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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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5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

The Wizards' 29-point loss to the Raptors on Friday night was the 41st game of the year, meaning Washington's 2019-20 regular season is officially halfway through.

With that in mind, here are five observations from the season so far; some expected and some unexpected...

They are who we thought they were

In some ways, this season has gone exactly how most thought it would. Bradley Beal has been an All-Star level player, but poor defense and an inexperienced roster around him has led to a team headed safely towards the lottery. They are 13-28 after 41 games, meaning they are on pace to win 26 on the season.

That's about what Vegas predicted, as evidenced by over/under win totals that stayed around 28.5. And that's what most reasonable forecasts had them being; a team with intriguing talent that was probably a year away from contending for the playoffs again.

Sheppard has found some guys

The early returns on the Tommy Sheppard era are good and that should be seen as one of the most important positives of this season so far. Just look at the gems he has acquired in a relatively short period of time as general manager. He drafted Rui Hachimura, a plug-and-play guy, with the ninth overall pick. He got Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga in trades basically for nothing. 

He got Garrison Mathews out of nowhere. He signed Ish Smith instead of giving more money to Tomas Satoransky. And even his minor deals with guys like Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have impressed to a degree.

It is very early in his tenure, but Sheppard is showing he has the ability to find diamonds in the rough, a skill that is one of the biggest separators between GMs.

It has also become evident on social media that Sheppard is gaining some clout among fans. Given the previous distrust in the front office, that is definitely worth noting.

The injuries have been ridiculous

Though injuries happen to every team and they are ultimately no excuse, the health of the Wizards has undoubtedly been a major part of their season to this point. They have had as many as eight players missing at times due to injury, or in other words more than half of their roster.

That has included two hardship exceptions and the players acquired as a result were even starting at times. Their best players have been hurt, even Beal who had previously played 194 straight games. Lately, they have been getting healthy, but the rash of injuries was enough to leave its mark on their 2019-20 campaign as a whole.

Beal may or may not be sold on the future

Though this season has mostly gone as expected, it has been fair to wonder how Beal has handled it all, given he is far and away their best player. He signed a contract extension to be part of this, but he's used to winning more games and it's only natural for him to be frustrated with how things have gone.

Beal backed up those theories with his comments this week about the team's culture, and the whole situation is going to be worth watching closely moving forward. The Wizards' best player appears to be a bit anxious about the franchise's future. Whether they can match their timeline to contend with his remains to be seen.

The Wall thing is going to get interesting

This was also pretty easy to call going into this season. Now over 11 months into his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, John Wall is making steady progress towards a return and the debates of whether he should come back this season or not are coming into focus. 

The discourse was taken up a notch recently with NBC Sports Washington's report about him playing in three-on-three scrimmages, and then again days after with video of those games. Though he isn't quite ready to come back, he is looking good and there are still three months remaining in the Wizards' season. 

Will he be ready one month from now, or two? Even if he is, will the Wizards bring him back or wait until next season? Those are major questions with no easy answers.


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Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

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