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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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Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Moe Wagner after headbutt

Despite seeking him out after the whistle and headbutting him with force to earn an ejection from Tuesday night's game, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo says he has no problem with Wizards big man Moe Wagner. He explained the move as general frustration boiling over.

"I don’t have nothing against Wagner, it wasn’t just him. It was just, like, in my mind all these games I’ve played guys hitting me so I lost it for a second," Antetokounmpo told reporters. 

He went on to express regret over the incident, which is certain to result in a fine and possibly a suspension. His explanation, though, runs a bit counter to how the Wizards saw it all.

Wagner was not made available to the media, but his teammates weighed in and all seemed to believe it stemmed from something that happened between them earlier this season.

"They have something in the past, I don't even know," Rui Hachimura said.

"That was just some blood from back then," Ish Smith said. 

They seemed to be referencing the Feb. 24 meeting between the teams when Antetokounmpo fouled out in only 25 minutes, and with some help from Wagner. That night, Wagner gave a quote that could also have been said after this game: "He’s a really good player. I want him out of the game, obviously."

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On Tuesday, Antetokounmpo again exited early against the Wizards, and again the Bucks held on for the win, just like they did in February. Still, him leaving gave the Wizards a bit of a break. 

The reigning MVP had been dominating with 12 points and nine rebounds in 10 minutes.

"I'm not saying he's a dirty player, but he's good at those little things," Hachimura said of Wagner. "Giannis was actually out for the game. It was really big [for] us. He changed the whole game, actually. Moe's a great guy."

RELATED: GIANNIS EJECTED FOR HEADBUTTING MOE WAGNER

Wagner has a tendency to get under the skin of his opponents. He has had run-ins with other big men, most notably Joel Embiid.

He did his part, but the Bucks still had enough to beat the Wizards. Now the question is whether it was a pyrrhic victory with a potential suspension for Antetokounmpo coming next.

"There's no place for that. It's unfortunate," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's unfortunate that it happened. I'm sure the league is going to look at it and make a decision. Fortunately for [the Bucks], it's not a playoff game [up next]. I'm sure he's probably going to miss a couple of games."

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Troy Brown Jr. shows room for improvement in first start as point guard

Troy Brown Jr. shows room for improvement in first start as point guard

The Wizards' time in the Orlando bubble without Bradley Beal, John Wall and Davis Bertans has created some room for head coach Scott Brooks to try some things he would never otherwise be able to try, at least not in a game that counts. On Tuesday, he experimented with Troy Brown Jr. as his starting point guard for the first time.

Brown had played some point guard already in the seeding games, most notably against the Pacers when he closed out the fourth quarter running the show. After that game, Brooks indicated Brown would get a start at the position. Tuesday was the night.

It wasn't exactly a great showing. Brown struggled by shooting 3-for-15. He had nine points, six rebounds and three assists, a far cry from the 16.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists he averaged in the team's previous six games in Orlando.

Brown was off and it didn't help that as he began the game running the offense, the Wizards missed their first nine shots. 

"He got a learning experience. Sometimes it happens that way," Brooks said. "Didn't play well. We didn't have a good start. I'm not throwing it all on him, we just didn't have a good rhythm."

Brooks added that he won't judge Brown off of one game, but he also made it seem like there won't be a ton of opportunities for him to play point guard moving forward. They only have one more game before this season is over and next season five-time All-Star John Wall will return.

If Brown is auditioning for a larger share of the point guard duties, there are only so many that could go around long-term. Still, it didn't hurt to give him a look.

"This is time that we can experiment with that. Next year, he's probably not going to get those opportunities where he's going to be really the only playmaker on the floor," Brooks said.

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Tuesday was mostly just a reminder that Brown is young and still has a lot of work to do if he wants to play more point guard in his future. Brown was drafted in the first round of 2018 as a wing, but has said he feels most comfortable running point.

He has the ball-handling and passing skills to suggest he could someday do just that. But it takes time to find consistent success at the NBA level and point guard is a demanding position.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZARDS VS. BUCKS

"Troy is special, man," point guard Ish Smith said. 'He can make plays. He's got a lot of tools. It's crazy, he's just 21. When I was 21, I was on a college campus running around trying to skip study hall. I don't know how some of these guys do it."

Brown, 21, has now had the bar set for himself. He has a better idea of how much more work is required to achieve his goal of playing point guard more often.

It will be something he can keep in mind this offseason as he works towards the 2020-21 campaign.

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