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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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5 must-see moments from Wizards' Game 6 win over Hawks behind John Wall's huge night

5 must-see moments from Wizards' Game 6 win over Hawks behind John Wall's huge night

Here are five plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 115-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 of their first round playoff series that are worth revisting...

1. John Wall had the best playoff game of his career on Friday night, a 42-point masterpiece that included eight assists, four steals and two blocks. He had 19 points in the fourth quarter alone and made sure that the Wizards would not be returning home for a Game 7.

Wall got started early with this emphatic dunk. It was one of many amazing left-handed slams he has had this series:

2. Dwight Howard didn't look good there and neither did he on this play. Howard got Jason Smith twice in the face with his eblow and somehow the refs deemed it not a flagrant foul:

3. That was contentious, but nothing like what happened just minutes later. Bradley Beal was undercut on a fastbreak dunk by Kent Bazemore and both teams got into it:

4. Wall made his mark in the fourth quarter when he completely took over the game and ensured the Wizards would be moving on to the second round. He had 19 points in the frame, but also this chasedown block which may be the best of his career considering the stakes:

5. On this play, Wall made a difficult move to split two defenders, then finished despite contact with Howard. The athleticism required to make this play is off the charts:

Here's an honorable mention. Once the game was in hand, Wall gave a little wave to the crowd to tell them the series was over:

On to Boston where the Wizards have a quick turnaround with Game 1 on Sunday at 1 p.m. CSN will have pregame coverage beginning at 12 p.m. with Wizards Gametime.

[RELATED: FOUL ON BEAL SPARKS CONFRONTATION BETWEEN WIZARDS AND HAWKS]

 

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John Wall, Bradley Beal play like NBA's best backcourt in sizzling 4th quarter for Wizards

John Wall, Bradley Beal play like NBA's best backcourt in sizzling 4th quarter for Wizards

ATLANTA -- The emphatic way in which the door was slammed on the Atlanta Hawks made Friday's closeout for John Wall and Bradley Beal that much sweeter. 

They celebrated a Game 6 victory on their floor at Verizon Center two years ago, when Paul Pierce's game-tying three-point shot was waved off. The Wizards almost squandered a 22-point lead until Wall scored 19 of his career-playoff-high 42 points in the fourth quarter to silence Phillips Arena. Beal had 31 points as the duo combine to shoot 27-for-42 from the field, or 64.2%.

"He carreied us with his leadership as a player," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "We have a lot of good players who help wi us games, but his leadership and Brad's leadership have been great for our young players. In this league, I couldn't ask for two better guys to lead our team."

Dennis Schroder played the best basketball of his career for the Hawks and had 26 points and 10 assists, but he ended up on the wrong end of a pivotal play with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter. After Beal's turnover, Wall chased him down for a block at the rim and then broke down multiple Hawks defenders off the dribble to deliver a bank shot through contact to flip the momentum.

What would follow after that was a pull-up jumper from Wall, an assist to Markieff Morris for a layup, three consecutive made jumpers from Wall and another layup and foul for the and-1. The Wizards were leading by double digits again and the building began to empty.

"Listen, they're bad boys. Both of them," center Marcin Gortat said of Wall and Beal. "They both bring different things to the table and when they're locked in and when they're playing team basketball, they are ridiculously good. That's enough. ... They're both the head of the snake."

[RELATED: Things get emotional after Chenier's last game in the booth]

In between that spurt to put the game away, Wall took time to jaw courtside with fans and celebrities such as Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Joines. He was turning the lights out for their season just as they did the Wizards' in 2015, when Wall was undercut and broke his hand and wrist here as they lost in six games, too. 

"I told him I was going to get 35 or more and we were going to win," Wall said.

After four consecutive games with foul trouble, Morris came through with 17 points and eight rebounds as he kept his hands to himself. His war of words with Paul Millsap ended with the Wizards' big man being respectful now that his first playoff experience is in the books. 

"Both teams gave it their all. I give credit to Atlanta," Morris said. "They played as well as possible."

But they didn't have an answer to stop the Wizards' dynamic backcourt. 

"Wall and Beal have been the best combo all year in the league in my opinion," Morris said. "Every time you need them to step up, they step up."

Next up is the Boston Celtics, a nemesis for various reasons. The Wizards went 2-2 vs. them in the regular season but Wall and Beal have a lot of uneasy history with them.

In January, Jae Crowder and Wall were fined for an altercation that got physical after lots of postgame chatter. Both teams won on their own home courts. Game 1 is Monday at TD Garden vs. the East's No. 1 seed.

"We can win on the road," Beal said of the Wizards' first victory away from Verizon Center in the playoffs. "We've shown that we can fight through adversity. We were up (22) points and they ended up cutting it back down to three. ... We've won in Boston before so it's going to be a challenge. But I think we're up for it."

[RELATED: Wizards vs. Celtics second round playoff series schedule]