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Morning tip: Wizards can look ahead to Hawks, John Wall's preferred playoff opponent

Morning tip: Wizards can look ahead to Hawks, John Wall's preferred playoff opponent

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Never to look ahead on the schedule is the position of every coach and player in every sport, but it’s difficult for the Wizards not to going into their final regular-season game and think about the Atlanta Hawks. It's the opponent John Wall wants for the first-round series.

"Totally," Wall said about his No. 4 seed team playing the current No. 5 seed with two days left in the regular season. "I’m still mad about the time I injured my hand. That’s still in the back of my mind even though they might have a different team.”

The Hawks (42-38) were their last opponent when they last made the playoffs in 2015 and were eliminated in the conference semifinals in six games. Wall, who broke his left hand and wrist in a Game 1 upset, remains salty about the outcome. The Wizards were in a good position to topple the then-No. 1 seed in the East if not for his injury when he was shoved to the floor by Jeff Teague on a drive.

Teague is no longer with Atlanta, but Dennis Schroder is the starting point guard. He taunted Wall with threats to strike his injured hand on purpose.

Both teams have gone in different directions since then. While the Hawks qualified for the 10th consecutive postseason, they're not as potent without Kyle Korver and Al Horford. Paul Millsap remains, but other than the season-opening win over the Wizards at Phillips Arena, they've fallen three consecutive times. 

Not that regular-season series should matter much. The Wizards couldn't figure out them in the 2014-15 season, losing 3 of 4, before flipping the postseason script. They got there after going 1-3 vs. the Toronto Raptors in the regular season and then sweeping them in the first round. 

In Monday’s win at the Pistons and in Wednesday’s game at the Miami Heat, the Wizards' focus is more about fine-tuning themselves. There hasn’t been a lot of practice time in the last month of the season.

“I think we’re going to use it as not necessarily to experiment but just work on things that we’ve done in the past but we haven’t worked on lately,” coach Scott Brooks said of the last two games that won't impact their seeding. “Some of our pick-and-roll coverage, we can probably get into some different coverages.... To get some game reps because there's a different level of intensity in game reps than in practice. That is definitely what I’m going to consider throughout the next couple of games.”

[RELATED: Tougher matchup for Wizards: Cavs or Celtics?]

He held out Wall (left thigh contusion) and Otto Porter (back spasms) in Detroit. Ian Mahinmi has what is being called a left calf strain on preliminary diagnosis when he came up limp late in the fourth quarter. It seems unlikely that he'll be allowed to play in Miami. 

The Milwaukee Bucks (42-39) were in the fifth spot until recently. Now Atlanta has won three games in a row, including twice vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, to grab a firm hold. 

"It’s definitely weighted right now," Brooks said. "Atlanta is probably the frontrunner of who we play."

The Wizards (49-32) are just one game away from a 50-win season which has long been their goal. But the ninth-place Heat are going down to the wire for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Chicago Bulls. Both are 40-41 and have one game left.

"We might not play a lot of guys," Brooks said. "Maybe have a pseudo-practice or a shootaround for the guys who are not going to play."

With their third postseason berth in the last four seasons, Wall and Bradley Beal are the veterans on a team with the likes of Markieff Morris, Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky who have never been to the playoffs. Jason Smith hasn't been since 2011. Bojan Bogdanovic has gone just once. 

"We still have our focus to get 50 wins but trying definitely to stay healthy going into the playoffs without getting crazy or little petty injuries going into the playoffs. You look at and see who you’re going to play but playoffs are totally different than what the regular season is. We’ve been through that," Wall said. "We got swept before by a team (in the regular season) and gone into the playoffs and did something totally different.  You game plan different. You got to see this team seven times. We’re going to be focused. We have a lot of guys who haven’t been to the playoffs. But that’s my job as the leader and Brad’s job. Get these guys focused. Every shootaround, every practice, every game day is very important."

[RELATED: Wizards complete biggest turnaround in NBA history]

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Breaking down the Wizards' 2018 draft class

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller analyze the Wizards' two picks the night of the draft.

They went in-depth on first round pick Troy Brown, Jr. and why the Wizards took him when some big names were still on the board. They also broke down why the Wizards chose to pick a draft-and-stash guy in the second round.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!