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5 keys for Wizards to win series vs. Hawks

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5 keys for Wizards to win series vs. Hawks

No matter how well the Wizards played in the first round, that'll have nothing to do what happens vs. the Atlanta Hawks, who host Games 1 and 2 Sunday and Tuesday, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They'll go as far as the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal takes them. 

The Hawks' ability to spread the floor with five shooters poses matchup problems for everyone, but like the Toronto Raptors who weren't quite as versatile with their post players, the Wizards have a quiet confidence that they can win this series to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1978-79:

  • Wall's and Beal's turnovers will set the tone. If they're in a giving mood, it will be a short series. In the first two losses to the Hawks, the Wizards had 20 turnovers in each. The backcourt accounted for 12 in a four-point loss and 10 in a 31-point loss. The one game that the Wizards had a chance to win, and led late, they only accounted for three turnovers. Put Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in transition with shooters spotting up around the arc and it's asking for trouble. 

 

  • Don't be surprised if the Wizards dare Al Horford to beat them. Horford is an All-Star and a very versatile player. But there's a belief that playing him straight up, and allowing him to get his points if necessary, is a better option than allowing Teague to get in the lane and Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap to get clean looks from three-point range. The question becomes who among the starters is best-suited for that assignment. Marcin Gortat is a true center while Horford is undersized but having him pulled away from the basket to defend isn't ideal for him or Nene. Horford averaged 12.7 shot attempts per game in the regular season. If he takes closer to 16-18, which would mean fewer threes from Atlanta, that's probably better for the Wizards even if he shoots a decent percentage. 

  • This is where Ramon Sessions, who was acquired in a trade after the three losses, pays off most. When Atlanta's reserves come in with Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack, Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott, the pressure doesn't relent. It's where the Wizards severely lacked with Andre Miller who was traded for Sessions as a result. Drew Gooden is a given with the second unit, which means Kris Humphries likely takes a back seat when it comes to playing time in this series, too. None of the Hawks' players can defend Kevin Seraphin one-on-one in the post but they create such havoc on the defensive end that the Wizards can't take advantage of him. This will be Sessions' job, and maybe where Will Bynum could factor in, too, to give them a dose of their own medicine.

  • Nene stays focused on rebounding. In two of the three losses, the Wizards have come up short on the smaller, less physically imposing team. In the one game that Nene didn't play, the Nov. 25 matchup, is when the Wizards actually had a rebounding edge. He only has nine total rebounds in the two games he played which just isn't enough no matter how much time he logs. When the Wizards got off to a good start by upsetting the Raptors twice at home in the first round, Nene averaged 11 rebounds.

  •  The Paul Pierce-Otto Porter connection continues to work. They belong on the court at the same time. Pierce is about the buckets while Porter is about the utility work. If Porter is hitting the open jump shot, too, this combination becomes a major equalizer to open the floor for Wall or Sessions to get in the paint. 

[MORE WIZARDS: Rundown of Wizards' difficulties facing Hawks]

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

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The Bradley Beal All-NBA Dilemma: How NBA execs would handle the big question facing the Wizards

“How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?”

That brain-busting question from a current NBA general manager came before the February 7 trade deadline when rumors involving Wizards guard Bradley Beal swirled.

Another migraine-inducing conundrum is forthcoming whether Beal receives All-NBA honors or not.

Should the league’s upcoming announcement of its first, second and third team include the two-time All-Star, the Wizards may have no choice but to break up the backcourt pairing with John Wall that fueled the franchise’s most sustained success since winning the 1978 title.

This honor comes with a financial reward-- if extended to Beal by the Wizards --  in the form of a supermax contract worth approximately $193 million over four years that would begin in 2021-22. He still has two years and $56 million remaining on the valued five-year, $127 million deal he signed in 2016.

The issue is less about Beal’s hefty chunk of the Wizards’ salary cap, but combining it with Wall’s four-year, $170 million supermax deal that begins next season. Offer Beal the supermax and, should he accept, approximately 71 percent of the team’s future salary cap beginning in the 2021-22 season would be chewed up by two players.

Beal and Wall, when healthy, are All-Stars. They’re not Jordan and Pippen.

NBC Sports Washington spoke with over a dozen league sources in recent weeks including three current or former general managers, other executives, NBA coaches, and scouts, about Beal’s contract situation and the Wizards’ overall equation coming off a 32-50 campaign.

Some dutifully tried putting themselves in the mindset of Washington’s next front office leader knowing Beal’s contract status and other limiting or uncertain factors.

The executives shared opinions on whether to boldly hold or sell high on the Wizards’ best player. Regardless of their stance, their initial instinct almost unanimously landed in the same place as this current lead executive: “I have no idea what you would do.”

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There’s an incredibly strong argument for doing nothing. How do you get a player better than Brad if you trade Brad?

Several NBA sources largely acknowledge the choice almost gets removed from the Wizards front office should Beal receive the All-NBA nod. Even if Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson or Ben Simmons trump Beal in the voting, events from early February may effectively force the Wizards’ hand.

Washington faced its second consecutive luxury tax payment, diminishing playoff hopes and the knowledge that Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury.

Despite those negatives and salary cap concerns with only five players catapulting the team over next season’s salary cap, big picture hope existed. The headliners -- Wall, Beal and Otto Porter -- previously put the Wizards in a playoff contender mode. “We're not trading any of those players,” Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said at the time.

There’s a good reason to believe Leonsis meant what he said. Then life intervened and forced change.

Wall’s left Achilles ruptured during the first week of February. The recovery time means an entire calendar year and perhaps the full 2019-20 season. Those negatives, especially with the salary cap, were now amplified.

Washington dealt with that financial scenario two days after the Wall status update by trading Porter and Markieff Morris to slide under the luxury tax.

Another life event requiring a financial decision could happen soon.

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There’s no debating whether Beal is worthy of the All-NBA accolade. Some believe he is a favorite to snag one of the two guard spots on the third-team.

The dilemma is can the Wizards justify offering a contract with those hefty terms knowing what’s already on the books, plus the upcoming challenges.

Pass and the likelihood of trading Beal at peak value becomes a leading option. Hold Beal regardless and his trade value effectively decreases over the next two seasons with the possibility he leaves as a 2021 free agent without compensation.

“The Wizards is a hard job right now,” a former GM told NBC Sports Washington. “There’s a lot to figure out. Timelines can’t be certain with John Wall in particular. For Bradley Beal, that's a decision… Hard to walk in [to those interviews) with a specific plan.”

Leave the supermax contract off the table and the human element arises. Those familiar with Beal’s mindset do not see a Robin to Wall’s Batman. Co-headliners, cool, but then pay and appreciate accordingly. Maybe folks could start referring to the pair as Beal and Wall once in a while.

Forget the money, which isn’t Beal’s driving motivation. As one source familiar with Beal’s thinking stated, “Brad needs to be in the playoffs. He’s not disruptive...Brad just wants to win.”

The Wizards might not be in playoff position next season even if Beal maintains his All-NBA level. It's a near lock they won't if the 2012 first-round pick is traded.

Beal averaged 30.9 points in February, the same month he dropped a season-high 46 at Charlotte and his All-NBA buzz soared. Beal joined 2019 MVP finalist James Harden as the only players this season to average at least 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals.

The wing guard’s leadership kept Washington tangibly in the playoff race until realities of the undermanned roster kicked in.

“I think [Brad is] an all-NBA player in my eyes,” said Wall, an All-NBA selection in 2016. “You know how tough it is to make that team? It’s always tough. The year he’s had speaks for itself.”

How do you trade that player especially one groomed by the organization since selecting him third overall in 2012? You can't -- but the Wizards might not have a choice.

Nobody recognizes this more than Bradley Beal.

"Honestly, I’m here until I’m not here," Beal told NBC Sports Washington earlier this month. "I’m not thinking too strong on it. My personal desire is to be here and see the direction we go. Hopefully, the correct direction.

"I keep hearing the possibility of rebooting, trading Brad and getting assets back. It’s a business. I understand both sides of it. I can’t be mad at it."

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

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Bradley Beal rooted for the Capitals to win the Stanley Cup, so now he deserves to see his hometown team win it this year

The St. Louis Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks Tuesday to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970, where they were eliminated by the Boston Bruins.

They will look to even the odds, as they will be taking on the Bruins yet again on Monday night.

Blues fan and St. Louis native Bradley Beal will hope that his hometown squad will take the cup from the reigning champs, the Washington Capitals, and win the matchup against the Bruins.

Beal cheered on the Caps just a year ago and is ready to show out for the surging Blues.

To really put it into perspective how long it has been since the Blues played for the Cup, take a look at the number one song in the country when these two teams faced off 49 years ago. 

The Blues besting the Bruins will be a challenge, and Beal will be ready to root for his squad until the final buzzer.

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