- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2018

The news last week that Dwight Howard would miss 2-3 months after undergoing back surgery wasn’t shattering to the Washington Wizards. After all, the team had already spent plenty of time this year without their marquee free agent signing as Howard missed training camp and appeared in just nine games.

But Howard’s extended absence does present challenges for the Wizards.

This season, Washington rank 28th in rebounds per game (41.1) and dead-last in rebounding rate, grabbing just 45.9 percent of the rebounds available during its games.

Howard was supposed to — and did — help the Wizards on the boards. The 32-year-old center particularly made an impact on the defensive boards as Washington had a defensive rebounding rate of 72.4 percent, which is closer to league average.

Without Howard, the Wizards face a size issue.

Washington is using only one traditional center, Thomas Bryant, in its rotation with reserves Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith buried to the bench.

“We’re smaller than every team we’re going to play now for the rest of the season — besides Golden State,” guard Austin Rivers said. “With that being said, we have no choice but to rebound, otherwise we’re going to get hurt like we did.”

Rivers said when teams get beat up on the boards, it can be discouraging. He pointed to last Friday’s loss against the Philadelphia 76ers — in which Washington was outrebounded 70-51 — as an example.

The Wizards, at times, made the initial defensive stop, but Philadelphia’s 17 offensive rebounds took its toll. “It just drains you,” Rivers said.

Bryant, a second-year center who was claimed off waivers in July, has shown signs of promise, but he is only averaging just 16.8 minutes per game since moving to the starting lineup on Nov. 20.

In that span, he’s averaged 4.6 rebounds per game and Washington grabs 45.1 percent of the rebounds when he’s on the floor. The latter number is actually slightly better when he’s on the bench (45.4).

For large portions of the games, coach Scott Brooks has relied on Markieff Morris to play center. Morris has embraced a move to the bench, and the forward is on a bit of a hot streak.

Since Nov. 20, when Brooks moved Morris out of the starting lineup, the 6-foot-10 forward is 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 47.7 percent from the field.

“He just plays with more urgency (off the bench),” Brooks said of Morris. “Maybe it’s not going to be permanent, I don’t know. But right now, he has a nice comfort zone and the team has a nice rhythm with him off the bench.”

But Morris at the five doesn’t solve Washington’s rebounding issues. Washington is hauling in just 67.1 percent of the defensive boards when Morris is on the floor.

Rivers said the guards and the wings have to do a better job of making rebounding a collective effort.

This season, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter’s rebounding averages are slightly down from than last year. Of that group, Porter’s decline is the most notable — going from 6.4 boards per game in 2017-18 to 5.5 this season.

“You have to rebound in this league to have success,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to do it by committee.”

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