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Morning tip: Wizards can look ahead to Hawks, John Wall's preferred playoff opponent

Morning tip: Wizards can look ahead to Hawks, John Wall's preferred playoff opponent

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Never to look ahead on the schedule is the position of every coach and player in every sport, but it’s difficult for the Wizards not to going into their final regular-season game and think about the Atlanta Hawks. It's the opponent John Wall wants for the first-round series.

"Totally," Wall said about his No. 4 seed team playing the current No. 5 seed with two days left in the regular season. "I’m still mad about the time I injured my hand. That’s still in the back of my mind even though they might have a different team.”

The Hawks (42-38) were their last opponent when they last made the playoffs in 2015 and were eliminated in the conference semifinals in six games. Wall, who broke his left hand and wrist in a Game 1 upset, remains salty about the outcome. The Wizards were in a good position to topple the then-No. 1 seed in the East if not for his injury when he was shoved to the floor by Jeff Teague on a drive.

Teague is no longer with Atlanta, but Dennis Schroder is the starting point guard. He taunted Wall with threats to strike his injured hand on purpose.

Both teams have gone in different directions since then. While the Hawks qualified for the 10th consecutive postseason, they're not as potent without Kyle Korver and Al Horford. Paul Millsap remains, but other than the season-opening win over the Wizards at Phillips Arena, they've fallen three consecutive times. 

Not that regular-season series should matter much. The Wizards couldn't figure out them in the 2014-15 season, losing 3 of 4, before flipping the postseason script. They got there after going 1-3 vs. the Toronto Raptors in the regular season and then sweeping them in the first round. 

In Monday’s win at the Pistons and in Wednesday’s game at the Miami Heat, the Wizards' focus is more about fine-tuning themselves. There hasn’t been a lot of practice time in the last month of the season.

“I think we’re going to use it as not necessarily to experiment but just work on things that we’ve done in the past but we haven’t worked on lately,” coach Scott Brooks said of the last two games that won't impact their seeding. “Some of our pick-and-roll coverage, we can probably get into some different coverages.... To get some game reps because there's a different level of intensity in game reps than in practice. That is definitely what I’m going to consider throughout the next couple of games.”

[RELATED: Tougher matchup for Wizards: Cavs or Celtics?]

He held out Wall (left thigh contusion) and Otto Porter (back spasms) in Detroit. Ian Mahinmi has what is being called a left calf strain on preliminary diagnosis when he came up limp late in the fourth quarter. It seems unlikely that he'll be allowed to play in Miami. 

The Milwaukee Bucks (42-39) were in the fifth spot until recently. Now Atlanta has won three games in a row, including twice vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, to grab a firm hold. 

"It’s definitely weighted right now," Brooks said. "Atlanta is probably the frontrunner of who we play."

The Wizards (49-32) are just one game away from a 50-win season which has long been their goal. But the ninth-place Heat are going down to the wire for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Chicago Bulls. Both are 40-41 and have one game left.

"We might not play a lot of guys," Brooks said. "Maybe have a pseudo-practice or a shootaround for the guys who are not going to play."

With their third postseason berth in the last four seasons, Wall and Bradley Beal are the veterans on a team with the likes of Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky who have never been to the playoffs. Jason Smith hasn't been since 2011. Bojan Bogdanovic has gone just once. 

"We still have our focus to get 50 wins but trying definitely to stay healthy going into the playoffs without getting crazy or little petty injuries going into the playoffs. You look at and see who you’re going to play but playoffs are totally different than what the regular season is. We’ve been through that," Wall said. "We got swept before by a team (in the regular season) and gone into the playoffs and did something totally different.  You game plan different. You got to see this team seven times. We’re going to be focused. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been to the playoffs. But that’s my job as the leader and Brad’s job. Get these guys focused. Every shootaround, every practice, every game day is very important."

[RELATED: Wizards complete biggest turnaround in NBA history]

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Julie Donaldson reset the series and looked ahead to Game 5.

They were joined by TSN Sports anchor Kayla Grey to find out the Toronto perspective. The Wizards have all the momentum in this series, now they just have to keep it going.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

You would not have known it by John Wall's towering poster-dunks over Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl in Game 4, or his fourth quarter takeover after Bradley Beal fouled out, but Wall is still technically working his way into midseason form from the left knee surgery that kept him out more than two months down the stretch of the regular season. Add into the equation that he sprained his right ankle in Game 3, then resprained it in Game 4 right after Beal went out, and it's quite clear that what he is doing is simply not normal. 

Throughout Wall's recovery, his head coach Scott Brooks remarked how Wall can regain his form unusually quick following an injury absence. Game 4 was just his eighth game back, yet through four playoff games he is averaging an absurd 26.8 points, 13.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.

If that's what he's doing eight games removed from recovery, and against the top team in the Eastern Conference, what does peak playoff form look like? 

"I told y'all, I told all the media that I only need like three or four games. I really didn't need too many games," he said. "All the hard work that I did in those two months was to prepare myself to be ready for the playoffs."

Wall said he started feeling like himself in his final regular season game, his fourth outing following the injury rehab. It was against the Celtics and he scored 29 points to go along with 12 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

"I just started to see shots fall down that I was falling short with a couple games before that," Wall said of that night.

Brooks saw a change in Wall against the Cavaliers on April 5, in just his third game back. That game Wall put up 28 points, 14 assists, four rebounds and three steals. Most importantly, he logged 38 minutes.

"I knew I was going to challenge his body with extra minutes," Brooks said. "The way he responded to that, I knew he was back."

Whenever the turning point happened, there is no looking back. Wall has found his groove to not only impact, but at times dominate playoff games against one of the best defensive teams in basketball.

In Game 4 once Beal went down, Wall looked like the best player on the court. He scored eight of the Wizards' final 14 points to seal the victory and did so on a bum ankle. He outshined both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, two All-Star guards.

Wall even played sound defense on DeRozan in big moments. DeRozan shot 10-for-29 in the game.

"I think I did a good job of contesting him," Wall said. "Just do whatever it takes to help this team win."

What Brooks predicted would happen has indeed played out. He has been with Wall for about two years now and knows what the star point guard is made of.

"I've been with him two years, he loves to play," Brooks said, noting there have been some tough conversations to convince him to come out of games.

Consider this: Wall has scored 20 points or more in six straight games, his longest streak of the 2017-18 season. He has actually reached 23 points or more in those six games, which is tied for the longest such streak of his entire career.

Through eight games overall and four games in the playoffs, Wall has reminded everyone of what the Wizards missed. Yes, they went 10-3 when he first went down with the injury in late January, but that was not sustainable.

They need Wall to reach their full potential as a team and especially in the postseason. Late-game situations like in Game 4, when Beal exited and it was tied with 4:58 to play, are when the superstars separate themselves.

Wall did that and now the Wizards are in good shape with the series at 2-2 and having won two straight.

"Blame everything on him," Brooks joked of the Wizards' up-and-down regular season. "If he wasn't hurt, we'd be better, right?"

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