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Morning tip: Most important areas and matchups in Wizards-Hawks playoff series

Morning tip: Most important areas and matchups in Wizards-Hawks playoff series

Both teams, the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, are very different from the teams that played each other on opening night of the regular season. 

Even when these teams last played March 22, a 104-100 win for the Wizards at Verizon Center that clinched the season series 3-1, there have been changes.

The No. 5 seed Hawks didn't have Paul Millsap or Kent Bazemore because of injuries in their final meeting. They'll have both today in Game 1 of the first-round series. 

The path to victory for the Wizards:

Bigs vs. Dwight Howard

First, if he wants to isolate and take 12-15 foot bank shots, let him. He has a tendency to hold the ball. Within 10 feet of the basket is the danger zone for Howard, who feasts on second-chance points and putbacks. He shoots 65.7% from  less than 10 feet. Anywhere else he's well under 40%. Chances are Mike Muscala will defend the stretch bigs, and if so there are switches that can be made to take more dangerous players away and leave samller ones with Muscala. He doesn't aggressively post up. He's a jump shooter.

Battle of power forward Markieff Morris with "stretch four" Paul Millsap

Markieff Morris, who doesn't like being called a "stretch," had this to say about him getting the best of Paul Millsap in their matchup during the season. "Not taking plays off. Not giving him anything free. Fouling the (expletive) out of him when I got a chance." it was a bit more complex than that, but the advantages that Millsap has on bigs or undersized players trying to defend him is harder to come by with Morris who is 6-10 and presents as much trouble on the offensive end. The Hawks run screen-and-roll more with Millsap than Howard because he can spread. Morris can face up Millsap. And if he ends up matched with Ersan Ilyasova, he can get his shot whenver he wants. Ilyasova hasn't been able to stay in front of Morris off the dribble (Ample evidence here from earlier in the season: Wizards' problems solved with Morris at the stretch 4).

[RELATED: How do Wizards view 1st-round series with Hawks?]

System offense doesn't respond well to pressure

Ball pressure and being in the passing lanes will take the Hawks out of their rhythm. The key is to be prepared for the backdoor cuts they'll make in an attempt to make the defense pay for overplaying. Every team runs motion strong/weak sets and have their wrinkles out of it. Same with horns sets or triangle which Hawks will flow into out of motion. Pushing the ball out of the operational zone and forcing them to get shots later in the clock usually will mean lower-efficiency shots.  

Keep ball out of the paint

Dennis Schroder has improved his shot, but he's still not a knockdown shooter. He wants to get into the lane and finish. If the help is in place from the frontline, going for the strip from behind is a good strategy because you can recover. But the key is everyone being in position before making the gamble.

Keeping track of Tim Hardaway

When it was Kyle Korver who Bradley Beal had to keep track of, it was a much easier assignment despite him shooting an NBA-best 49.2% from three-point range two years ago. Korver shifted around the arc and rarely attacked the rim. Beal has to play Hardaway for the three and the off-ball cut. He gets his head turned around, loses him and he has an easy deuce. Hardaway is prone to take rushed and low-percentage shots and if he's not identified immediately in transition he will launch threes quickly. Making him defend in help situations can lead to good results. Posting him put with stronger guards in Wall and Beal will work, too.

Shooters vs. Howard

Howard stays back when someone like Beal, Wall or Otto Porter is coming at him with the ball off a screen or curl, cautious of getting beaten to the rim. He plays soft and will give up this mid-range look. If the drive is made, the weakside (Gortat or whichever big Howard is responsible for defending) has to crash and rebound to take advantage of Howard vacating his position. This pocket shot, however, around the foul line or just inside of it should be there.

[RELATED: Wizards rookie injured after kick by NBA player with black belt]

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Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

Rui Hachimura's learning curve can be seen on offense late in games

WASHINGTON -- Wizards forward Rui Hachimura has translated so smoothly to the NBA level that it is easy to forget he is still just a rookie with only 31 games under his belt. For a reminder of his inexperience, just look at the fourth quarter.

Hachimura tends to start games hot on the offensive end, like he did on Friday in the Wizards' loss to the Cavaliers when he had eight points by the end of the first quarter. But he scored only nine points after that and went scoreless through seven minutes in the fourth.

That has been a consistent theme for him this season. He averages 4.8 points in the first quarter shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 4.0 points in the second shooting 57 percent and then 4.3 points on 47.9 percent in the third. In the fourth quarter those numbers plummet to 1.9 points on average and 33.3 percent shooting.

Basically, Hachimura often comes out on fire but then slows down considerably once opponents make midgame changes. Against the Cavs, Hachimura said it was because they disrupted passing lanes.

"They are an NBA team. They just adjusted. They didn't want me to catch the ball. They didn't let me just catch the ball. I think that's why," he said.

The Wizards have seen teams switch defensive match-ups midgame to counter Hachimura. Sometimes taking away his midrange jumper will be prioritized. The Cavs seemed to find success playing Hachimura more physically in the second half, bumping him away from his comfort zones.

Over time, Hachimura can improve his ability to sustain scoring throughout games simply by becoming more versatile. The more consistent he becomes at making three-point shots and creating off the dribble, the more difficult it will be for teams to stop him. As long as he keeps improving, he will reach a point where he can stay ahead of the defense with a multitude of counters.

Developing a more reliable outside game and more dribble combinations will take some time. For now, Hachimura believes the key to him keeping up his scoring pace involves working with his teammates, particularly star shooting guard Bradley Beal.

"I just gotta connect more with Brad. Brad is the one everybody is trying to guard. Screens and pick-and-rolls with him, that kind of stuff will help me," Hachimura said.

Hachimura's game against the Cavaliers reflected how the team played overall. After scoring 41 points in the first quarter, they managed only 42 in the second half. They blew a 16-point lead and lost, 113-108.

So, he wasn't alone. And those rooting for Hachimura to round out his game should feel good about his odds. He has a relentless work ethic and is often staying after practice to go over film with player development coach Dave Adkins.

Hachimura is perceptive and driven to improve. In order to take the next step as a scorer, he will have to get better at closing games.

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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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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.