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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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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

kz-okpala-stanford-shot-usat.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

Neil Olshey signs extension with Trail Blazers, off the table for Wizards job

After Tim Connelly decided to re-join the Nuggets rather than take the Wizards' vacant front-office position, Washington has been forced back to the drawing board.

The Wizards have interviewed Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver, former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry and Wizards interim team president Tommy Sheppard.

In addition to those names, NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig reported the team could have interest in Trail Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

That option was eliminated Friday when Olshey signed an extension to remain with Portland. 

With Connelly and Olshey off the table, there are fewer high-profile candidates left for the Wizards to consider as replacements for Ernie Grunfeld. 

Standig noted that Warriors assistant general manager Larry Harris could also draw interest from Washington. 

The franchise is running out of time to find their new front-office leader with less than a month remaining before the NBA Draft. 

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