning in preparation to play against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in Verizon Center.

“He’s feeling good [Thursday],” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He had treatment all morning. He’ll get it throughout the day and see how he feels tomorrow. Feels good, but you never know. It’s always day-to-day, but I anticipate him feeling pretty good [Friday] morning and we’ll go from there.”

Chicago was dinged with troubling personnel news of its own. Dwyane Wade was ruled out for the rest of the regular season on Thursday because of an elbow sprain and small fracture. That leaves the Bulls short-handed Friday night when they come to Verizon Center.

Even before the news about Wade, Chicago could be viewed as a salve for the Wizards’ defensive problems. No team in the league shoots fewer 3-pointers than Chicago does, meaning the core of the Wizards’ main defensive issue was alleviated by their opponent’s offensive preference.

Defending the three-point line poorly has been one layer of Washington’s defensive trouble since the All-Star break. Others are at the base level of plainly guarding a man individually and appropriately using communication in the action that follows.

That’s why Brooks rerouted Thursday’s practice to emphasize what a middle school coach may be bellowing at players. He turned to what he calls the “Bravado” drill of one-on-one in front of the full group.

The player going in on defense has a choice of which two players he can stop. Hold them without scoring, and that player has won, and can come off. For instance, center Ian Mahinmi was put into the drill and told to select two wing players whom he didn’t think could score against him. He picked youngsters Kelly Oubre and Sheldon McClellan.

“Just challenging each guy that defense starts off with guarding your man,” Brooks said. “That’s how we all started the game playing, guard your man. It’s a simple philosophy but I think very effective. At times, we have trouble guarding our man.”

He also turned on video, engaging what he calls the “Truth Box” to settle disputes. In the midst of the game, players may think blame sits elsewhere after a defensive error. Video shows where fingers should rightly be pointed.

“That screen tells you exactly what it tells you,” Brooks said. “If you’re playing the right way, it tells you that. If you’re not, it tells you.”

Bradley Beal seemed to revel in his explanation of the day’s practice. He called the one-on-one drill “old school” before later touting the energy in the practice. Just 15 games remain in the regular season, pitting human nature of wanting the finish line to arrive against needed urgency to be effective and hold playoff positioning before the regular season ends.

“We can’t afford to drop,” Beal said. “We’re trying to at best move up to one. In my mindset, that’s our goal as a team. We definitely want homecourt.”

At the start of Thursday, Washington was in third place in the Eastern Conference, just 3.5 games behind conference-leading Cleveland despite having lost back-to-back games (the Cavaliers also have a game in hand). The priority is to remain in the top four seeds in order to have homecourt advantage in the first round. After that, assuming Cleveland is not caught, the goal is to grab the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in order to avoid Cleveland until the conference finals, should both teams advance that far.

The immediate concern is healing the dual ailments of Wall’s foot and the woeful defense. Without those being fixed, seeding will matter little and there will be plenty of free time to play one-on-one.

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