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Wizards-Hawks notebook: Who will draw focus of Atlanta's defense?

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Wizards-Hawks notebook: Who will draw focus of Atlanta's defense?

The Atlanta Hawks may benefit from John Wall's fractured hand and wrist. That benefit might take them to the Eastern Conference finals. Doing so against a Wall-less Wizards squad, that's not how Mike Budenholzer wanted it.

“You feel bad for John Wall," the Hawks coach said. "He’s such a great player. One of the young, emerging superstars in our league. He’s a great kid. You don’t want that to happen to anybody. You want to compete and play against the best and have it determined that way."

The Hawks won't know for sure until an hour before tipoff whether the All-Star point guard suits up Saturday's Game 3 at the Verizon Center. Wall was a surprise late scratch before Game 2 in Atlanta. The Wizards announced Thursday that he suffered five non-displaced fractures in left hand and wrist.

The only surprise this time would be if he takes the court. Regardless, the next best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series rolls on. Atlanta spent Friday morning prepping at George Washington's Smith Center.

"Injuries are part of the playoffs, part of the NBA season," Budenholzer continued. "We’ll be more focused on us than who or who doesn’t play."

Wall and Atlanta's Jeff Teague were All-Star teammates this year and dueled in Game 1.

“I’m never happy when anybody gets hurt," Teague said. "He’s a good friend of mine. He’s a competitor."

Hawks forward Kyle Korver recalled a similar scenario for one of his team's earlier in his career.

"To be where he’s at and to have the year he’s had, obviously you feel bad for him," Korver said. "At the same time, we’re trying to win.

"I was on the Bulls team when Derrick Rose tore his ACL. We were all bummed, but you know what, you still have to play. We got beat four games in a row and I’m not saying that’s going to happen here. We have a lot of respect for them and still think it’s going to be a tough series.”

New target

There were 41 pre-game media sessions with visiting coaches before 41 Wizards home games during the regular season. If asked directly about the key to defeating the Wizards, without fail that visiting coach would state slowing down John Wall, particularly in the fast break.

So if there is no Wall, what becomes the primary focus for the Hawks defensively? Budenholzer came up with a laundry list of options.

"Game 2 they still hurt us in transition. They still hurt us with 3's," the coach said. "(Paul) Pierce is playing really well. (Drew) Gooden is giving them a boost off the bench. Bradley Beal is obviously a great scorer. Nene in the post, Gortat in the paint. It’s more than just John Wall even when John Wall is healthy."

Teague showed more tunnel vision with his response.

“Always our main focus -- we knew John Wall is a really good player, but we wanted to try and limit Nene and Gortat rolls to the basket. When they’re playing really well, they’re team is really tough to beat," he said.

Nene has been a complete non-factor through two games, missing all nine of his field goal attempts. Gortat is making shots (10 of 19), but in Game 2 he settled for opportunities 5-10 feet away from the basket rather than rolling toward the basket, Part of that is not having Wall as his pick-and-roll partner. Regardless, less attacking the rim and quality defense by Atlanta has led to two free throws in two games for Gortat.

Stat of the Day

Wall is a blur with the basketball, able to go the full 94-feet in a blink of an eye. Washington is able to generate fast break points or quickly get into its offense thanks to Wall's push. Without him in Game 2 the offense slowed notably. This stat from NBA.com shows the percentage of field goal attempts in each of the first two games the Wizards took in the first nine seconds of the shot clock and the last seven seconds.

                           Game 1        Game 2

First 9 seconds       35.2             28.1 

Final 7 seconds       19.8             26.8

MORE WIZARDS: VIDEO: Randy Wittman emphatically refutes report on John Wall

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

The 2018 NBA offseason in just three weeks has become one of the wildest summers in the league's history between LeBron James signing with the Lakers, and all the characters that followed him, to DeMarcus Cousins surprising everyone to sign with the Golden State Warriors, to Kawhi Leonard getting traded to the Raptors.

As crazy as it all has been, two teams in the Eastern Conference stand out for so far doing very little, either by choice or circumstance. The Celtics and Sixers, the two teams most see as the favorites in the East, appear at least so far to be running it back with the same group of players.

This appears to be the Celtics' intention. After overhauling their roster last summer, they clearly see an opportunity to take a step forward as-is. Boston was one win away from the NBA Finals and will return Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving from injury. With James gone to the West, they can improve significanly just by keeping it all together.

Boston re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Their biggest addition this summer so far has been their first round pick, Robert Williams.

The Sixers, unlike the Celtics, didn't appear to plan on doing it this way. They wanted James and missed out. They reportedly had interest in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but both went elsewhere. There are no stars left to sign in free agency and the trade market may be drying up.

Philly made some minor moves like trades for Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. They may also have a deal for Kyle Korver in the works. They also had two first round picks in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet.

There's a chance the Sixers got better than people think, as many of the moves they made seem smart. But they didn't reel in a big fish and will probably come back for the 2018-19 season with a team very similar to the one that made the second round of the playoffs this spring.

The fact the Celtics and Sixers may stand pat is probably a good thing for the rest of the East. Both teams may improve naturally if they are healthier and if their young players continue to ascend. But neither made a game-changing addition, one that would solidify either as an unstoppable superteam in the conference. 

The West is overloaded with title contenders and All-NBA players. The East, meanwhile, is much more open and it may end up staying that way mainly because Boston and Philly have been quiet so far this summer.

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Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld has stayed relatively busy this summer crafting his new-look lineup for the 2018-19 season. 

One of the team's key additions, Dwight Howard, is set to be introduced as a member of the Wizards on Monday. 

NBC Sports Washington will air the introductory press conference live at 1 p.m. while also streaming it online.  

Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks are both expected to be in attendance. 

The 32-year-old big man is coming off a 2017-18 season with the Charlotte Hornets in which he averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. 

Since leaving the Orlando Magic after eight seasons in 2011, Howard has played for four different teams in the last six years. 

Howard is an eight-time all-star and a three-time defensive player of the year. 

 

RELATED LINKS: 

John Wall's take on Dwight Howard 

Wizards make Dwight Howard free agent signing official 

By the numbers: Is new Wizards center Dwight Howard still in his NBA prime?