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Morning tip: Keys to look for in Wizards-Celtics semifinal series

Morning tip: Keys to look for in Wizards-Celtics semifinal series

ATLANTA -- The long-awaited series between the Wizards and Boston Celtics is here, and it begins Sunday at TD Garden. They don't like each other in the regular season and that animosity is likely to reach new heights in the semifinals.

For the Wizards to upset the No. 1 seed, this is what has to happen:

-- Isaiah Thomas makes them go. During the regular season coach Scott Brooks deployed Kelly Oubre on him and it worked. He's more athletic than the 5-9 guard and has a 7-2 wingspan. The film study for reference.

-- Al Horford isn't a true center. He's a power forward who is undersized against true centers like Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi. It's unclear when Mahinmi will be available after a left calf strain but Brooks told CSNmidatlantic.om early Friday if there was a Game 7 vs. the Hawks, which would've been Sunday, he wouldn't be able to play. Game 1 vs. Boston is Sunday.

-- Avery Bradley is one of the NBA's best defending backcourt players. He's fast, physical and strong on the ball. Bradley Beal will have his work cut out for him just to catch the ball cleanly. Bradley will try to deny him and will be aggressive over screens which means the seams for Beal will be backdoor and selling his moves to the arc and getting into the paint to breakdown the defense. The Celtics don't have true rim protection.

-- The second unit for the Celtics doesn't blow anyone away but Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier can get hot. They share the ball and allowing them to freely move the ball to step into open looks will make decent players look better than they actually are. 

[RELATED: Wall and Beal can't stop grinning talk about 73-point game]

-- It's hard to imagine that the Celtics will go with Amir Johnson vs. Markieff Morris for any prolonged period of time -- he lasted four minutes before coach Brad Stevens yanked him from one game -- but if that happens that's a major mismatch that has to be manipulated at every turn. 

-- The Celtics can't hide Thomas defensively. John Wall and Beal can and have posted him for easy buckets or force help that opens other teammates for clean looks. If they try to hide him vs. Porter who is 6-8 that's a near 50% three-point shooter. Thomas has to be forced to defend every possession on the court, unlike when the Chicago Bulls let him off the hook in Game 4. They allowed Thomas to be protected by defending the 6-foor-8 Paul Zipser who wasn't involved in any of the action. 

-- Morris did a great job keeping his hands to himself in Game 6 vs. Atlanta. He has to repeat it for the playoffs. Getting cheap reach-ins is the biggest weakness in his game and he has to realize he doesn't have to get a block or steal every possession. Sometimes he has to have restraint and make sure he's available for the fourth quarter. 

-- The Wizards had 17 turnovers, seven by Wall, on Friday. The Celtics' transtion game which features a lot of trail threes is fueled by such givewaways. 

-- Gortat will get the post touches vs. Horford that he didn't get vs. Dwight Howard. The Wizards will go to him to start quarters to get him involved since Horford can't keep him off the low block. Can Gortat hit the shots? If he can, that alone changes the tone of the series because Horford can't bang with him down low for an entire game.

-- Defending the high post action. Horford initates most of it with dribble pitches and handoffs as the Celtics do a lot of split action to confuse the defense with their movement. Horford averaged 5.0 assists in the regular season which led post players. Not allowing him the room or space to do what he wants with the ball is a significant factor. Gortat hasn't always been consistent with ball pressure this far from the rim. That has to change. And the wings have to do their best to blow up the handoffs.

-- Because of their size problem, the Celtics will have issues rebounding. This is where Mahinmi gives the Wizards that second big to give them headaches on the boards but until he returns Gortat, Morris and Jason Smith should be enough. Thomas has no business getting tip-ins like he did in their last regular-season game won by Boston. If that happens, bad sign. 

[RELATED: Things get emotional after Chenier's last game in the booth]

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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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Wizards fail to contain Khris Middleton and fall to league-leading Bucks by 20

Wizards fail to contain Khris Middleton and fall to league-leading Bucks by 20

The Bucks didn't have Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it didn't really matter in the end as the Bucks downed the Wizards 151-131 Tuesday night in Milwaukee. 

The Wizards trailed by as many as 32 in this one, and were down 25 at the half, but as we've learned with this team, they never truly go away. And they always give us a few moments worth watching again. 

Here are some of the best moments from Washington's loss at Fiserv Forum. 

Kobe Bryant tribute

Tuesday was the Bucks' first game since Kobe Bryant passed away Sunday in a helicopter crash so after they won the tip, they took a 24-second violation to honor the late NBA legend.

The Wizards already participated in a similar tribute against the Hawks but took an eight-second violation on the following play regardless. 

The entire sports world was gutted by Bryant's tragic death, and as we continue to see tributes dedicated to him every day, it shows just how far his reach was as a global icon. 

Beal posterizes Lopez

As we stated before, the Wizards were down by as many as 32 points and faced a 25-point halftime deficit. They were able to get things close at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, and much of the credit should go to Beal's loud poster dunk over Brook Lopez. 

Beal was so pumped up after this slam that he got a technical foul for taunting Lopez after the play. Beal secured a career-high sixth 40-point game of the year and went shot-for-shot with Khris Middleton throughout the second half. 

Middleton just couldn't miss. At all. 

Thomas Bryant draws the Wizards close

There was a time that the Wizards nearly clawed their way into a one-possession game with the NBA's best team. Thanks to Beal's heroics of course, but also Thomas Bryant's finishing inside. 

Bryant had a double-double in the game in what was his best game since coming back from injury. 

Interestingly enough, he played his best at the center spot and not power forward. Scott Brooks has been starting Bryant next to Ian Mahinmi and it's resulted in clunky offense and embarrassingly bad defense for the Wizards. 

After this game, Brooks may want to think about changing up the starting five. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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