Legal or not, Wizards need to adjust to Dwight Howard's screens

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Legal or not, Wizards need to adjust to Howard's screens originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

After Monday's practice, when asked how he can fare better defending Tobias Harris, Wizards forward Rui Hachimura pointed to the Sixers' screens and how he needs to be more physical fighting around them.

Dwight Howard had a lot to do with that. He had nine screen assists in Game 1, two short of the Wizards' total as a team, and they led to 20 points. 

Now, he may have been moving on a few of those screens, at least if you ask Wizards head coach Scott Brooks.

"Were they legal screens?... Some of the things we can’t control, but we’ve gotta do a better job of fighting through them," he said.

The Wizards will have to adapt, either way. Howard was eighth in the NBA this season in screen assists per-36 minutes. Though he's not the perennial All-Star he once was, Howard remains a physical force. He has wide shoulders and can pack a punch, especially if a defender gets blindsided.

The Sixers actually do not run a ton of screen plays. Per Second Spectrum, they run the lowest frequency of off-screen sets and are the seventh-least efficient team on those plays. They are also 17th in pick-and-roll frequency.

Howard, though, rewrote that script in Game 1 and the Wizards know full well what he's capable of, given he played for them just two seasons ago, albeit for only nine games due to injuries.

"He’s a good screener. He’s a big, physical specimen," Bradley Beal said. "He’s a physical guy by nature and he’s the same way on the court. His biggest thing is to get guys open. He had that same mentality when he was here for that brief stint. Us as guards, we’ve gotta understand that and continue to fight through, shoot the gap sometimes or trail over, maybe even take a foul here and there. Just be aggressive at all times."

If the Wizards think they can get Howard caught setting illegal screens, they may have a secret weapon to get calls from the refs. Backup guard Garrison Mathews happens to be exceptionally good at drawing offensive fouls. With 43 offensive fouls drawn, he was second in the NBA this season to only the Thunder's Lu Dort (57) and that was while averaging only 16.2 minutes and not appearing in eight games.

Mathews is adept at selling illegal screens, in part because he's not afraid of contact. A former wide receiver in high school, he's used to getting hit in open space, and there's something about the way he reacts to contact that attracts whistles.

Mathews didn't play in Game 1, as the Wizards shortened their rotation for the playoffs. But if they feel Howard is getting away with a few, Brooks might want to put him out there.