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5 storylines to watch in Wizards-Celtics second round series in NBA Playoffs

5 storylines to watch in Wizards-Celtics second round series in NBA Playoffs

Here are five storylines to watch for the Wizards vs. Celtics' second round playoff series, which starts on Sunday at 1 p.m.:

1. The Wizards and Celtics plain don't like each other

We will get into this more in a later post, but the Wizards and Celtics have developed a considerable rivalry over the last two seasons. It may not be the premier marquee battle of the Cavaliers and Warriors, and it doesn't have the history of Lakers-Celtics, but there is definitely some history between these teams. Last season, Marcus Smart broke Bradley Beal's nose and gave him a concussion. This season, John Wall was ejected from their first matchup on Nov. 9 for a flagrant foul on Smart. Then, there was the postgame confrontation between Wall and Jae Crowder on Jan. 11 in Boston, an incident that earned both of them fines. Then, of course, there was the funeral game where the Wizards wore all-black to their Jan. 24 matchup in Washington and proceeded to blow out the Celtics. There is some serious beef between these teams and it should be fun to watch them go at it.

2. Horford nearly signed with the Wizards over the summer

The Wizards entered last offseason with the goal of signing hometown superstar Kevin Durant, but like many teams couldn't make it happen. So, like many teams, they turned their attention towards Al Horford, the second-best option on the market. Horford was intrigued enough to meet with the Wizards, and according to some reports considered them as a finalist in his decision, but ended up choosing Boston instead. It has worked out fine for Horford, as the Celtics earned the No. 1 seed in the East this season, but the Wizards have also enjoyed a great year. What an ironic twist of fate that they will now play each other in the playoffs.

[RELATED: Keys to look for in Wizards-Celtics semifinal series]

3. Matchup of top point guards

Wall will go up against one of his best counterparts at the point guard position in Isaiah Thomas, a 5-foot-9 force of nature who finished third in the NBA with 28.9 points per game. Thomas gets a lot of attention for scoring at his size and on the best team in the conference. That should provide an opportunity for Wall to prove himself on the national stage. If we know anything about John Wall, he will notice that dynamic and be motivated by it.

4. Wizards aim to make franchise history

The Wizards are in the second round of the playoffs, a place they have been three times in the last four years. But one more round would put them in a place they haven't been as a franchise since 1978-79 when the Bullets made it all the way to the NBA Finals. The Wizards won a division this season and had their highest win total (49) since that season, so why stop there?

5. D.C. sports history also on the line

The Wizards haven't been in the conference finals in a long time and neither have other D.C. sports teams. No D.C. major sports team (Wizards, Nationals, Redskins, Capitals) have made the semifinals of their league since 1998 when the Caps lost to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. That's the longest drought in North American sports for cities with at least three teams in the four major leagues. We at CSN have been harping on this fact for years and years at this point, yet no one has broken through. Will the Wizards?

[RELATED: Celtics' Thomas dealing with tough times, travel before Wizards series]

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Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

Three things to watch for Wizards' regular season opener against the Heat

The Washington Wizards open their regular season on Thursday night against the Miami Heat. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Will Howard play?

Just one week ago, it would have seemed near impossible that Dwight Howard, the Wizards' biggest offseason acquisition, would be ready to play in the season opener, but after three solid days of practice, it can't be ruled out. The Wizards plan to evaluate him throughout the day on Thursday to determine if he can take the court in what would be his first live game action with his new team.

Howard, 32, missed the entire preseason and nearly all of their practices leading up to the opener with a strained piriformis muscle. Though reports have been encouraging from his three practices, he is not yet in game shape. Even if he can play, expect him to be limited. If he can't play, Ian Mahinmi will get the start.

Heat are banged up

Miami is not only coming off a game the night before, as they lost in their season opener to the Orlando Magic, but they are missing some key guys. Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Justise Winslow are out due to injuries.

That will leave Miami perilously thin at the guard and small forward position. That happens to be an area of the roster where the Wizards are especially deep, now with Austin Rivers as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley Beal and with first round pick Troy Brown Jr. behind Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

That said, Waiters and Ellington being out means Dwyane Wade may get more run and, as we saw in the preseason, he is still very hard to stop. He is capable of a big night, especially given it's so early in the year and he doesn't yet have the wear-and-tear of a long season.

Can Beal reach the next level?

One of the most important indicators of how much better the Wizards will be this season is the continued improvement of their young players. John Wall, Porter and Oubre are included in that and particularly Oubre, who is entering an important season in the final year of his contract.

But the guy who improved more than anyone last year and has a chance to take another big leap this season is Beal. Now with one All-Star nod under his belt, what does he have for an encore? 

If Beal can get his scoring average up even higher from the 22.6 he put up last season, he could enter the All-NBA conversation. And he now has more help than ever with Rivers behind him. Beal should, in theory, be more fresh each night with Rivers taking away some of his workload. 

The Heat offer a good matchup defensively for Beal with Josh Richardson. He is one of the more underrated players in basketball and is a menace on the perimeter.

"I've been a fan of his since I played him in college at Tennessee," Beal said. "He's always been a pest. He's super athletic, sneaky athletic. And I feel like he developed his shot to where you have to respect it. If you go under [on screens], he's shooting it."

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With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

With eyes set on NBA fashion world, Swaggy Picasso is quickly making a name for himself in the custom sneaker game

Lloyd Ferguson had always been infatuated with sneakers. He had long been interested in painting and abstract art. It wasn't until he was 17-years-old that he realized his biggest passions in life could converge and someday become his livelihood.

It was 2011 and the annual event Sneaker Con had stopped in Washington, D.C. Ferguson, who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., came across a vendor table with customized shoes. An artist was taking popular designs from Nike, Adidas and other brands and turning them into unique and entirely original concepts.

Ferguson approached the artist and found out all he could in terms of the process and the necessary supplies to make similar shoes of his own. A seed had been planted for years later when Ferguson would make his own mark in sneaker art and become who many now know as Swaggy Picasso.

Let's rewind a bit. Before Ferguson knew customized sneakers would be a realistic path, basketball was his biggest passion. He was good at it, enough to play at Wheaton High School and later at Montgomery College. It also became a connection to his mother who passed away when he was just 13-years-old. 

Much of Ferguson's childhood was affected by the deteriorating health of his mom, who had a stroke when he was seven and as a result became paralyzed from the waist down. He often visited her while she recovered in a nursing home and, as her condition worsened, he remained linked to her through his success in the sport.

"I wanted to make my mom happy because that was the last thing she saw me doing when I was a kid. I carried that on for her," Ferguson said. "It's just been hard. I just used the things that make me happy to get me through it."

Playing college basketball was an important achievement for Ferguson, but it was short-lived. He eventually turned to art classes and as he regained those skills, he circled back to that day at Sneaker Con and how shoes were the perfect canvas. 

He started by cleaning and repainting shoes for friends and soon realized executing his own designs could be more fulfilling creatively and more lucrative. Several years in, Ferguson is starting to make a name for himself.

His Instagram account @SwaggyPicasso has allowed him to get exposure for his work. The first one that popped online was a Maryland flag-themed pair of Jordan Taxi 12s. One thing led to another, and now Lakers guard Josh Hart has an order on the way inspired by New Jersey-based artist Kaws.

"Ever since then, I've been going H.A.M. with all the painting and it's been amazing," Ferguson said.

Ferguson says his projects can take anywhere between five hours to two days. They require an extensive preparation process before the painting even begins. He will either sketch the concept on the shoe itself or on paper and go from there.

Ferguson's workshop is in his home in Silver Spring where he lives with the pastor of his church. He tries to do two shoes per day and will often stay up until the early hours of the morning to put in the finishing touches of his designs.

"I wake up every morning as the happiest man alive because I'm using my abilities and then putting it on the things that I love most which is shoes. It's just amazing," he said.

Swaggy Picasso is just starting to blow up and and all of it is overwhelming. He next  hopes to design shoes for Wizards players like John Wall and Bradley Beal and many more NBA stars. 

He is also designing a pair of shoes for NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller, set to debut on Thursday night's broadcast of the Wizards' season opener against the Miami Heat. Ferguson will attend the game and plans to wear a unique design himself, a pair of Yeezys inspired by the Batman villain 'The Joker.'

With a love for basketball and sneakers, the NBA is the logical destination for Ferguson's work. He wants to create one-of-a-kind shoes for NBA players for a living and someday open his own shop where sneaker heads can walk in and get their own custom designs.

Ferguson appears well on his way to reaching those goals, but at only 23 is now just enjoying the journey.

"I never knew I would get this far or that people would notice me," he said. "It's still mind-blowing because it's like this is really happening."

A full feature video on Ferguson's life and work is available exclusively in the new MyTeams app. Click here to download it

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