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Wizards prefer to look up rather than down as they drop in playoff race to line up against Celtics

Wizards prefer to look up rather than down as they drop in playoff race to line up against Celtics

The Wizards were beaten handily by the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night in what amounted to their 11th loss in 17 games. That is not ideal with just four games remaining until the postseason, no matter which way you spin it.

That loss to Houston, though, had a silver lining depending on whom you ask. With their loss and a win by the Miami Heat, the Wizards slid down a spot in the Eastern Conference. They began the day lined up to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers and ended it set up to see the Boston Celtics.

The Cavs are gaining steam with Kevin Love now back. The Celtics are also playing well, but are likely to spend the first round without Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart. Gordon Hayward is also injured and probably won't be back until next year.

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Given the alternative, the Celtics don't sound so bad and that's even with Brad Stevens at coach and loads of talent remaining on their roster. We know Tomas Satoransky would prefer to not face LeBron James in the first round, but others on the Wizards are adamant they do not care who they see.

"I’m not comfortable with nothing. I’m trying to move up," guard John Wall said. "No matter who you play in the first round or who you play in the second round, it’s always going to be a tough matchup. It’s the playoffs."

"Win. Go out there and get in a great rhythm and win," forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. said of his approach to the final four games.

The Wizards can now finish no better than fifth in the East, but the odds are even long for that. One more win for the Pacers or one more loss for the Wizards and Washington can do no better than sixth.

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Meanwhile, the Wizards could fall as low as eighth. They have the same record as the No. 6 Heat and No. 8 Bucks. The Wizards are in seventh due to tiebreakers based on conference record.

The four most likely choices the Wizards have for the first round are the top-seeded Toronto Raptors, the No. 2 Celtics, the No. 3 Cavs or the No. 4 Sixers, if Philly were to move up. All four have their pros and cons, but LeBron's track record would be difficult to overcome. The guy has won 21 straight first-round games and has played in seven consecutive NBA Finals.

Though all would be very difficult to play, the Celtics may be the most ideal matchup due to injuries. The Raptors are excellent at both offense and defense and, despite popular belief, have a long track record in the playoffs. They were in the conference finals just two years ago and there is reason to believe this team is better.

Wall, though, has been in the playoffs three times before and knows there are no ideal matchups. That mindset plays into how he would like to approach the final four games in terms of which ones he plays in.

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Wall is not expected to play in both games of back-to-backs and the Wizards have two back-to-backs remaining. That means he will likely play in one game in their split between the Cavs and Hawks and the same for their final two games against the Celtics and Magic.

Will Wall play against the playoff-bound Cavs and Celtics or against the lottery-bound Hawks and Magic, or some combination of both? Wall stated his preference clearly after Tuesday night's loss in Houston.

"I want to play against the teams that are going to be in the playoffs. No offense to the teams that are not going to the playoffs," he said. "I want to play against Cleveland and definitely against Boston because those are who we might end up seeing in the playoffs. So, leave a statement there."

Wall knows it could be the Cavs or Celtics and doesn't want to wait until the playoffs begin to get a shot at them.

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.

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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 4: HOW WILL JOHN WALL'S CONTRACT AFFECT ROSTER CONSTRUCTION?

Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.

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