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Morning tip: Most important areas and matchups in Wizards-Hawks playoff series

Morning tip: Most important areas and matchups in Wizards-Hawks playoff series

Both teams, the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, are very different from the teams that played each other on opening night of the regular season. 

Even when these teams last played March 22, a 104-100 win for the Wizards at Verizon Center that clinched the season series 3-1, there have been changes.

The No. 5 seed Hawks didn't have Paul Millsap or Kent Bazemore because of injuries in their final meeting. They'll have both today in Game 1 of the first-round series. 

The path to victory for the Wizards:

Bigs vs. Dwight Howard

First, if he wants to isolate and take 12-15 foot bank shots, let him. He has a tendency to hold the ball. Within 10 feet of the basket is the danger zone for Howard, who feasts on second-chance points and putbacks. He shoots 65.7% from  less than 10 feet. Anywhere else he's well under 40%. Chances are Mike Muscala will defend the stretch bigs, and if so there are switches that can be made to take more dangerous players away and leave samller ones with Muscala. He doesn't aggressively post up. He's a jump shooter.

Battle of power forward Markieff Morris with "stretch four" Paul Millsap

Markieff Morris, who doesn't like being called a "stretch," had this to say about him getting the best of Paul Millsap in their matchup during the season. "Not taking plays off. Not giving him anything free. Fouling the (expletive) out of him when I got a chance." it was a bit more complex than that, but the advantages that Millsap has on bigs or undersized players trying to defend him is harder to come by with Morris who is 6-10 and presents as much trouble on the offensive end. The Hawks run screen-and-roll more with Millsap than Howard because he can spread. Morris can face up Millsap. And if he ends up matched with Ersan Ilyasova, he can get his shot whenver he wants. Ilyasova hasn't been able to stay in front of Morris off the dribble (Ample evidence here from earlier in the season: Wizards' problems solved with Morris at the stretch 4).

[RELATED: How do Wizards view 1st-round series with Hawks?]

System offense doesn't respond well to pressure

Ball pressure and being in the passing lanes will take the Hawks out of their rhythm. The key is to be prepared for the backdoor cuts they'll make in an attempt to make the defense pay for overplaying. Every team runs motion strong/weak sets and have their wrinkles out of it. Same with horns sets or triangle which Hawks will flow into out of motion. Pushing the ball out of the operational zone and forcing them to get shots later in the clock usually will mean lower-efficiency shots.  

Keep ball out of the paint

Dennis Schroder has improved his shot, but he's still not a knockdown shooter. He wants to get into the lane and finish. If the help is in place from the frontline, going for the strip from behind is a good strategy because you can recover. But the key is everyone being in position before making the gamble.

Keeping track of Tim Hardaway

When it was Kyle Korver who Bradley Beal had to keep track of, it was a much easier assignment despite him shooting an NBA-best 49.2% from three-point range two years ago. Korver shifted around the arc and rarely attacked the rim. Beal has to play Hardaway for the three and the off-ball cut. He gets his head turned around, loses him and he has an easy deuce. Hardaway is prone to take rushed and low-percentage shots and if he's not identified immediately in transition he will launch threes quickly. Making him defend in help situations can lead to good results. Posting him put with stronger guards in Wall and Beal will work, too.

Shooters vs. Howard

Howard stays back when someone like Beal, Wall or Otto Porter is coming at him with the ball off a screen or curl, cautious of getting beaten to the rim. He plays soft and will give up this mid-range look. If the drive is made, the weakside (Gortat or whichever big Howard is responsible for defending) has to crash and rebound to take advantage of Howard vacating his position. This pocket shot, however, around the foul line or just inside of it should be there.


[RELATED: Wizards rookie injured after kick by NBA player with black belt]

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Wizards destroy Raptors behind Bradley Beal's breakout effort, move series to 2-1

Wizards destroy Raptors behind Bradley Beal's breakout effort, move series to 2-1

The Washington Wizards beat the Toronto Raptors 122-103 on Friday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Wizards show some fight: The Washington Wizards who punch back, who play with an edge and impose their will on opponents physically and mentally, the team that initiates contact and trash-talks their foes into misery, that team finally showed up in the 2018 NBA Playoffs on Friday night and did so at the perfect time. With an 0-2 deficit and following a blowout loss three days before, the Wizards pulled themselves up off the mat and struck the Raptors with a message-sending blow that may have saved their season.

They blasted Toronto in a convincing win that looked a whole lot like the proverbial switch had been flipped. Their best players played to their capabilities on both ends of the floor and there was nothing the Raptors, as good as they are, could do about it. The net result is a 2-1 series and some newfound belief that an upset is possible.

It was just one game and anyone who has watched this team all season knows there are two very different versions of the Wizards. They aren't in the clear until they are actually in the clear.

But it would be hard to not to find encouragement in exactly how the Wizards won this game. They forced the Raptors into 19 turnovers and held their bench to 32 points, many of which came late when the game was decided. Washington shot 55.3 percent against one of the NBA's best defenses.

Bradley Beal (28 points) finally looked like himself. John Wall (28 points) was dominant and pumping up the crowd. Marcin Gortat (16 points), who almost lost his starting job, stepped up with several timely buckets. Mike Scott (12 points, 4-for-4 FG) played well for the third straight game.

Everything clicked and now we have ourselves a series.

Beal woke up: The fabled monster of the spring known as Playoff Beal showed up on Friday and announced his presence early. After the worst performance of his playoff career in Game 2, Beal broke out in a big way with a colossal first half of 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting.

Beal scored just nine points in Game 2, but surpassed that in about 10 minutes in Game 3. By halftime, he had more threes (four) than he did in his first two games this series combined.

Very quickly in the first quarter Beal looked different. His first bucket came on a turnaround fadeaway off the glass. From there his confidence grew as three-point shots fell one after another, whether he was guarded or not.

Beal finished with 28 points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals. in between Games 2 and 3, head coach Scott Brooks held a meeting with Beal and John Wall, hoping to find Beal more opportunities. There may or may not have been an apology issued on Brooks' part.

Whatever the nature of the discussion, it seemed to work. Wall and Brooks told Beal to be more aggressive and that's exactly what happened. Beal looked much more like the guy who averaged 28.8 points against the Raptors during the regular season and was largely dominant vs. this very same team and without Wall to help out.

Wall needs some attention, too. He looked like the best player on the court for much of the game and accrued a ridiculous line of 28 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, four steals and a block, of the chasedown variety of course.

Oubre lit a spark: Beal did most of the heavy lifting early, but Kelly Oubre, Jr. also deserves credit for the first half surge by the Wizards. He was all sorts of active on both ends of the floor. In one sequence he blocked a shot, dunked it on the other end, took a charge and then dunked once more. 

Each time, Oubre let out one of his signature screams to the crowd. He was making plays and infusing energy into the team. That's the stuff Brooks wants to see from Oubre. Many people, including Oubre, obsess over his three-point shooting but defense and hustle plays are really the name of the game for him.

Oubre ended up with 12 points, four rebounds and shot 5-for-9 from the field.

Playoff basketball: The tone may have been set early by Markieff Morris. After two games where the Wizards didn't show much fight, Morris literally almost got in one. 

After hitting the deck on a collision with OG Anunoby, Morris got up and shoved both him and Serge Ibaka. Double technicals were assessed and one could argue Morris lost his cool on the play. The counter to that would be the Wizards needed to show some fire and Morris was sending a message. Given he wasn't kicked out of the game, it wasn't too costly.

Here is the whole sequence:

That's the playoff version of Morris we remember and it may have rubbed off on his teammates. In the third quarter, more animosity broke out after Jonas Valanciunas was called for an offensive foul on Marcin Gortat. Beal went after the ball and that started a big argument between the teams, highlighted by Wall and Ibaka needing to be separated by Wizards bodyguard Dave Best. 

The arena was playing Tupac's 'Ambitionz az a Ridah' as it all went down, invoking memories of the 'Death Row D.C.' days of last season. Wall is, of course, Tupac according to the Morris-conceived metaphor.

The end result was technicals for Beal, Wall and Ibaka. That, and the realization that this series is now a lot more fun.

Up next: Game 4 is on Sunday at Capital One Arena. Tipoff will be at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington with pregame coverage starting at 5 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

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It took three minutes for the Wizards and Raptors to get into a Game 3 altercation

It took three minutes for the Wizards and Raptors to get into a Game 3 altercation

WASHINGTON —  It didn't take long for playoff basketball to escalate in the nation’s capital.

Less than three minutes to be exact.

On only the fifth possession of Game 3 between the Wizards and Raptors at Capital One Arena, Wizards forward Markieff Morris and Raptors forward OG Anunoby got tangled up and let their emotions out.

From the initial look it appeared that Morris just got tripped up in setting a screen, but if you look more closely, Anunoby appeared to pull down Morris from the back.

Even though a foul was called, Morris made sure that Anunoby knew his displeasure and even threw an extra shove at Serge Ibaka.

Both Morris and Anunoby received a technical foul after the altercation.

Once again the Wizards getting physical in a playoff series. 

MORE ON THE WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

THE DRAKE-WIZARDS TRASH TALK WON'T STOP

HISTORIC ODDS FOR TEAMS THAT GO DOWN 0-2

BROOKS MAY CHANGE STARTING LINEUP FOR GAME 3