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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.

[RELATED: BROOKS KNOWS RE-SIGNING STARS ISN'T EASY]

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's new motto Wolf Season has reached a new level

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John Wall's new motto Wolf Season has reached a new level

It started as an offseason hashtag. After Wednesday night's win over the Sixers, it was legitimized with a postgame quote.

John Wall wants everyone to know that it's Wolf Season and, according to another favorite hashtag of his, nobody is safe.

Wall brought it up himself on Wednesday when asked about dunking all over the Sixers. When asked what Wolf Season means, he replied: "Just keep watching."

Wall used the hashtag #wolfseason all summer long in photos on Instagram. He also used the phrase #wolfwall:

Michael Jackson Thrilla Mode spilling sauce everywhere I go !! #WallWay #5Deep #BYB #WolfWall

A post shared by johnwall (@johnwall) on

It's reminiscent of the Wolf of Wall St. He also referenced "Michael Jackson Thrilla Mode" on Instragram and the music video for 'Thriller' very famously had Jackson turn into a wolf:

Michael Jackson Thrilla Mode spilling sauce everywhere I go !! #WallWay #5Deep #BYB #WolfWall

A post shared by johnwall (@johnwall) on

Whatever Wall means by it, the rest of the NBA might want to take notice.

[RELATED: PODCAST - MCCULLOUGH EXPLAINS HIS NICKNAME]

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Wizards vs. Pistons: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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Wizards vs. Pistons: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards battle Andre Drummond, Avery Bradley and the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch…

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. DETROIT PISTONS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Wizards HangTime)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Three things to watch...

Smith may not play

The Wizards may be down not one but two power forwards, as Jason Smith sprained his right shoulder in Wednesday night's opener while filling in for Markieff Morris, who is already out rehabbing from sports hernia surgery. Losing Smith will put extra stress on head coach Scott Brooks, who is already trying to form rotations with a bench full of new faces.

If Smith can't go, which seems likely, the Wizards will start Kelly Oubre, Jr. at the three and push Otto Porter to the four. That lineup itself should have no serious drop-off from the one with Smith. But the domino effect will be interesting. Who plays the three in the second unit? Brooks will probably have to go small with three guards, stagger the minutes of his starters to compensate or turn to someone like Tomas Satoransky, Carrick Felix or Chris McCullough for some playing time after all three were DNPs in the opener.

[RELATED: WAIT...WHAT'S 'WOLF SEASON?']

A familiar foe

Wizards fans rejoiced when the Celtics shipped Avery Bradley to the Pistons, knowing he would not be able to guard John Wall and Bradley Beal if the Wizards see Boston again in the playoffs this season. But he's still in the Eastern Conference and because of that will see the Wizards plenty. Bradley is flat-out one of the best defenders in the NBA and one of the only players who can give Wall fits. He's got the size to guard both Wall and Beal and is as tough as they come.

Bradley will provide a strong test for both Wall and Beal, who each appear to have improved this offseason based on the limited action we've seen so far. Wall is in better shape than he was last year and Beal's confidence handling the ball and running sets continues to grow. They are up for any challenge and Bradley certainly presents one.

[RELATED: HOW MAHINMI LOST WEIGHT, WHY HE LOVES D.C.]

Harris and Drummond

The Wizards' frontcourt injuries won't make it any easier to stop what is one of the better big men combos in the Eastern Conference. Tobias Harris is a well-rounded power forward who can stretch the floor with a solid three-point shot. He puts up similar numbers to Morris, but blew up in the Pistons' first game on Wednesday against the Bobcats. Harris dropped 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 4-of-7 from three, to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists. Last year he averaged 18.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in three games against Washington.

Drummond remains one of the best rebounders in basketball. He's a walking double-double, but did have a tough time against the Wizards last season. Washington held him to 8.7 points and 9.7 rebounds, modest for him, and he shot just 40 percent in three matchups. 

[RELATED: KELLY OUBRE CAN SEE WHY DURANT MADE A FAKE TWITTER ACCOUNT]