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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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Isaiah Thomas ready to return to Boston for first time as a starter

Isaiah Thomas ready to return to Boston for first time as a starter

WASHINGTON -- It is not easy to carve out a legacy with the Boston Celtics, the team that owns the most NBA championships (17) and the most Hall of Famers (33). Good players come and go. Only the greats are remembered.

Isaiah Thomas, though, left a unique imprint behind. He was the best player on a team that reached the conference finals, a small feat in the context of Celtics history. But the way he played and the way he persevered through off-court tragedy and injury endeared him to fans in a special way.

Thomas only played two-and-a-half seasons with the Celtics, but he feels secure in the memories he left as he looks ahead to Wednesday where he will return to Boston for the first time as a starter. Being in the Wizards' starting lineup, Thomas' name will be announced before the game. And he has a good feeling for how it will go.

"They're gonna cheer. They're definitely not gonna boo," he said. "I love them just as much as they do."

Thomas made two All-Star teams with the Celtics and earned All-NBA honors in the 2016-17 season. That year Boston outlasted the Wizards in seven games in the second round of the playoffs.

Late in the 2016-17 season, Thomas' final in Boston, he lost his sister, Chyna, in a car accident and he tore the labrum in his right hip. The injury has continued to affect his career in the years since, as he has yet to reclaim his All-Star form.

So far with the Wizards, Thomas has played well. He signed as a free agent in the offseason and this year has averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 assists while shooting 36.4 percent from three. 

He is looking forward to Wednesday as an opportunity to show he can still play at a high level in the arena he had his best NBA years.

"Before the game it will be all fun and games and after the game. But once the game starts, they're the enemy. I'm just gonna try to win," he said.

"I visualize going for 50 on them. That's the plan and to win the game. But I hope that night is not about me and it takes away from what this team is all about."

Most of the Celtics' roster has been turned over since Thomas left. The only two remaining teammates of his are Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. When asked for the scouting report on them, Thomas quipped about Smart: "he flops."

Thomas may not know most of the players on the roster, but he knows head coach Brad Stevens well. Stevens is considered one of the league's best coaches and Thomas can list the reasons why.

"I think it's his preparation," Thomas explained. "He puts every player on the roster in position for them to be the best player they can possibly be and that's tough. He has a great system. He's an overall great coach. It's tough to go up against a coach like that because he's unpredictable."

Now, this won't be the first time Thomas has returned to Boston. It is just the first time as a starter, but it is also at a point where he has made some notable progress on the court towards being the player he once was.

The Boston fans have cheered him since he left and he's looking forward to seeing them again.

"That was a special moment, for real," Thomas said of going back last year while he was with the Nuggets. "The love they showed me, you would have thought I won a championship and was there 10 years-plus. I was only there almost three years."

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John Wall fires back at FS1's Nick Wright over comparison to Jared Goff

John Wall fires back at FS1's Nick Wright over comparison to Jared Goff

FS1's Nick Wright went in on Rams' quarterback Jared Goff Monday after a poor performance in Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and linked the former No. 1 pick to another No. 1 pick, John Wall. 

Wall promptly responded to Wright's criticism and the latter clarified his claims.

With Wall expected to be sidelined for the entirety of the 2019 NBA season, his contract has been under constant scrutinization. Goff, on the other hand, is fully healthy and has been struggling mightily this season.

Goff has thrown for 2610 yards this season with 12 touchdowns and an alarming 9 interceptions. 

He recently agreed to a four-year, $134 million contract and has not lived up to it thus far.

The Wizards are hopeful that Wall can get back to full health and rejoin this group when he is ready.

With a depleted roster, the Wizards are currently sitting at a 2-6 record, but anyone who follows this team knows the fight they've put in game-in and game-out and that their record doesn't tell the full story. 

The Wizards travel to Boston for a Wednesday night showdown with the Celtics who are currently boasting the best record in the NBA at 8-1.

This will be a matchup that you do not want to miss.

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