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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Washington coach can commiserate with Blazers' Stotts

Scott Brooks has known the high times as an NBA coach. And the low times, too.

In his seven seasons as head coach at Oklahoma City from 2008-15, the Thunder advanced to the playoffs five times, won 50 games four times and reached the Western Conference finals three times, making the NBA Finals in 2012.

Brooks — who brings his Washington Wizards to Moda Center to face the Trail Blazers at 7 p.m. Wednesday — is in his fourth season coaching the Wizards and his 11th year as an NBA head coach after an 11-year playing career as a backup point guard. He has a regular-season record of 484-366 and is 48-44 in the playoffs. Brooks, 54, will soon join an exclusive fraternity of 32 coaches who have won 500 or more regular-season games. (Portland's Terry Stotts is on Brooks' tail with a career record of 466-452).

Washington went 49-33 and reached the Eastern Conference semifinals during Brooks' first season, then was 43-39 and made the playoffs the next season. A rash of injuries, including to All-Star guard John Wall, led to a 32-50 record in 2018-19. It's been more of the same this season for the Wizards, 22-37 heading into Tuesday night's game at Sacramento.

Wall, a five-time All-Star in his first seven seasons, has been hampered by injuries that caused him to miss 41 games in 2017-18 and 50 games in 2018-19. He hasn't played since December 2018 and has missed this entire season following surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Wall's backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, has filled the breach. After scoring 34 points in a 124-110 win at Golden State Sunday night, the two-time All-Star ranked second in the league in scoring with a 30.3-point average.

Brooks took time for an interview with the Portland Tribune prior to the Wizards' game in San Francisco:

Tribune: You've had so many injuries, 21 players have worn your uniform in at least eight games this season. How are you handling all of that on a personal level?

Brooks: It's definitely tough. I try to keep everything in perspective, knowing we have circumstances we've been faced with due to all the injuries. We just have to keep doing our job, not making any excuses while we continue to work to get better. Then when everybody gets healthy, we're going to be a much better team.

Tribune: You probably knew that it would be a tough go without John Wall.

Brooks: Yeah, I did, but I don't want to use that as an excuse. Nobody cares if anybody's hurt. Every NBA team goes through it at some point. You have to work to make every game as competitive as possible. We all know to achieve the ultimate success, you have to have your best players able to play. If you don't have that, you're always going to be battling to stay relevant.

Tribune: How is Wall coming in his recovery from the ruptured Achilles? Will he play this season?

Brooks: He's looking great, but the season is winding down. Is he going to play? I don't know one way or the other. He played some 3-on-3 yesterday and he looked good. I do know this: Once he's back, you'll see the same speed, quickness and toughness he had before the injury.

Tribune: The Wizards are one of the top offensive reams in the NBA but are last in both scoring defense and defensive rating. What's been the problem there?

Brooks: Part of that is we've never had a consistent lineup to work on what we want to do. Still, it's disappointing we haven't played better defense. Individually, the majority of our guys have shown improvement the last three or four weeks. It's something that we're well aware; we need to get better.

Tribune: Beal has been sensational, leading the Wizards in scoring in each of the last 17 games and 40 times this season. He averaged 36 points in February, topping 30 in eight of 11 games. In his last two outings, he had 42 points and 10 assists against Utah and 34 points and eight assists against the Warriors.

Brooks; Oh, my gosh, it's unbelievable how much he has improved the last four years. I'm proud of him. The losing hasn't been easy for him. He's the best player on our team and we're not winning as many games as he'd like, but he brings it every night. He gives us a chance. He's not just a scorer; he's a complete player.

Tribune: You're in ninth place in the East, four games back of No. 8 Brooklyn. Do you still hold out playoff hopes?

Brooks: We're going to keep fighting. It's a long shot, but we have to keep playing competitively so that we have meaningful games down the stretch. You never know what can happen. We're getting healthy, and guys are getting better. At this point, the growth of the team is what I care about most.

Tribune: Let's talk about some of your players who are well-known in this area. Rookie forward Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga is starting for you now.

Brooks: Rui has been really good. I've been so impressed with his consistency. You can pencil him in for 14 (points) and seven (rebounds) every night. (He had 15 and eight against Golden State on Sunday night, hours after this interview). It's been remarkable for a rookie. I love that about him. There is a maturity to his game. He missed two months with (a groin) injury, but came back like he never missed a game. He's as coachable as anybody I've coached. He wants to please his teammates. He has a chance to be a solid player for a lot of years.

Tribune: How about Troy Brown, the second-year swing man from Oregon who is in your rotation?

Brooks: Troy has improved his game. He's a Swiss Army knife type of player. He does a little bit of everything, and he's just 20 years old. He has lots of potential.

Tribune: How about Gary Payton II, the ex-Oregon State Beaver who started 17 games for you early in the season?

Brooks: When we had a rash of injuries early, we got two injury-exception players, and they both started for us. Gary was one. He has a chance to be a good player in this league. He's defensive-minded and he's tough. He just has to work on his perimeter shooting.

Tribune: Former Trail Blazer Shabazz Napier, acquired in a mid-season trade with Denver, has started the last two games for you.

Brooks: I love his toughness, the chip on his shoulder that he plays with. He's a scoring point guard, and he has been terrific. That was a great pickup for us.

Tribune: This is all so different from when you were coaching at Oklahoma City and had great talent, including Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Was the biggest job managing personalities?

Brooks: Everybody thinks that, but no, that was not a problem. We all got along. Did those guys challenge each other at times? Yes, but in a respectful way. Our practices were competitive. I tried to split the teams up to make it competitive, and it worked. They took us to places where young teams don't get to very often.

Tribune: OKC lost in five games to Miami in the 2012 NBA Finals, a team led by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. You won the opener, then lost the next three games by four, six and six points. You were close. Do you ever think back to how close you were to winning a title?

Brooks: I think back all the time, and wonder what could I have done different to help us. We had a chance to win Game 2. We were down by two in the closing seconds and got what we felt was a bad call (a non-call by James on a Durant jumper that would have tied the score). The next day, the NBA came out and said they had blown the call. After that, we were competitive, but Miami's experience paid off. Our guys were so young (Harden was 22, Westbrook and Durant 23). Their guys were 28 and 29.

Tribune: You've never won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award — presented to a coach for his cooperation with media and fans — but you should have. Do you enjoy that part of your job, or is it a necessary evil?

Brooks: I enjoy it. I love people. I love the game. It's an honor to be part of the NBA. I'm not necessarily an ambassador, but part of my job is to promote the game that has given me and my family so many opportunities. It's important to bring everybody together. One thing I love: Nothing matters — religion, color of skin — when you're on a basketball team. Everybody is about the same things. I love that part of it. I believe in the team concept in basketball, and life, too.

Tribune: Can you commiserate with Terry Stotts about injuries?

Brooks: Of course. I feel bad for Terry and their staff. They've had more than their share of injuries, but give them a lot of credit. They're battllng. They're not making any excuses. It's hard to be without your best players. I have a great deal of respect for Terry.

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