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5 keys for Wizards to win series vs. Hawks

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5 keys for Wizards to win series vs. Hawks

No matter how well the Wizards played in the first round, that'll have nothing to do what happens vs. the Atlanta Hawks, who host Games 1 and 2 Sunday and Tuesday, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They'll go as far as the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal takes them. 

The Hawks' ability to spread the floor with five shooters poses matchup problems for everyone, but like the Toronto Raptors who weren't quite as versatile with their post players, the Wizards have a quiet confidence that they can win this series to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1978-79:

  • Wall's and Beal's turnovers will set the tone. If they're in a giving mood, it will be a short series. In the first two losses to the Hawks, the Wizards had 20 turnovers in each. The backcourt accounted for 12 in a four-point loss and 10 in a 31-point loss. The one game that the Wizards had a chance to win, and led late, they only accounted for three turnovers. Put Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in transition with shooters spotting up around the arc and it's asking for trouble. 

 

  • Don't be surprised if the Wizards dare Al Horford to beat them. Horford is an All-Star and a very versatile player. But there's a belief that playing him straight up, and allowing him to get his points if necessary, is a better option than allowing Teague to get in the lane and Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap to get clean looks from three-point range. The question becomes who among the starters is best-suited for that assignment. Marcin Gortat is a true center while Horford is undersized but having him pulled away from the basket to defend isn't ideal for him or Nene. Horford averaged 12.7 shot attempts per game in the regular season. If he takes closer to 16-18, which would mean fewer threes from Atlanta, that's probably better for the Wizards even if he shoots a decent percentage. 

  • This is where Ramon Sessions, who was acquired in a trade after the three losses, pays off most. When Atlanta's reserves come in with Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack, Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott, the pressure doesn't relent. It's where the Wizards severely lacked with Andre Miller who was traded for Sessions as a result. Drew Gooden is a given with the second unit, which means Kris Humphries likely takes a back seat when it comes to playing time in this series, too. None of the Hawks' players can defend Kevin Seraphin one-on-one in the post but they create such havoc on the defensive end that the Wizards can't take advantage of him. This will be Sessions' job, and maybe where Will Bynum could factor in, too, to give them a dose of their own medicine.

  • Nene stays focused on rebounding. In two of the three losses, the Wizards have come up short on the smaller, less physically imposing team. In the one game that Nene didn't play, the Nov. 25 matchup, is when the Wizards actually had a rebounding edge. He only has nine total rebounds in the two games he played which just isn't enough no matter how much time he logs. When the Wizards got off to a good start by upsetting the Raptors twice at home in the first round, Nene averaged 11 rebounds.

  •  The Paul Pierce-Otto Porter connection continues to work. They belong on the court at the same time. Pierce is about the buckets while Porter is about the utility work. If Porter is hitting the open jump shot, too, this combination becomes a major equalizer to open the floor for Wall or Sessions to get in the paint. 

[MORE WIZARDS: Rundown of Wizards' difficulties facing Hawks]

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John Wall said he's not listening to Drake's music during Wizards-Raptors playoff series

John Wall said he's not listening to Drake's music during Wizards-Raptors playoff series

The friendly feud between Wizards guard John Wall and Raptors superfan Drake nearly tilted to Washington over the weekend as the rap star apparently floated the idea of showing up for Game 3 in D.C. 

Drake, in fact, was going to bring with him a prop to show just how confident he was after his team went up up 2-0.

"I told him to be here for Game 3. He told me he was going to be here," Wall said. "He didn't show up. He told me we was getting swept and he said he had the broom for us."

Wall and Drake exchanged trash-talk throughout the first two games held up in Toronto as Drake sat courtside. Their back-and-forth was caught on camera and went viral.

Wall now has the upperhand with the Wizards having won two straight games as the series shifts back to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday.

"I wanted him to know that they wasn't going to sweep us," Wall said. "We did what we were supposed to do. We came home and took home court, won two games."

Wall continued to say that him and Drake "are just having fun." He has referred to Drake as a friend in the past and Drake is a fan of the University of Kentucky, where Wall starred during the 2009-10 season.

But that friendship is currently on hold. Wall, in fact, says isn't listening to any of Drake's songs during the series and that includes 'Nice For What,' Drake's latest single. The song is being played everywhere, but Wall is avoiding it. 

"I can't?" Wall said when told he can't get away from 'Nice For What.' "I always have my headphones on."

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How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

The Wizards-Raptors first round playoff series has evolved to feature the emergence of several players who started off slowly including Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre, Jr. The opposite has happened for Toronto big man Serge Ibaka.

After Ibaka lit up the Wizards for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, there has been a disappearance. His scoring has gone missing and it's a big reason why the Wizards have won two straight games and earned a 2-2 series split.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows Ibaka well from their days in Oklahoma City. He helped develop Ibaka and has since watched from afar as his game has changed to include a consistent outside game.

Brooks has on several occasions referred to Ibaka as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league. The numbers back that up. Last season, he shot 39.1 percent from three on 4.0 attempts per game, excellent for a 6-foot-10 power forward.

This season that number dipped to 36 percent, but he hit 41 percent of his threes in his final 16 games of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs when he went 3-for-4 in Game 1 as part of an 8-for-11 shooting night overall.

The Wizards made a point to take away those outside shots following their series-opening defeat. The way they are doing that is by crowding him when he gets the ball, even if it means him getting past the initial defender.

"You want to make sure you meet him on the catch. You want to take away his shot," Brooks said. "When he gets open shots, they are money. He's going to knock them down... We did a good job of meeting him on his catch and making him put the ball on the floor with his left hand. You can live with the results."

After his 23-point outburst in Game 1, Ibaka has scored just 20 points total in the last three games. He has gone 2-for-6 from three.

The Wizards are taking away his shot attempts in general. He took 11 shots in each of the first two games of this series, but just four in Game 3 and five in Game 4. In Game 3 he had three points and three turnovers and on Sunday he had seven points and four turnovers.

Here are two examples of the Wizards' defense on Ibaka. On this first play, Markieff Morris meets Ibaka as soon as he catches the ball and the result is a turnover:

On this next play, Morris follows Ibaka all the way to the rim and even though he goes up on a pump fake, Morris recovers to alter Ibaka's shot and force a miss:

The Wizards, however, did get away with one against Ibaka. He was left wide open for a three in the final minute, but the shot rimmed out:

As the first two plays demonstrate, Morris deserves a lot of credit for the Wizards' success against Ibaka. He has the size and mobility to keep up with him and is willing to use contact to his advantage.

"Just playing the tendencies," Morris said. "We're making them do things they are uncomfortable with and are getting better results."

Ibaka was fourth on the Raptors this season in points per game and third in shot attempts. He is their third option behind All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Wizards can continue to lock up Ibaka, it will be difficult for the Raptors to beat them.

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MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

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