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Four-point play: Rebounding from momentum shifts key Wizards' win

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Four-point play: Rebounding from momentum shifts key Wizards' win

Plenty happened during the Washington Wizards' 104-98 road win over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in Game 1 of their best-of-7 series against the Atlanta Hawks. Here's a look at some of the lineup, rebounding, streaky and historic action that took place while spinning it forward to Game 2 on Tuesday.

Taking a break

During the first half and early in the third quarter, NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer called timeout whenever the Wizards gained significant ground on the Hawks. Three times these stoppages in play not only led to Atlanta regrouping, but a notable counter-surge. 

Deeper into the second half, perhaps Budenholzer waited too long before trying to change momentum.

First quarter: Otto Porter and Drew Gooden enter, immediately sparking a Wizards 8-0 run to tie the game at 20-20 with 4:11 remaining in the period. Timeout, Atlanta. Hawks then pull ahead with a 13-2 run in less than three minutes.

Second quarter: Bradley Beal scores four points during a 6-0 spurt as the Wizards trim the Hawks' lead to 41-36 with 6:18 left before halftime. Timeout, Atlanta. Kyle Korver hits a 3-pointer seven seconds after play resumes, starting an 8-4 run. The Hawks lead 63-53 at halftime.

Third quarter: Here they go again. John Wall sinks three jumpers and an 8-0 run cuts the lead to 65-61 with 8:15 left in the period. Timeout. Atlanta. Hawks soar upon returning with seven straight points for a 72-61 lead with 6:37 remaining.

Washington coach Randy Wittman calls a timeout at that point -- and Pierce drained a 3-pointer on the next possession. That started a closing surge in the period as the Wizards outscored the Hawks 20-11 to trail 83-81 entering the fourth.

Two timeouts took place early in the fourth quarter - one official and one called by the Wizards. By the time Budenholzer asks for one with 3:49 remaining in the game, Washington is already ahead for good. Atlanta's next offensive trip comes up empty. Washington's does not. Porter's 3-pointer puts the Wizards up 98-91 with 3:16 left.

The Wizards easily could have wilted in Game 1 on the road against the top seed after falling behind several times by double digits. That didn't happen no matter how times the momentum shifted against them.

Points and boards

The heralded lineup with Paul Pierce and Porter at forward - and flanked by Wall, Beal and Marcin Gortat - played 10 minutes together in Game 1. Unlike the previous series against Toronto, they lost ground against Atlanta. Hardly a disaster, but the 5-man unit finished with a net rating* of minus-6.6 despite robust offensive numbers (126.3). The same group went plus-36 in the four game sweep over The Raptors.

(* Difference in offensive and defensive rating. Each of those ratings shows points generated or allowed per 100 possessions)

Perhaps the biggest concern going forward lies with the rebounding. According to NBA.com, this smallish lineup only grabbed 37.5 percent of any available defensive rebounds, easily the worst for any of Washington's lineup (The standard starting five look with Nene replacing Porter snagged 76.9 percent). Against Toronto, the Pierce-Porter-Wall-Beal-Gortat unit grabbed 82.6 of all defensive rebound chances.

Overall, the Wizards finished with 54-52 rebounding advantage, but the Hawks edged them out on the offensive boards (16-15).  Atlanta ranked 27th in rebounding overall and was the NBA's worst offensive rebounding team during the regular season, but didn't look like it when constant crashing led to six official shot attempts - all missed - on one possession inside the final two minutes. Washington finished tied for sixth in rebounding this season.

Matching up

Atlanta forward Paul Millsap is a matchup nightmare for the Wizards. He can shoot over and drive past bigger defenders (Nene, Drew Gooden) on the perimeter and pound smaller options (Pierce) inside. He nearly had a triple-double in Game 1 (15 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists), but only finished 6 of 17 from the field including 1 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc. Don't count on Millsap missing so many open looks in the next game, but expect the versatile forward to remain a pest this series.

Meanwhile, Washington finished with a net rating of plus-24 with Porter on the court and a minus-16.6 when the small forward sat. The lithe 6-foot-8 forward grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds and scored 10 points for his double-double. As was the case against Toronto, Porter's took advantage of the defense focusing attention elsewhere with constant movement and strong basketball instincts. That led to open shots that he made and being in position for caroms off the glass which the two-way threat grabbed.

History lesson

The Hawks lost despite holding a 10-point halftime lead. That's not only a dagger for the Eastern Conference's top seed, but a rare scenario in playoff history. From the Elias Sports Bureau: This is just the second time a No. 1 seed lost a game in the first or second round in which it led by double digits at halftime, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers lost their first game of the 2001 playoffs despite holding a double-digit lead against the Indiana Pacers. The 76ers eventually reached the NBA Finals. (h/t ESPN).

RELATED: [Stephen Curry edges out James Harden for 2014--15 MVP]

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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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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