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Wizards finally making some progress

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Sports,NBA,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

Still, there remains a lot of room for improvement

It's no longer a secret that the Wizards are a competitive team again. Despite finishing their five-game swing out West at 2-3, they still own five wins in their last eight games. Their playoff odds remain too small to consider with a straight face -- ESPN.com puts them at 1.0 percent -- but the opportunity now is to continue building.

The Wizards (9-31) return to Washington for their next three games with plenty still to work on to improve.

"We have things to take care of, and one is taking care of the ball," forward Martell Webster told reporters after Wednesday's 92-88 loss at Utah.

Up next
Timberwolves at Wizards
When » Friday, 7 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center
TV » CSN

The Wizards are fourth worst in the NBA in turnovers per game (15.4). They committed 15 in the loss to the Jazz, none more crucial than when Nene allowed the ball to get poked loose by Paul Millsap with three and a half minutes left and the Wizards down 85-80.

Gordon Hayward took off on the fast break, leading to a clear path foul from Webster, and all of a sudden the number of possessions Washington needed to tie the game was up to three.

Nene finished the game with five turnovers, matching his season high. While his minutes have increased steadily -- he played at least 28 per night during the five-game road trip -- he also averaged three turnovers while the team was away from home.

Some of Nene's looks could change early in games as John Wall moves closer to getting back in Washington's starting lineup. The star point guard now has seven games under his belt after missing the first 33 of the season with a stress injury in his left knee. He averaged 27.2 minutes per night during the road trip, and the team has been consistent in not wanting to rush him back to full action too quickly.

Wall's place in the second unit has meant that he hasn't played much with Nene and rookie Bradley Beal until late. For his part, Beal has struggled in the last three games, averaging just 9.0 points following a hard fall against Denver on Jan. 18 that hurt his right wrist.

Meanwhile, Trevor Booker has worked himself back into coach Randy Wittman's rotation with physical defense, while Jan Vesely hasn't played in Washington's last three games. Booker was on the floor as Washington used a 20-2 run to turn what had been a predictable blowout loss at Utah into a competitive contest.

"We're always going to play hard," Wall told reporters afterward. "When we play as a team and everybody is scoring and everybody is moving the ball, we're a pretty tough team to beat, especially when we play our defense the way we played in the second half."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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