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Film study: Dwight Howard, Hawks struggle against Wizards' screen action

Film study: Dwight Howard, Hawks struggle against Wizards' screen action

Before going overboard with the Wizards' Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, it's important to understand that it's just one game. The goal for the road team in a series is to win one of the first two games, which flips home-court advantage, and it puts the burden on the higher seed to when on their home floor to get it back. 

That's what the Wizards did in 2015 when they upset then-No. 1 seed Atlanta in Game 1. The split is the goal going into Game 2. 

Now with a level head in place, time to look at what went right for the Wizards on Sunday at Verizon Center.

A lot of what transpired was reflected in the film study session that set up the series. Bradley Beal wasn't taken away as he shot 2-for-11 on 3-pointers — he just missed repeated open looks and passed on others. Marcin Gortat's help and individual defense was Ian Mahinmi-like, the ability to cover Paul Millsap without help for Markieff Morris allowed the ball pressure to take a toll elsewhere and John Wall pushed the pace whether he had numbers in transition or not and was equally successful.

Going into this series, I'd watched plenty of film on the Hawks. I stopped short of being hyper-critical of their pick-and-roll coverage because they had so many moving pieces because of injuries and ailments that it wasn't certain if it was a chemistry or IQ thing. 

The Wizards went away from being pick-and-roll heavy during the regular season to mix up their attack. In fact, they incorporated more motion first under Scott Brooks and then would flow in to pick-and-roll. And they went away from it being a 1-5 (point guard-center) and used more varations such as Morris in the 1-4 which gave the option of him diving to the rim or popping instead to the three-point arc.

When in doubt and in need for a clean look at the basket, it might be in the Wizards' best interest to go to their bread-and-butter based on how lost Altanta was in coverage. And Thabo Sefolosha, who was a healthy scratch for them, might need to find his way on the court though the Hawks lose offense with such a move.

Dwight Howard's coverage too soft on pick-and-roll ballhandler

When faced with a guard who curls or comes around the screen, Howard retreats and gives up in-rhythm, foul-line/elbow jumpers. Before the shot is even released, Howard turns, boxes out and goes for the rebound. This is where stats can be deceiving. He had a game-high 14 rebounds. He did not have a good game or outplay Gortat who had fewer (10). The most dangerous place for the ball to be is in the middle of the paint because it gives the ballhander options. He can take the shot and all of his teammates are accessible so he can find them on spot-ups. No part of the floor is closed off. Collapse into the paint, the ball goes outward for long-range bombs. Howard has to take something away and not play for rebounds, or the Hawks have to mix up coverages by using big-to-big switches if necessary. Just letting Wall step in isn't good enough.

Bigs not named Howard aren't athletic enough

What are the other options? Ersan Ilyasova, a good stretch four, and Mike Muscala who plays the spread five for Atlanta. Neither can defend Gortat on the low block. Neither are going to be much help on Wall as the ballhandler. The trap of the ball has to be aggressive. Even if the result of the play is the same something has to be taken away. The moment Gortat dives, he's Muscala's switch. Jason Smith, who is the man he's originally defender, becomes Ilyasova's switch. The big-to-big switch didn't work out. 

Poor job on dealing with screens

Beal had a miserable night shooting 18.2 percent from three-point range, but it wasn't because of Atlanta's steller defense. Often late getting over screens or a step slow on the trail technique, the Hawks were fortunate Beal didn't get cooking, too. His touch wasn't there, and he began to hestiate. But when he came alive late, those same type looks kept coming. He finished with 22 points. Banking on a smaller guard like Dennis Schroder being able to clear the screen for a late contest on a shooter of Beal's caliber isn't a good strategy. Howard has to help and his weakside help has to cover for him when he does. 

Getting beat with numbers advantages

This took place constantly in transtion, especially when Wall pushed off long rebounds and went 1 vs. 3 or 2 vs. 4. He's fast, but getting layups and and-1s are an indication of hustle, recognizing personnel and basic basketball IQ. The Hawks went 0-for-3 in Game 1. Even when the Wizards run a ram screen — screening the help big's man who is setting the ball screen — in the half-court set when the Hawks are prepared for it they botched it. They defend 3 vs. 2. That allows Howard to get back to Gortat and Kent Bazemore is there to seal Wall from the rim. Schroder, however, dies on the recovery into the play. Bazemore gambles for the block/steal from behind and whiffs. Wall ends up with an uncontested layup that shoulnd't be.

While some of these things are fixable, some might not be. But a seven-game series is about adjustments. The Hawks will make them, but the Wizards will have theirs in anticipation. The Hawks may have to change up some personnel groupings and maybe even sacrifice some offense to get better defense.

The Wizards dropped 114 points despite shooting less than 40 percent for most of the game.

MORE WIZARDS: It's not time to panic over Bradley Beal's Game 1 performance

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Nets, as Wizards aim for fourth straight win

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards battle Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, D'Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Wizards are on a roll

Say what you will about the opponents they've beaten, but the Wizards are heating up. They have won three straight games with their last one a blowout over the Cavs. This is their longest win streak of the season.

Four in a row would be a nice number. The Wizards only had two win streaks of at least four games last season. One stopped at four and the longest ended at five. 

Nets have their number

Speaking of last season, the Wizards had a heck of a time facing this same Brooklyn team. They lost two of their three meetings in 2017-18 with the lone win coming in overtime. One of their losses was by 35 points.

The Nets, though they haven't won 30 games in each of the past three seasons, are now pushovers. They are well-coached by Kenny Atkinson and are known for trying very hard despite their lack of talent. The Wizards generally have problems with those types of teams. Winning this game could help them prove this is a new year.

Nets have some players now

Brooklyn has been ridiculed in recent years as the Boston Celtics have reaped the benefits of their high draft picks stemming from the infamous Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett trade. But along the way, the Nets have done a decent job of finding young talent without hitting the lottery.

Caris LeVert was probably the best example of that, though he is now nursing a serious ankle injury and will miss this game. But Brooklyn also has guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who this year is averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 assists while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from three. They also have Joe Harris, who is putting up 13.4 points on a ridiculous 52.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from three. 

Then there's Jarrett Allen, who was acquired using a first round pick the Wizards sent Brooklyn in the Bojan Bogdanovic deal. At just 20 years old, he's turning into a nice young player. This year he's averaging 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.


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Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

USA Today

Austin Rivers wants to interview Jay-Z and Barack Obama; still can't get John Wall on his podcast

Just one episode into his new podcast 'Go Off,' Wizards guard Austin Rivers is already learning plenty about the media world. With plans to become a television analyst when his playing days are done, Rivers is gaining a new appreciation for what it takes to speak at-length without stumbling over his words.

He's also starting to realize one of the biggest pain points for a media member: waiting on guests. Rivers has tried to line up interviews with his teammates and it's been much easier said than done.

Rivers is set to have Dwight Howard on as his first guest, but the original plan was point guard John Wall. Wall, though, has been giving him the runaround.

"That's the hardest thing is getting guests to show up," Rivers said. 

"It's impossible to get John on my podcast. At this point, I just don't expect it anymore. He says he'll do it next week and then the week comes. John has like 15 things to do a day. I don't know what these guys do. I play in the league, too. I know how un-busy my life is outside of this. And I've got a kid. John has a brand to run. He's a different level. Sorry, you can see the frustration on my face with not getting John on my podcast, man."

Rivers hopes to have many of his teammates on. He mentioned Kelly Oubre Jr. and how an interview with Oubre "might be a little out there." He also gave a hint about what his conversation with Howard will be like.

"I'm definitely gonna have some interesting topics to bring up with Dwight. I told him 'listen, you might want to check with your publicist before coming on my podcast.' We only talk about real conversations on here," Rivers said.

Rivers says he plans to start with fellow NBA players and then work in special episodes with guests outside of the league and even outside of basketball. He hopes to record an episode with financial advisors to talk about money and investments. He wants to take a deep dive into the AAU circuit and how it can be fixed.

Eventually, Rivers wants to aim very high with his guests. He gave a list of his dream interviews and there are some big names.

"Kobe Bryant or Dwyane Wade. Dwyane Wade is my favorite player. I'm gonna get Dwyane Wade on my podcast, for sure. I'm gonna go ahead and put that out there," Rivers said.

"Off-the-court, I would love to get Denzel Washington on there. That would be my dream... I want to do a podcast with me and my dad and Jaden Smith and Will Smith. I think that would be really dope, talking about parent-to-son success and how he related to his son to have a work ethic and how my dad did it to me."

Rivers went even higher. He wants to interview a president.

"I guess if I could go the highest, I would go Jay-Z or [Barack] Obama. But let's be realistic, here," Rivers said.

"[Interviewing Obama] would be incredible, bro. I would be so nervous. I'm not there yet, I'll be honest. I need like six or seven or eight more podcasts before I can get Obama on there because I'm gonna be stuttering. I can't do it with Obama yet. I don't know if I could handle Denzel right now."