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Hawks' Tim Hardaway, Jr. will be a big focus of Wizards after breakout season

Hawks' Tim Hardaway, Jr. will be a big focus of Wizards after breakout season

On draft night of 2015, the Wizards pulled off a three-team trade with the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks to move up to take forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. with the 15th overall selection. Also part of that trade was guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. who left New York for Atlanta. Beginning Sunday with Game 1 against the Hawks, the Wizards will get a good look at Hardaway who has enjoyed a breakout season.

The son of five-time All-NBA selection Tim Hardaway, Hardaway, Jr. is set to start at shooting guard for the Hawks this series after scoring 14.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting during the regular season. A castoff of the Knicks two years after they made him a first round pick, the 25-year-old is now a focus of the Wizards' scouting report entering the playoffs.

"They've done a good job developing him," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "He's definitely had a breakout season. He's had a breakout last couple of months on top of that. He's averaged [17.5] points a game after the All-Star break."

"After the All-Star [Game], he's been lighting it up," guard Bradley Beal said. "He's been playing really well. He has a lot of confidence. He's been starting. Everything is flowing. Great for him. That's my job, to contain him as much as possible."

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Hardaway, Jr. has indeed reached a new level since the All-Star break. He shot 47.1 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three. Brooks sees a player adding new weapons to his arsenal.

"He's done a great job working on his ability to get to the basket. He's not just a spot-up shooter. He puts the ball on the floor," he said.

Wizards point guard John Wall thinks the improvement is coming with experience. That, and something else.

"Well, definitely a contract year. That helps a lot," Wall said. "But also I think being comfortable. He's in a situation where they really use him a lot and to the best of his abilities. He shoots threes and can attack off the dribble. He's their go-to guy off the bench. When you get on a roll, you can get a lot of shots and a lot of minutes and you feel comfortable. A lot of this league is about is having confidence."

Brooks remembers playing against the elder Hardaway. Now, he is coaching against his son.

"His dad took it to me pretty easily. His dad was one of the best point guards in the game during that time. He's one of the best all time. He was just a monster at that spot. He could do it all. He was tough. He had obviously the 'Killer Crossover' and the three-point [shot]. He was a winner. He made winning basketball plays. His dad was one of the best players during the 90s," Brooks said.

Brooks shouldn't sell himself short. He was actually on the opposing team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Dec. 27, 1991 when Hardaway set an NBA record for the worst shooting performance of all time. Hardaway, then with the Golden State Warriors, missed all 17 of his shots. Brooks played 12 minutes in that game and at point guard, Hardaway's position. Pooh Richardson started at point and played the majority of the minutes vs. Hardaway that night.

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After recent progress, Wizards' defense is getting worse as they get healthier

After recent progress, Wizards' defense is getting worse as they get healthier

The 2019-20 Washington Wizards continue to stand out in the context of NBA history, and not in a good way.

We knew going into this season their defense would likely be a weakness, but to this extent? After allowing 151 points in a loss to the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Bucks on Tuesday, the Wizards became just the fourth team ever to give up 150-plus in two straight games. The Hawks dropped 152 on them on Sunday.

Tuesday was the sixth time the Wizards have given up 140 points or more already this season. That's the most such games for any team since the 1990-91 Nuggets. Reminder that this was Game 46 of the Wizards' season.

There have been six total 150-point games this season in the NBA and four of them have been against the Wizards. They allow the most points of any team on the year (121.3/g) and have the worst defensive rating (116.6). 

The latter is on pace to be the second-worst in league history only to the 2018-19 Cavaliers, who posted a 117.6. Those Cavs, though, only gave up 114.1 points per game.

The Wizards' defensive ineptitude peaked, though, in the first half of Tuesday's defeat when they allowed a shocking 88 points to the Bucks. That was a franchise-record for Milwaukee for points in a half and the most ever scored by a Wizards/Bullets opponent in a half. It was the seventh-most points scored in a first half in NBA history.

The real shame is that the Wizards had made some progress defensively not that long ago. From Dec. 28 through Jan. 15, a span of 10 games, the Wizards held opponents to 113 points a night. That would rank 20th among NBA teams if held over the whole season to this point.

That's not exactly the 90s Bulls, but combined with their high-powered offense, that gave the Wizards a winning formula. It was during that stretch that they beat three of the NBA's top teams; the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics. And they won all three games without Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant.

Those three, by the way, might be the Wizards' best players. But as the Wizards have gotten healthy, they have also taken a step backward defensively.

Defensive rating, which measures points allowed per 100 possessions, is a team stat that is tracked and charted for individual players. The number assigned to each player indicates how the team plays defensively when they are on the floor. And because it is a team-wide stat, it isn't a perfect representation of how a player performs on the defensive end.

But it can tell you who is on the floor when the team is at their best or worst and Beal and Bryant happen to have two of the three highest defensive ratings on the team. Beal is at 121 and Bryant is at 120.9. The only player worse is Rui Hachimura (123.8), who should be returning soon himself from injury.

Isaiah Thomas has the fourth-highest defensive rating on the team at 120.7, which added to the equation further illustrates how bad the Wizards' starting lineup is at preventing points. Part of it, of course, could be the simple fact that as starters they face the best players on the opposing teams.

But also many of the Wizards' best defensively rated players were logging heavy minutes when the aforementioned guys were out. Garrison Mathews (103.8), Anzejs Pasecniks (109.5), Isaac Bonga (110.2), Jordan McRae (111.9), Troy Brown Jr. (114.3), Gary Payton II (115.4), Ish Smith (115.4) and Ian Mahinmi (115.8) were leading the charge when the Wizards were missing most of their regulars.

This, of course, by no means suggests the Wizards are better without Beal, Bertans, Bryant and others. But with them back in the lineup, the Wizards are trending in the wrong direction defensively.

It's a confusing problem and one head coach Scott Brooks will need to figure out if this team plans to turn things around this season.

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Middleton outduels Beal as Bucks bury Wizards

Middleton outduels Beal as Bucks bury Wizards

The Washington Wizards lost to the Milwaukee Bucks 151-131 on the road on Tuesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. The Milwaukee Bucks may appear from afar like a one-man show; Giannis Antetokounmpo and a supporting cast of good, but nowhere near great players. On Tuesday night, the Wizards got to see the Bucks without their MVP, as he sat with a shoulder injury. Turns out they are still very, very good.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points and won by 20 as they demolished the Wizards for much of the night with the exception of some isolated second-half runs.The Wizards would end up cutting the lead to seven midway through the third quarter, but overall they were no match for the league's best team.

The Wizards fell to 15-31 on the season, while the Bucks improved to 41-6. That puts them on pace for 72 wins, which would tie the 1995-96 Bulls for the second-best regular season record of all-time.

2. We know the Wizards aren't a good defensive team. In fact, they might be the worst defense in today's game and are arguably one of the worst in league history.

But it was still shocking to see what the Bucks did to them in the first half of this game. Milwaukee made history in several ways by scoring 88 points by the break.

Those 88 points were the most ever allowed by a Wizards/Bullets team in any half. They were the seventh-most scored in a first half in NBA history. And they were the 20th-most scored by any team in any half.

The Bucks actually broke their own record against the Wizards. Last February, they scored 85 points in the first half against Washington, which at the time was the most ever scored against the franchise in a first half. At least that time they had Antetokounmpo.

This, by the way, was the sixth time this season the Wizards have allowed 140 points or more. That is the most 140-point games allowed by a team in a single season since the 1990-91 Nuggets. 

That Denver team had 24 such games, so well ahead of the Wizards' pace. But this is only Game 46 of 82 for Washington, so don't sell them short.

3. The reason why the Bucks were able do that without Antetokounmpo was because their second- and third-best players, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, stepped up and played like All-Stars. Middleton may very well be in the annual showcase next month.

Middleton had a career-high 51 points, 28 of which came in the first half. He went 7-for-10 from three.

Bledsoe added 32 points, including 22 in the first half. He was 11-for-20 from the field. He also had 10 assists and six rebounds, as he bullied the Wizards - even their big men - on the boards.

4. The Wizards were able to stick around and make it interesting because Bradley Beal also put in an All-Star performance. He dropped a season-high 47 points with six assists in 38 minutes.

It was Beal's sixth 40-point game of the season. Only James Harden (16) and Trae Young (8) have more. Beal now has 18 career 40-point games, third in franchise history behind Gilbert Arenas (28) and Walt Bellamy (23). 

5. It wasn't of the Antetokounmpo caliber, but there was a pregame injury update for the Wizards that is worth noting. Backup guard Jordan McRae wasn't able to go due to a sprained right ankle.

McRae rolled his ankle on Sunday against the Hawks and it is apparently more serious than his previous ankle injury, the one to his left ankle, that he suffered on Jan. 17 against the Raptors. That one appeared to be very severe at the time, yet he was able to play in their next game.

It is unclear how long McRae will be out, but the Wizards are expected to get rookie Rui Hachimura back, perhaps within the next week.

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