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Wizards return home to battle Thunder
The Wizards are back home after their longest road trip of the season, and will host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 8:00pm on Friday night. Two-thirds of the Wizards’ starting frontcourt will return, with Dwight Howard (gluteal soreness) and Markieff Morris (concussion protocol) cleared to play against OKC.
Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and the Thunder have struggled out of the gate, but picked up a big win against the Hornets on Thursday night. Westbrook closed the game out for the Thunder, making 6-of-7 field goals in the fourth quarter. The Thunder now roll into Capital One Arena for the second night of a back-to-back.
Capital One Arena | 8:00 p.m. | NBC Sports Washington/ESPN | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – John Wall, G – Bradley Beal, F – Otto Porter Jr., F – Markieff Morris, C – Dwight Howard
Thunder: G – Russell Westbrook, G – Terrance Ferguson, F – Paul George, F – Jerami Grant, C – Steven Adams
Thunder: Andre Roberson (Left Patellar Tendon Surgery – Out)
Howard’s debut, Morris expected to return
Dwight Howard will make his long-anticipated debut in a Wizards uniform on Friday. Washington has missed another presence down low, among league-worst in rebounding and paint defense statistics. Howard will provide rebounding, interior defense, 14 seasons of experience, lob-catching, and a strong pick-and-roll game with John Wall, Bradley Beal, and others. Coach Scott Brooks said he was unsure of how many minutes Howard would play, but sounded optimistic about his usage.
”I’m just looking forward to doing what I can to help this team win," Howard said after practice Thursday.
Keef Morris is also out of concussion protocol and expected to return after leaving Sunday’s game against the Clippers and missing Tuesday’s game in Memphis. The Wizards missed Morris in those two games, especially the way he’s been shooting the ball. His ability to guard multiple positions, score from inside and out, and do the little things was missed over the past few games. Brooks will finally have his entire team back and healthy.
All-Star point guards headline key matchups
John Wall and Russell Westbrook, two of the fastest and most explosive players in the NBA, will go head-to-head on Friday night. The two point guards have 12 combined All-Star appearances, and will certainly be going at it all night. Over the years, Wall and Westbrook have played memorable games against one another and are often compared to each other.
Bradley Beal and Paul George play similar roles on their teams – they’re both All-Stars who can score from all over the court and are expected to be key contributors defensively. Dwight Howard and Steven Adams will be another key matchup to watch; they’re two of the strongest big men in the league. All of the eyes will be on the All-Stars and big men, but this type of game is often won by the each team's x-factors such as Kelly Oubre Jr., Terrance Ferguson, Dennis Schroder, and Jeff Green to name a few.
Coach Brooks said on Thursday after practice that the Wizards are not planning on switching as much as they have been in the team’s first seven games. Much of that has to do with results, but also having Howard on the court does not give them as much freedom to switch. The Wizards will still switch, but they’re going to mix up their defensive schemes as well. Along with guarding the opposing team, the Wizards will lean on Howard and Morris to help even the rebounding deficit they’ve endured to start the season.
“Switching is not going to be thrown out the window, but we’re going to try to stay more like intact, our old school defense that we had," Brooks explained.
This will be the Wizards first home game since October 20, almost two weeks later. They have been back in D.C. since late Tuesday night, but the first home game after a road trip can always be tricky.
The Thunder will be coming in on the second night of a back-to-back, giving the Wizards a rest advantage. George played 39 minutes on Thursday, Westbrook 37, Adams 33, and Schroder 30.