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NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: How bad will the Atlanta Hawks be?

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NBA 2017-18 Eastern Conference Outlook: How bad will the Atlanta Hawks be?

NBC Sports Washington is looking around the league as we prepare for the 2017-18 NBA season. Today, we break down the Atlanta Hawks' outlook...

2016-17 record: 43-39, 5th in East
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Key additions: PF John Collins, C Miles Plumlee, SG Marco Belinelli, C Dewayne Dedmon
Key losses: PF Paul Millsap, C Dwight Howard, SG Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Projected lineup: PG Dennis Schroder, SG Marco Belinelli, SF Kent Bazemore, PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Dewayne Dedmon

Biggest questions:

1. How bad will they be?

At 10 years, the Atlanta Hawks have the second-longest streak of making the playoffs behind only the San Antonio Spurs, but that is about to be put to the test. After losing in six games to the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks underwent a significant roster overhaul that saw a lot more talent leave than they brought in. Gone are Millsap, Howard and Hardaway, three of the Hawks' most important players last season. In those three guys, they lost a little bit of everything, especially with Millsap who is among the most consistent and versatile players in the NBA.

As a result, the Hawks are being predicted by many to take a major step back. The sportsbook Bovada's odds for NBA win totals in 2017-18 has them second-worst among all teams, with an over/under of just 25 1/2 wins. Only the Bulls are lower and that's worse than perennial doormats like the Nets and Kings. If they surprise people and continue that playoff streak, then Budenholzer will probably get the coach of the year award.

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2. Can Prince and Collins give them hope?

All of that is not to say the Hawks don't have talent, but they are resting their hopes on some very young players. Taurean Prince is entering his second season after being picked 12th overall last summer. He's an intriguing athlete at 6-foot-8 who can do a little bit of everything. He just needs to find his niche and be consistent at it. Collins was their first round pick in this year's draft. The 19th overall pick, Collins is a 6-foot-10 forward from Wake Forest. Last year he averaged 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds for the Demon Deacons. If either of those blue chip prospects can show promise, then the Hawks' outlook will look a lot less bleak.

3. Will Schoder take another step?

With Millsap and Howard gone, the Hawks' two highest-paid players are Bazemore and Schroder. We pretty much know what Bazemore is. At 28, he has settled in to being a defensive specialist with some decent value on the offensive end. For Schroder, who turns 24 this month, there are plenty of unknowns.

The Hawks are banking on Schroder to continue his development. So far through four seasons, he has gotten noticeably better each year. If he takes another step beyond what he put up this last season (17.9 ppg, 6.3 apg, 45.1 FG%), he could be an All-Star. The point guard position is deep in today's NBA, but Schroder is on the cusp of becoming one of the better ones in the game. If he takes a step back, the Hawks will be in trouble.

More 2017-18 previews:

Boston Celtics

Chicago Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers

Milwaukee Bucks

Indiana Pacers

Toronto Raptors

Philadelphia 76ers

[RELATED: CAN WALL FOLLOW THROUGH ON KOBE'S CHALLENGE?]

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John Wall and Bradley Beal address criticism of their leadership after Stephen A. Smith's comments

John Wall and Bradley Beal address criticism of their leadership after Stephen A. Smith's comments

Somehow J.J. Barea, a point guard for the Dallas Mavericks who has no direct connection to John Wall or Bradley Beal, set off a firestorm of criticism on Tuesday about the leadership of the Wizards' backcourt.

Barea told reporters in Dallas he doesn't think Wizards teammates like Wall and ESPN's Stephen A. Smith then furthered that story by saying both Wall and Beal have detractors within the Wizards' locker room. Smith said that there are teammates talking behind the backs of the Wizards All-Stars.

Once Barea and Smith sounded off, it became a thing. Fans wondered aloud on social media if there were irreparable fractures within the Wizards locker room and if something needed to be done.

PODCAST: WHAT SHOULD THE WIZARDS TARGET AT THE TRADE DEADLINE?

The Wizards, of course, were coming off an embarrassing defeat against the Mavericks and these are the times when people usually pile on. That they did.

Wall and Beal were asked about the criticism following the announcement they both made the 2018 NBA All-Star team by NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller. (video above)

"We embrace it. Nobody is more upset than we are in ourselves," Beal said. "The fans, the critics, writers; nobody is as upset as we are. We’re more upset in ourselves that 100 percent of the resposibility falls on our shoulders. We embrace that. We take it. We take it on the chin and we just keep it moving, man. We can’t pout about it or try to argue back with what other people say.

"At the end of the day we agree that we shouldn’t be where we are. But reality is reality, we’ve gotta do a better job at leading and playing, showing up for every game and making sure that our teammates are good to go and make sure that they are pulling their weight just as well as we’re leading."

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"We know what we should be. That’s the most difficult thing for us," Wall added. "We’re a team that we know we should be a top two team in the East right now. We control our destiny from this point forward, where we want to be in a playoff spot, we definitely know what we’ve gotta do to win. It all starts with me and Brad. We hear certain things they are saying like ‘why are you doing this, why are you doing that?’ But we’re putting in a lot of work."

The Wizards have battled inconsistency this season to an extreme degree. They often lose to lesser teams and by significant margins. The Mavericks, who won the fourth-worst records in the NBA, beat them by 23 points.

Like Wall and Beal said, they know that shouldn't happen. It's up to them and the rest of the Wizards to figure out how to fix it.

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Mavericks coach apologizes to player for cursing him out in blowout win over Wizards

Mavericks coach apologizes to player for cursing him out in blowout win over Wizards

The Wizards' Monday night loss against the Mavericks featured heat, beef, and a lot of curse words.

And not all of that was directed to the opposition. Dallas center Salah Mejri was ejected from the 98-75 blowout win over the Wizards, but not before head coach Rick Carlisle let him know what he thought of his actions.

"You've got two f—ing points, get the f— out of here," Carlisle could be heard saying to Mejri after the big-man picked up his second technical foul.

On Tuesday, the longtime head coach realized the errors of his ways and apologized for snapping at his player. 

"I had a long talk with Salah about what happened and apologized to him for behavior that was really emotional, uncalled for and unprofessional on my part," Carlisle told a pool of reporters, according to the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday.

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"He's one of our best competitors. Things got heated. Conflict sometimes can bring out communication, which is what I'm hoping comes from this. But I want to make sure that he understands and all our fans understand how important he is to our team and how sorry I am about what happened when he was ejected."

Despite playing with a pronounced mean streak, this was Mejri's first ejection of the season.

He finished the Monday game with just two points, and exited the court as Kelly Oubre waved to him with the utmost snark.