SB Nation's Luke Thomas and our Jennifer X. Williams take a deeper look into Pacquiao vs. Bradley. Check out this episode of The Fight Fix.
Key pieces may have changed between the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, but the core players still here remember what transpired the last few regular seasons -- and in the playoffs -- before Thursday's opener (CSN, 6:30 p.m. ET).
The Wizards missed the playoffs last season but if it weren't for John Wall's broken hand and wrist they were in good position to unseat the No. 1 seed in the 2015 postseason.
It was during that series that Bradley Beal took over for Wall, who'd missed three of the games before they lost in six, and dealt out 22 assists and increased his scoring, too. It was the first real glimpse into his max-player potential.
"I love playing there. I love playing against some of the people they have there," Wall said. "It’s going to be a competitive game. It’s going to be chippy at times."
Wall was shoved to the floor by Jeff Teague during Game 1 and fell on his wrist to alter that series. When Beal lost his rhythm during a 41-41 regular season a year ago, he was struck in the shoulder with a knee from Teague that produced a contusion that kept him out for two weeks.
Teague is no longer there, replaced by Dennis Schroder as the starting point guard. Neither is Al Horford, who left in free agency. Dwight Howard replaces him in the middle. Schroder tried to irriate Wall by telling his teammates to intentionally strike him on his broken left hand/wrist during the playoff series, though it never happened.
"I think it’s the same exact team. Schroder is going to be starter instead of Teague. You have Dwight Howard back there instead of Al Horford that’s picking and popping," Wall said. "I think that kind of helps at times because when you used to play before you had to worry about two bigs that can run the floor so well and knock down shots from the perimeter. Now Dwight is more like a post-up, catch lobs and be able to protect the paint for them. It will be a different look."
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Horford combined with Paul Millsap at power forward to cause those matchup problems for Marcin Gortat and Nene, the latter of whom is gone from Washington. Their three-point stroke along with screening for the screener to free Kyle Korver for open looks always challenged the Wizards' discipline on switches.
“It’ll probably be chippy this game," Beal said, agreeing with Wall. "It’s our first game of the year. Everybody’s excited. Emotions usually run high. That’s a team we go back and forth with. They don’t have our best interest. We don’t have theirs either.
“Dwight is still a big body. He can still post up pretty well. In terms of getting us out of scramble situations , that helps us out a lot. Al was able to space the floor, shoot the three and put it on the floor. Having him and Millsap out there caused a lot of trouble. Now that they have Dwight their offense will probably slow down a little bit and they’ll probably try to throw I it into the post a little bit. That’ll play into our favor."
When the Wizards were teetering in and out of the playoff picture last season, they pulled out a big win in Atlanta on March 21 to get back to .500. Two days later at Verizon Center, the Hawks dropped them below .500 in a route. It was a significant setback in what would be a season full of them.
What happens between Wall and Schroder will go a long way to determining the outcome.
Said Beal: “I think John has it under control."
The Capitals have only faced Connor McDavid once, but they know all about his flashy game. After all, how could anyone be unfamiliar with the Oilers’ star, given his ever growing collection of highlight reel goals and set-up passes?
“Unpredictable,” said Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who figures to match up against McDavid quite a bit when Washington visits the brand new Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday night.
“Just from watching him on TV, you can tell the extra gear that he has,” Niskanen continued. “He can change speeds. He can move laterally and he can handle the puck at a high speed and in tight spaces. That makes him really dangerous. Young kids nowadays, they got the guts to try things. They’ll try a one-on-one, try to make a play in tight spaces, where it hasn’t been coached out of them yet. They’re a little unpredictable. That makes it challenging.”
Through the first two weeks this season, McDavid and the Oilers have been the talk of the league. In fact, Edmonton’s newly-minted captain—the youngest in league history at 19—enters Tuesday night’s games tied for the league lead in points with nine (four goals and five assists) while the upstart Oilers own the second best record in the NHL.
When the Capitals visited Edmonton a year ago, McDavid recorded a goal and an assist in a 7-4 Washington win. He was sidelined by injury when the teams reconvened in November.
On Wednesday night, the Capitals are expecting to see a more confident and comfortable playmaker.
“He’s able to do things with the puck at a very high speed that a lot of guys can’t do,” T.J. Oshie said.
Asked how to best stop McDavid, the Capitals were in agreement: don’t allow him to carry the puck into the offensive zone with speed and space.
“We’re going to have to limit his time and space and hopefully make him feel like he’s a little crowded out there,” Oshie said.
Said Lars Eller: “You want to get on him early. You don’t want to give him that room in the neutral zone because once he gets up to speed he’s hard to stop. You want to stop him early.”
“The more we have the puck, the better,” Eller added. “The best defense is to keep the puck away from him.”
Andre Burakovsky played alongside McDavid when the two were teammates on the Erie Otters in 2013-14, so he’s well-versed on his game.
“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do,” Burakovsky said. “He’s so fast. He likes to just skate around you with the puck. Our D needs to have a really good gap on him. If not, he’s going to have a really big chance to just get around them. So our gap control is going to be the key for us.”
McDavid centers Edmonton’s top line, which includes Milan Lucic on the left and Jordan Eberle on the right. Eberle also ranks among the league leaders in points, with three goals and three assists, while Lucic has two goals and two helpers. That's a whopping 19 points between them.
The Oilers, meantime, are tied for the league lead in goals per game this season (3.83) and are getting offensive contributions from throughout the lineup. But the McDavid line does the majority of the damage, obviously. Shut them down and the Caps' odds of escaping with two points will increase exponentially.
“You got two really skilled guys and Lucic is that up-and-down winger, straight lines,” Niskanen said. “He probably creates some space for [McDavid and Eberle] by driving the net and being around the net front. There’s a combination of skills on that line.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how they do this year,” Niskanen added. “I think they have all the talent to be a much better team than they have been recently, with McDavid leading the way. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers' team than it’s been the last couple of years.”
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