BY BEN STANDIG | FEB. 26, 2018

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — Kelly Oubre Jr. planned on going to Los Angeles during the All-Star break, but it was more business trip than sightseeing. His basketball trainer lives there. Talk about exquisite timing. Oubre’s shot, improved considerably from last season, broke in the final eight games before the break. Focus, work and tutelage pieced it back together.

The surging Philadelphia 76ers, 109-94 losers to the Wizards Sunday night, witnessed the proof.

Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 14, 109 players averaged at least 25 minutes and three 3-point attempts. Oubre’s field goal percentage (28.6) ranked 109th. Only Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (18.8) shot a lower percentage on 3-pointers than Oubre (22.0), who went 9-for-41.

The kid with extreme confidence, even for an NBA player, appeared shook at times. In the final four games before the All-Star break, Oubre finished 4-for-13, 3-for-10, 3-for-14 and 1-for-6 overall. Twice, Washington’s sixth-man went 0-fer on 3-pointers and finished 5-for-24 (20.8) during those four games.

“He definitely, in early parts of February, was struggling before the break,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said nicely ahead of Sunday’s game.

Oubre is no pouter. He went chin up into his workouts with Drew Hanlen, a rising star in the basketball universe known for helping shape a teenaged Bradley Beal. The duo collaborated on altering Oubre’s shot last summer so the left arm no longer blocked his vision.

From a dismal 28.7 percentage on 3-pointers, Oubre hovered around the 40 percent mark most of this season. The 6-foot-7 wing sank 42.6 percent (26-for-61) of his deep tries and shot 48.2 percent overall in January.

Then things went bust from all angles. So, Oubre and Hanlen got to work.

They met at St. Bernard High School in Playa Del Rey, Calif, some 30 minutes away – depending on LA traffic — from Staples Center in downtown where NBA All-Star events occurred. Paparazzi shadowed practice sessions and other events hoping for a glimpse of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and other NBA heavyweights. Oubre and Hanlen worked in the shadows seeking a remedy.

They focused on moving Oubre’s shooting pocket to the left. They widened his base. They made sure his shoulders stayed forward rather than leaning back.

Three real games later and Oubre’s shot is head and shoulders above his pre-All-Star break slump.

“I’ve been really working hard,” Oubre said after dousing the 76ers with 19 points – 16 in the first half — and four 3-pointers. “Really just tweaking the mechanics and putting in the repetitions so I can see the ball go in and just know the muscle memory is there. I believe in my shot. I believe in my game. It’s just about getting better every day.”

The matchup with Philadelphia offered sincere playoff implications. The Wizards entered one game ahead of the Eastern Conference’s hottest team. The 76ers arrived with a seven-game winning streak, which began with a 115-102 home victory over Washington on Feb. 6. Philadelphia fans still glowing from the Eagles’ Super Bowl triumph showed up in Chinatown loud and proud. Early sound inside the arena offered little clarity on which team called the nation’s capital home.

Oubre entered early in the first quarter after Markieff Morris received two quick fouls. The first of his 3-pointers soon followed along with needed oomph.

“My energy never really goes away,” said the lively 22-year-old known for his unique vibe.

Oubre said he drew inspiration earlier Sunday from a television show.

“I was watching “Knightfall” earlier today. It’s a great show on the History Channel. You should check it out,” Oubre said. “It’s about Jesus and everything. I think God gave me the energy to pretty much go out there and stay ready and stay locked in and help us get this win.”

The Wizards opened the second quarter with a 30-28 lead. Oubre began the period with a mid-range jumper. He added two 3s in the quarter. Otto Porter also dined from deep. Their collective defense roared. Momentum went with the home team. Washington entered halftime up 67-48. No debating which crowd was which anymore.

Oubre finished 4-of-6 from behind the 3-point line and 6-of-9 overall. In three games since the All-Star break, Oubre is 17-for-34 (50.0) from the field and 8-for-17 (47.1) from beyond the 3-point arc.

The second unit, which Brooks often deploys en masse, lacks a passing playmaker capable of creating scoring opportunities for others since Tomas Satoransky is starting for the injured John Wall, who remains sidelined following knee surgery on Jan. 31. Wall will not return for another 2-4 weeks.

The other bench options are not collectively adept at taking the ball and getting buckets. The best bet for production is Oubre, whose instincts remain unrefined at 22. At times, he seemingly wants to take on the world with each possession. He also has dynamic athleticism which suggests star potential. He won’t get there if that shot is broken. After spending his break in Los Angeles, the fix is in.

“I always tell him: Stay in the game no matter what’s going on,” Beal said. “You control your emotions, you control how you play, the intensity that you bring. [Oubre has] gotten a lot better at that. He’s shooting the ball well, playing well offensively and defensively he’s one of our best defenders, if not the best. So, whenever he’s active and in the game, we like our chances.”

Photo by Joe Glorioso for The Sports Capitol

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