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Early look at Wizards' potential opponents in 2017 NBA Playoffs: who should they prefer?

Early look at Wizards' potential opponents in 2017 NBA Playoffs: who should they prefer?

The Wizards officially clinched their spot in the 2017 NBA Playoffs on Friday night, so now what? Well, there are still 10 games to go and a lot of room for movement in the Eastern Conference. But with the Wizards in third place currently, here is a look at some teams they could potentially meet in the first round next month...

ATLANTA HAWKS
2016-17 record: 37-35
Current seed: 5
Wizards' head-to-head record: 3-1

The Wizards have handled the Hawks well, having won three straight matchups following their defeat on opening night in Atlanta. There is also the revenge factor with the Wizards having been eliminated from the playoffs two years ago in a second round series that saw John Wall break his wrist and likely prevent the Wizards from advancing. The Wizards also became the first team in NBA history to lose a playoff series, and therefore have their season end, on a replay call. To meet up with Atlanta would give the Wizards an opportunity for payback. 

Atlanta is also nosediving right now. They have dealt with some injuries to Paul Millsap and Kent Bazore and are currently losers of six straight games. Seeing them in the first round could be playing them at a good time. But they are still very well-coached and have a ton of talent beyond Millsap with Dwight Howard down low and especially with the emergence of Tim Hardaway, Jr.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
2016-17 record: 37-35
Current seed: 6
Wizards' head-to-head record: 3-1

The Wizards have had little problem with the Bucks this season, aside from their blowout loss in Milwaukee on Dec. 23. It was in that game that the Wizards thought Giannis Antetokounmpo was a bad sport by running up the score and chasing his career-high. So, the Wizards got him back just three days later with a win in Washington and some choice words after the game to rub it in. That would provide a backstory and some potential animosity and those are always fun things come playoff time.

The Bucks, though, are the hottest team in the NBA this month having won 11 of their last 13. They have Giannis, who is a do-everything monster. And though Jabari Parker is lost for the season, they can still field a formidable lineup with Malcom Brogdon and Khris Middleton, who returned midseason from injury. Greg Monroe, Matthew Dellavadova and Tony Snell are all decent, as well. The question would be whether they have the depth to match up with the Wizards in a seven-game series.

[RELATED: Hawks All-Star to opt out and test free agency]

INDIANA PACERS
2016-17 record: 36-36
Current seed: 7
Wizards' head-to-head record: 3-1

The Pacers have star power and playoff experience, but not much else. They have one of the thinnest rosters in the conference despite boasting superstar Paul George and young big man Myles Turner, who looks like a perennial All-Star. They are top heavy and as a result do not look poised to do much damage in the playoffs. They are a solid 25-11 at home, but a hideous 11-25 on the road. That is easily the worst away record of any team currently in either conference's playoff picture.

Like the teams above, the Wizards have matched up favorably with Indiana this season with a 3-1 record in head-to-head meetings. They also have playoff history with Indiana, who knocked them out in the second round three years ago, the first time Wall and Bradley Beal qualified for the postseason. That would present some storylines, and George would be fun to watch for a full series, but the Pacers would have their work cut out for them, for sure.

MIAMI HEAT
2016-17 record: 35-37
Current seed: 8
Wizards' head-to-head record: 0-2

Kind of like the Wizards, the Miami Heat are a much, much better team than they were just a few months ago. On Jan. 13 they were 11-30 and appeared headed for the draft lottery, but then they caught fire and won 13 straight. And in the time since that 11-30 mark, they have gone an impressive 24-7. That is tied for the most wins in the NBA during that stretch with the Wizards, Spurs and Warriors and at more than a third of the season, that's no small sample size.

The Heat have already beaten the Wizards twice this season and can be tough to deal with for a variety of reasons. For one, they are very good defensively and boast one of the best rim protectors in basketball in Hassan Whiteside. He's averaging 2.1 blocks per game and leads the league in rebounding at 14.2 per contest. They also have point guard Goran Dragic, who is averaging 20.1 points per game and can get into the lane at will. He has been a real pain for Washington this season with his ability to get past Wall, Beal or whomever the Wizards put on him.

Verdict: Which team should the Wizards prefer?

If the playoffs were to start today, the Wizards would probably like to avoid the Bucks, who are the hottest team and have a bonafide superstar in Giannis. Incidentally, that's who the Wizards are lined up to face right now. A lot can happen in the next three weeks before the playoffs begin, but that does not currently look like a good matchup, even though the Wizards would still have plenty of advantages between their backcourt, experience and depth.

Like the Bucks, Miami is also playing very well right now and have been doing so for longer. They have shown they are much better than their record says they are. There is no doubt they are dangerous. 

The Wizards at this point should prefer either the Pacers or Hawks. The Hawks are fifth and the Pacers seventh, so not much movement would be required for either meeting to happen. But both of those teams seem vulnerable at this point, despite the fact Atlanta may have the most depth of these four teams.

[RELATED: Wizards clinch playoff spot for third time in four years]

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Troy Brown gets love from peers, including ROY votes, in NBA Rookie Survey

Troy Brown gets love from peers, including ROY votes, in NBA Rookie Survey

The annual NBA Rookie Survey is always a way for us to take an early peek into how rookies feel about their peers (competition?).

For Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr., he certainly has gotten the attention of the rest of his rookie class.

Brown ranked 6th for "Best Playmaker" in the class, and also received votes for Rookie of the Year and having best career potential.

Last year's class certainly lived up to the hype, with Ben Simmons winning Rookie of the Year. Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum definitely made strong cases for themselves as well though.

This time around, the class was dominated early by big men in the draft, but there's plenty of hype around the group as a whole again. Could it be the year we look back on as the class that brought the big man back to the NBA?

Possibly. 

NBA.com again talked down the rookie class at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot at the New York Knicks' practice facility. This year's group (36) answered seven questions about their class, as well as a few about the current player they most admire and what they're expecting as they make the jump to the NBA.

Here's how they ended up voting:

Who will be the 2018-19 Kia Rookie of the Year?

1. DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix -- 18%
    Collin Sexton, Cleveland -- 18%

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas -- 9%
    Kevin Knox, New York -- 9%

5. Mohamed Bamba, Orlando -- 6%
    Devonte' Graham, Charlotte -- 6%
    Michael Porter Jr., Denver -- 6%
    Trae Young, Atlanta -- 6%

Others receiving votes: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento; Troy Brown Jr., Washington; Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago; Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City; Harry Giles, Sacramento; Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis; Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio

LAST YEAR: Dennis Smith 26%

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago -- 13%

2. Kevin Knox, New York -- 10%
    Jerome Robinson, LA Clippers -- 10%

3. DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix -- 7%
    Mohamed Bamba, Orlando -- 7%
    Mikal Bridges, Phoenix -- 7%
    Collin Sexton, Cleveland -- 7%
    Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio -- 7%

Others receiving votes: Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento; Miles Bridges, Charlotte; Troy Brown Jr., Washington; Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City; Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee; Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers; Devonte' Graham, Charlotte; Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis; Michael Porter Jr., Denver; Trae Young, Atlanta

LAST YEAR: Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum -- 18%

Which rookie was the biggest steal at where he was selected in the Draft?

1. Keita Bates-Diop (48), Minnesota -- 13%

2. Michael Porter Jr. (14), Denver -- 10%
    Lonnie Walker IV (18), San Antonio -- 10%

4. Jalen Brunson (33), Dallas -- 6%
    Gary Trent Jr. (37), Portland -- 6%

Others receiving votes: Grayson Allen (21), Utah; Mohamed Bamba (6), Orlando; Miles Bridges (12), Charlotte; Bruce Brown (42), Detroit; Jevon Carter (32), Memphis; Hamidou Diallo (45), Oklahoma City; Donte DiVincenzo (17), Milwaukee; Luka Doncic (3), Dallas; Jacob Evans (28), Golden State; Devonte' Graham (34), Charlotte; De'Anthony Melton (46), Houston; Svi Mykhailiuk (47), L.A. Lakers; Jerome Robinson (13), LA Clippers; Mitchell Robinson (36), New York; Mo Wagner (25), L.A. Lakers; Robert Williams III (27), Boston; Trae Young (5), Atlanta

LAST YEAR: Donovan Mitchell -- 19%

Which rookie is the most athletic?

1. Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia -- 24%

2. Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City -- 15%
    Josh Okogie, Minnesota -- 15%
    Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio -- 15%

5. Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento -- 6%
    Miles Bridges, Charlotte -- 6%

Others receiving votes: DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix; Mikal Bridges, Phoenix; Bruce Brown, Detroit; Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee; Michael Porter Jr., Denver; Collin Sexton, Cleveland; Robert Williams III, Boston

LAST YEAR: Dennis Smith Jr. -- 44%

Which rookie is the best shooter?

1. Trae Young, Atlanta -- 47%

2. Kevin Huerter, Atlanta -- 13%
    Svi Mykhailiuk, L.A. Lakers -- 13%

4. Gary Trent Jr., Portland -- 9%

5. Grayson Allen, Utah -- 6%
    Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee -- 6%

Others receiving votes: Aaron Holiday, Indiana; Kevin Knox, New York

LAST YEAR: Luke Kennard -- 49%

Which rookie is the best defender?

1. Jevon Carter, Memphis -- 29%

2. Mohamed Bamba, Orlando -- 14%

3. Josh Okogie, Minnesota -- 11%

4. Mikal Bridges, Phoenix -- 9%

5. Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis -- 6%
    Collin Sexton, Cleveland -- 6%

Others receiving votes: DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix; Bruce Brown, Detroit; Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago; Hamidou Diallo, Oklahoma City; Melvin Frazier Jr., Orlando; Mitchell Robinson, New York; Omari Spellman, Atlanta; Gary Trent Jr., Portland; Lonnie Walker IV, San Antonio

LAST YEAR: Josh Jackson -- 26%

Which rookie is the best playmaker?

1. Trae Young, Atlanta -- 35%

2. Jalen Brunson, Dallas -- 15%

3. Luka Doncic, Dallas -- 9%
    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander -- 9%
    Collin Sexton, Cleveland -- 9%

6. Troy Brown Jr., Washington -- 6%
    Aaron Holiday, Indiana -- 6%

Others receiving votes: Devonte' Graham, Charlotte; De'Anthony Melton, Houston; Michael Porter Jr., Denver; Jerome Robinson, LA Clippers

LAST YEAR: Lonzo Ball -- 72%

What will be the biggest adjustment for you, playing in the NBA?

1. Speed or pace of the game -- 31%

2. Schedule/Length of season -- 24%

3. Physicality (size and strength of opponents) -- 19%

4. Travel -- 10%

5. Lifestyle/Time management -- 8%

Also receiving votes: Conditioning, Playing NBA defense, Not having the ball as much

LAST YEAR: Physicality (size and strength of opponents) -- 37%

What is the most important skill you need to develop?

1. Ball-handling -- 19%
    Shooting -- 19%

3. Defense -- 14%

4. Playmaking/Reading the defense -- 11%

5. Everything -- 8%

6. Motor/Work ethic -- 6%
    Strength -- 6%
    Time management -- 6%

Also receiving votes: Basketball IQ, Communication, Confidence, Leadership

Who is your favorite player in the league?

1. LeBron James, L.A. Lakers -- 29%

2. Stephen Curry, Golden State -- 9%
    Kevin Durant, Golden State -- 9%

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee -- 6%
    Chris Paul, Houston -- 6%
    Dwyane Wade -- 6%
    Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City -- 6%

Others receiving votes: Kobe Bryant; DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State; Anthony Davis, New Orleans; Paul George, Oklahoma City; James Harden, Houston; Jrue & Justin Holiday, New Orleans/Chicago; Kyrie Irving, Boston; Jusuf Nurkic, Portland; John Wall, Washington; Nick Young,

LAST YEAR: LeBron James -- 31%

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NBA offseason grades: Thunder stood out in Northwest Division

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NBA offseason grades: Thunder stood out in Northwest Division

Here is a look at how the 2018 NBA offseason went for teams in the Northwest Division...

Portland Trail Blazers, C+

2017-18 finish: 49-33, 1st round of playoffs
In: G Seth Curry, G Nik Stauskas, G Anfernee Simons, G Gary Trent, Jr.
Out: F Ed Davis, G Pat Connaughton, G Shabazz Napier

The Blazers are about as cash-strapped as anyone out there, so they had very little room to work with in free agency. They made some minor moves but nothing of real note. They had a solid draft, but picked Simons who is a long-term project. And they had to let some decent players go in free agency. The best thing that happened to the Blazers this summer was re-signing Jusuf Nurkic. Other than that, it was a pretty mediocre offseason for Portland.

Oklahoma City Thunder, A

2017-18 finish: 48-34, 1st round of playoffs
In: G Dennis Schroeder, C Nerlens Noel, G Hamidou Diallo
Out: F Carmelo Anthony

GM Sam Presti deserves high praise for another strong offseason. Most of the acclaim comes from the Thunder re-signing Paul George despite the assumption of many he would leave in free agency. But OKC also snagged Noel on a cheap deal, adding more athleticism and depth behind center Steven Adams. And they got Schroeder back in the deal for Anthony when they could have shed his salary for nothing in return. They also added three second round picks, including Diallo who looked good in the Summer League. It's hard to imagine the Thunder doing better than they did, given the financial resources they were working with.

Utah Jazz, B

2017-18 finish: 48-34, 2nd round of playoffs
In: G Grayson Allen, F Tyler Cavanaugh
Out: F Jonas Jerebko

The Jazz get most of their points from re-signing players like Dante Exum, Raul Neto and Derrick Favors. Though the price tag for Favors is a little high, they did a nice job of bringing the band back together, knowing they have an opportunity to get better this season simply by having Rudy Gobert stay healthy. The Allen pick has potential to work out very well for them. He looked good in the Summer League and should complement Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio well at the guard position. All in all, there was nothing flashy for the Jazz but they made some solid, smart decisions.

Minnesota Timberwolves, C

2017-18 finish: 47-35, 1st round of playoffs
In: F Anthony Tolliver, G Josh Okogie, F Keita Bates-Diop
Out: F Nemanja Bjelica

The Wolves have enough salary committed to where they could only do so much this summer. Tolliver is a nice pickup and should add shooting to their frontcourt. Bates-Diop gives them nice value as a second round pick. It would have been nice to see the Wolves change something via trade, but they have reason to believe they can get better if Karl-Anthony Towns continues to ascend and Andrew Wiggins reclaims his form as a scorer.

Denver Nuggets, B+

2017-18 finish: 46-36, missed playoffs
In: G Isaiah Thomas, F Michael Porter, Jr. 
Out: F Wilson Chandler, G Devin Harris

The Nuggets had a solid offseason just as they get ready to make a big leap forward as a franchise. They re-signed Nikola Jokic to a long-term deal, added Thomas on a low-risk contract and took a chance on Porter in the draft. They lost Chandler in a salary dump, but have the tools to win 50-plus games next season. Thomas could be a big difference maker if healthy and Porter gives them another building block for the future. If he can get past his back injury, he will fit in nicely with their young core.

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MORE OFFSEASON GRADES

SOUTHEAST DIVISION: WIZARDS, HEAT, MAGIC, HORNETS, HAWKS

ATLANTIC DIVISION: SIXERS, CELTICS, RAPTORS, KNICKS, NETS

CENTRAL DIVISION: CAVS, BULLS, PACERS, BUCKS, PISTONS

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