- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2018

For all the changes the Wizards can make to snap out of their recent funk, tweaking the starting lineup will not be one of them.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks downplayed the idea of dramatically altering his starting five, in order to make a statement. Brooks’s frustration reached a tipping point Friday after a 103-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, telling reporters he needed to find five guys willing to play.

Brooks said Sunday he did not “anticipate” messing with his starters. In his two-year tenure, Brooks has stuck with John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, when they’re all healthy.

If Brooks does make changes, he’ll look to alter the minutes of the group rather than the pieces.

“There’s no question I’ve done that,” Brooks said. “Taking guys out earlier in the games and trying to see how we can get better production on all the minutes, not just bench versus starters.”

Slow starts have been a problem for the Wizards for the past month or so. In the last 19 games, in which the Wizards have lost 13, the starters aren’t creating much separation from their opponents in the opening minutes.

With Tomas Satoransky as the starting point guard over John Wall, the starters have played basically dead-even with opponents in the first eight minutes of games, over the last 16. They have a plus/minus of +.9, which means they’re outscoring teams by slightly less than a point per game when on the floor.

In the three outings Wall has played in since returning from knee surgery, the Wizards are actually a point worse with the starters early in games. Brooks has played his starters an average of six minutes per game in the first quarter, compared to 7.9 with Satoransky at point.

If you’re having trouble keeping track of the numbers, let’s make things more simple. Those stats aren’t as good as last season when the starters outscored opponents by 1.8 points per game in the first quarter.

In general, though, the Wizards’ starting units have been productive.

This season, the starters with Wall at point guard, have a net rating of +6.3 per 100 possessions, and a +8.9 per 100 possessions when Satoransky is paired with Beal, Porter, Morris and Gortat.

Satoransky, for the record, has logged more minutes with the other four starters than Wall, according to the NBA’s lineup data. Wall has started 11 more games than Satoransky, but some of those appearances did not feature Morris or Porter.

“Our starting lineup, when we’ve had some games together, that’s when we’re at our best,” Brooks said. “That starting lineup is defending and moving the ball because they all can do things within the offense. But they have to be able to do it.”

And if the group stutters out of the gate, Brooks can always give a quick hook. He has his options, either bringing in forwards Kelly Oubre or Mike Scott, or subbing in Satoransky now that Wall is healthy.

Beal said he believed Brooks was serious when he threatened playing time.

“He’s challenging us, he’s challenging us to be better,” Beal said. “He expects more out of us, and he has every right. And he should expect more out of us every time we single time we step out on the floor.

“It’s at the point now where we’re in the playoffs now. So he’s just plainly going to play who he feels like is going to help us win and advance as a team. … I think this time he’s dead-ass [serious]. He’s not joking around.”

It’s true. The Wizards have two games left in the regular season before they open the playoffs on the road. As rotations get shorter this time of year, so does the leash.

“The minutes in the playoffs is not about developing and trying to build your team throughout the season,” Brooks said. “It’s about winning games.”

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