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Wizards-Hawks: What happened and what's next

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Wizards-Hawks: What happened and what's next

Things happened in the Washington Wizards' 82-81 Game 5 loss to the Atlanta Hawks Wednesday night. Some good, but ultimately, no. The Hawks now lead 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series. Some initial thoughts on some of those things and a look at what we'll be talking about heading into Game 6.

Final score

Hawks' Al Horford and Kyle Korver work a pick on the left wing. Nene initially steps toward the corner and Korver on the switch, but turns immediately inside with Dennis Schroder attacking the basket. Beal, with his back to the play, instinctively moves back toward Korver, the man he's been glued to all series. That scenario left Horford free to roam. Nene cleared out Paul Millsap for rebounding position under the basket. He waits on the floor for the rebound, but apparently is unaware that Horford is racing toward the rim. Unchallenged, the Hawks big man does jump, yanks the carom from the pack, settles and scores. Maybe a half-second box out by Beal or a Nene leap keeps Horford away. Maybe.

Clutch knows clutch

Paul Pierce didn't have a dynamic game from start to finish, but once again the "Truth" showed up in the end, burying the go-ahead 3-pointer from the left corner with 8.3 seconds left. Horford then countered with the game-winning layup. Appropriate these two made the final baskets.

Unsung villian

Dennis Schroder has been something of a Wizards killer all season, including Games 3 and 4 of this series. After a slow start in the first half, the guard with speed and no fear began finding a groove in the third quarter. In the fourth, Schroder's consecutive baskets capped Atlanta's 15-3 run for a 78-73 lead with 2:29 left. Even though he missed his final layup attempt, his aggressive drive sucked in the defense and allowed Horford room for the putback.

Center exchange

Marcin Gortat and Nene split minutes in the fourth quarter, but it was the big Brazilian on the court for the final play. Wittman went for the better defender on the perimeter in case of switches (which happened) rather than the better rim protector and rebounder. Before lashing out at Nene for Horford's final basket or Wittman for the decision, worth noting Gortat had the worst defensive rating (90.9 points per 100 possessions) on the team. Also note Gortat was 7 of 10 from the field, but it was Nene (4 for 11) wildly missing a short layup attempt with 95 seconds left and Wizards down two.

Backup plan

Atlanta used Schroder and starter Jeff Teague together for chunks of Game 4. In Game, 5, Schroder played 10 minutes in the fourth quarter -- almost double the amount of Teague, who had a season-high seven turnovers. That's an interesting and ultimately successful decision by coach Mike Budenholzer to sit his All-Star guard. [Update - Per Budenholzer to reporters, Teague said," leave (Dennis) in" because Schroder was making plays.]

No backup plan

Wizards coach Randy Wittman basically used six players, meaning the starters and Otto Porter. Drew Gooden (0 for 4 field goals) and Ramon Sessions played less than 12 minutes combined in the second half. Gooden played a scoreless 12 minutes, his fewest amount of time in the playoffs. While his stretch-4 skill set make him a good rotation fit in this series, he appears gassed (1-10 combined last two games from the field). The Wizards are playing for their playoff lives Friday. There might not be enough time to fill up Gooden's tank. Meanwhile, Kevin Seraphin and Kris Humphries are rested.

MVP

Horford finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. He doesn't receive national attention, but there might not be a more valuable player for their team. If you need proof, look at the difference in the Hawks last season when Horford missed most of the season with an injury and this season. Reminder: Atlanta won the East with ease.

YOLO

No doubt my colleague J. Michael will write chapter and verse about John Wall over the next 48 hours, but couldn't go without mentioning his performance. Still hard to believe that Wall played in Game 5. Everyone knows the deal. Five fractures in his left hand and wrist. Supposedly he didn't start dribbling with his injured mitt until Tuesday. Sat out the previous three games. Yet Wall courageously ran the break, hit floaters, blocked shots, dove on the court for loose balls and handled the ball 107 times according to NBA.com.

This wasn't breakneck speed Wall. This was geometry Wall. Whether going for a layup or trying to prevent one, he maneuvered his body into position while trying to protect his hand rather than his usual approach of bypassing caution.

Wall did commit five of his six turnovers and miss seven of nine shots in the second half. Defensively he looked to avoid contact, often choosing a path for blocked shots instead of blocking drivers with this body. Schroder's final drive went hard toward Wall. The Wizards' star did swat the layup attempt with his right hand, but allowed Schroder to penetrate all the way to the rim, which set off the chain of events. Incredibly gutsy effort regardless. The heroic effort won't be forgotten anytime soon, but it would have taken on mythic levels with a win.

MORE WIZARDS: Pierce's mouth outruns game clock in Game 5 loss

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Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

Wizards GM search: Resetting the potential candidates

The Wizards general manager search reset needs a reset.

We head into the holiday weekend with the local NBA team still lacking a permanent front office leader. Zero reports of interviews of any kind since last week’s meeting with Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.

At least we can cross off the idea of flirting with Portland’s Neil Olshey. The Blazers’ President of Basketball reportedly signed an extension one day after NBC Sports Washington reported interest from the Wizards.

For now, we wait, though be prepared for a hire any day – or not. At this point, here are the names to consider.

Tommy Sheppard – The Wizards VP of Basketball Operations began running the show on an interim basis following the firing of President of Basketball Operations on April 2. That he’s making the calls from inside the house, running the pre-draft process and showing a Wizards world with him in charge gives Sheppard an inside track over all other candidates.

To call him the favorite, however, might be a stretch at this point based simply on the fact that he has not been hired despite his in-house status. Sheppard is well respected around the NBA and league voices would tell frustrated fans they shouldn’t consider him Grunfeld 2.0.

Theory: If Sheppard gets the nod, the Wizards promote Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to serve as Sheppard’s number two and then promote the benefits of their G-League investment beyond player development.

Troy Weaver –The Thunder assistant general manager met with the Wizards twice. Weaver, long considered a rising front-office star, worked with Wizards coach Scott Brooks in Oklahoma City and flashed his recruiting skills at Syracuse when he landed Carmelo Anthony. The D.C. native still has ties to the area.

Danny Ferry – Like Weaver, Ferry met with the Wizards twice in Washington. Throughout the search process, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Washington that the former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager is the best candidate for the Wizards’ opening even over Connelly. The Hawks won 60 games during the 2014-15 season and reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

Some question the strength of his candidacy based on any lingering controversy stemming from comments he made as Hawks GM regarding Luol Deng’s heritage in 2014, of which an independent investigation stated Ferry's intentions were not racially motivatedThis week former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. vouched for Ferry’s character on a local radio show.

Neither Ferry nor Weaver was likely to have heard back from the Wizards since Connelly’s involvement as of mid-week, according to sources familiar with the situation. Like the rest of us, they wait for news. 

Larry Harris – There’s no official reporting linking the Wizards to Golden State’s assistant GM. Washington and New Orleans both used the same consultant, Mike Forde, during their front office searches. Many of the same people have interviewed for both jobs. Harris, the former Bucks GM who joined the Warriors in 2008, met with New Orleans before the playoffs began.

That the Wizards appear patient with their search may suggest they are waiting for someone still in the playoffs.

Masai Ujiri – Speaking of an executive whose team is still in the playoffs… Ujiri’s Raptors are one game away from reaching the NBA Finals. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. However, expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement.

Bonus names -- Bucks assistant GM Milt Newton was part of the Wizards front office from 2003 to 2013. … Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was deemed a candidate by the New York Times early in the process. One Boston-based source believes that Zarren would prefer remaining with the team he grew up rooting for rather than pursue most open GM jobs. … Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, another D.C. area native, just completed his third year with San Antonio. 

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: KZ Okpala

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: KZ Okpala

School: Stanford
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Height: 6-10
Weight: 210
Wingspan: 7-2
Max vertical: 37 in.

2018/19 stats: 16.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.3 FG% (5.9/12.7), 36.8 3PT% (1.1/3.0), 67.1 FT%

Player comparison: Kyle Kuzma, Gerald Green

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 25th, NBADraft.net 23rd, Bleacher Report 27th, Sports Illustrated 29th, Ringer 41st

5 things to know:

*Okpala is a tall, lanky wing who loves to drive from the perimeter to the rim. He made the All-Pac-12 team this past season after improving his scoring average from 10.0 points as a freshman to 16.8 points as a sophomore. He also increased his rebounds per game average from 3.7 to 5.7.

*He is arguably one of the most athletic players in this class. At 6-foot-10 in shoes, he has great size for a wing player and measured at the NBA combine with a 7-2 wingspan. He also has an impressive vertical leap of 37 inches which would be good even for a point guard. He is also fast in the open court. Teams will be enticed with his ceiling on both ends of the floor.

*Okpala scored a lot in college but has a raw offensive game. He isn't fully there as a ball-handler and has an improving, but still inconsistent outside shot. The fact he made a leap from his freshman to sophomore year as a three-point shooter was a very good sign. His 36.8 three-point percentage on three attempts per game is encouraging but does not offer any guarantees that he can stretch the floor at the next level. His 67.1 free throw percentage doesn't help his cause.

*He is just the third player from Stanford to leave for the NBA before his junior season, joining the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who were first round picks in 2010.

*Okpala is the son of two Nigerian immigrants. He had a 4.4 GPA in high school.

Fit with Wizards: Okpala would fill a need for the Wizards in that he is a forward and they don't have many of those under contract for next season. He would also give them a young player with high upside, something they currently lack.

But Okpala also seems to offer decent bust potential. Ever since Kevin Durant came into the league, there have been a lot of players like Okpala to come along, ones that are tall enough to play inside but prefer to work on the perimeter.

Sometimes that can work, like with Giannis Antetokounmpo or Brandon Ingram (sort of). But for every success story, there seem to be a lot of guys like Perry Jones and Thon Maker.

Okpala seems very much like boom or bust, and the Wizards may not be able to afford taking a chance like that.

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