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John Wall circles big games on Wizards' 2015-16 schedule

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John Wall circles big games on Wizards' 2015-16 schedule

Some version of "Circle the date on the calendar" will be uttered numerous times throughout the 2015-16 NBA season. Most likely by an announcer starting the early hype job for an upcoming matchup against an All-Star type player like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, or a title contender like the Clippers, Spurs or Hawks. Recently I said something similar to Wizards guard John Wall, but in question form. Sliding a copy of Washington's entire 2015-16 schedule in front of him, I asked the two-time All-Star to circle the games he's most looking forward to this season.

Standing on the set of various CSN shows, the point guard immediately grabbed a pen and used his renowned court vision to seek out those foes he's most excited to face on the court this season.

"I just like Cleveland," Wall stated. "Where is Cleveland at?"

RELATED: Extension talks between Wizards, Beal haven't progressed much

The Wizards and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers meet four times this season. Wall quickly found and circled the two home matchups on Jan. 6 and Feb. 28, but didn't mark the two road games. Perhaps Wall disagrees with Drew Carey and doesn't believe Cleveland rocks. He does know the Eastern Conference chase runs through Northeast Ohio. "They're the team everybody wants to see. It's a big matchup against LeBron [James] and them," Wall said.

More circles followed. The regular season finale at Atlanta - "big game" pits Washington against a Hawks team that ended the Wizards' playoff dreams. Reigning NBA Champion Golden State's lone Verizon Center appearance received a mark "because of Steph [Curry]." That works because a battle between those All-Star point guards epitomizes must-see TV.

Wall then selected the lone road game on his personal hype list.

"I like [playing] the Clippers," Wall said of the one Los Angeles-based NBA team expected to actually compete for a title this season. (Sorry, Kobe Bryant).

The reasons for picking the Clippers extend beyond the challenge of facing fellow yet another All-Star point guard in Chris Paul. "I like playing at Staples Center a lot. I love playing in LA*. ...I love going to go up against the best point guards, but I love playing in LA."

[* This is reason number 382 why the Wizards were wise not letting Wall sniff free agency]

By the way, there is apparently a difference between Clippers and Lakers games at the Staples Center beyond Jack Nicholson: The lighting.

"That's why I love playing in the Staples Center when the Lakers play there," Wall said. "When the Clippers play, too bright."

Five of Washington's first seven games are against playoff teams from last season. This does not include Wednesday's season opener at Orlando. This certainly includes Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting Verizon Center less than a week after Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs do the same. 

"It makes it fun," Wall said of the early tests. "You always want to get of to a great start, but when you get those tough, tough teams, you see how you are early on. If you take a loss, you take it early. You don't have to worry about it when you're trying to make that playoff push."

Nobody will be thinking about a potential playoff on Nov. 10.  In case you haven't heard, there is some interest locally with Kevin Durant. Something about the Prince George's County product becoming a free agent next summer and everyone in the DMV hoping he brings his talents to Chinatown.

Anyway, the game with the Thunder will be Washington's seventh of the season. The pre-game hype will be considerable, but Durant's one visit per year will also be out of the way. [Washington completes the season series Feb. 1 in OKC.] From Wall's perspective, that's a good thing.

"Yes, because that's going to be a hassle," Wall said, alluding to what will certain become a media frenzy for several days. "On a Tuesday night, that place is going to be rocking with him coming into town."

No need to remind all you Wizards fans about this matchup. Something tells me that like Wall, you've already got Durant's visit circled on your calendar.

MORE WIZARDS: Wizards get pleasant surprise from Martell Webster

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Wizards vs. Heat: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Wizards vs. Heat: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Wizards take to the court Thursday night for the 2018-19 NBA opener against the Miami Heat.

The Wizards made some major moves this offseason, with the organization looking to capitalize on the opening atop the Eastern Conference power structure. The Wizards used their first-round pick on Oregon wing Troy Brown jr., and acquired a talented backup guard in Austin Rivers. The cherry on the top of the Wizards offseason sundae was big-man Dwight Howard, who missed three weeks due to a strained piriformis muscle, but participated in his first full practice with his new team Monday.

While the season opener won't tell us who will win the NBA championship in 2019, it will give us a decent outline of what the Wizards look like and where they could be headed this season.

The Wizards-Heat season opener takes place on Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8:00 p.m. at Capital One Arena and will be braodcast on NBC Sports Washington.

WIZARDS vs. HEAT HOW TO WATCH
What: Washington Wizards vs. Miami Heat, 2018 NBA regular season Game 1
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: The Wizards vs. Heat will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)
Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Heat on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the new MyTeams App.
Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. HEAT TV SCHEDULE
7:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)
7:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)
8:00 PM: Miami Heat @ Wizards (LIVE)
10:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)
11:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)
11:30 PM: D.C. Sports Live (LIVE)

WIZARDS vs. KNICKS INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Dwight Howard (day-to-day)
Heat: Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Wayne Ellington (day-to-day)

WIZARDS vs. HEAT PLAYERS TO WATCH

John Wall, Wizards: After missing 41 games due to injuries, Wall is looking to recapture his form of two seasons ago, when he averaged a career high in points (23.1), assists (10.7), and field goal percentage (.451). 

Bradley Beal, Wizards: Beal and Wall are, and will always be the straw that stirs the drink in Washington. Beal is coming off a career year, where he was asked to do a lot more with Wall missing half the season. The hope this year is he can continue on last year's All-Star season while lowering his minutes per game as well (36.3).

Goran Dragic, Heat: Led Miami in scoring (17.3 points per game) and assists (4.8). 

WIZARDS vs. KNICKS SERIES HISTORY 

Number of all-time Meetings: 121 games
Regular Season Record: Heat lead 81-40
Last Meeting: Heat won 129-102
Last 10: Heat lead 7-3

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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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