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Three things to watch for: Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards

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1. John Wall setting the pace
The Atlanta Hawks are a Top 4 defensive team in the NBA and they’ve had some ability to slow Wall this season. During the middle part of the year, Wall had games in which he was solid from 3-point range, shot well from the field, and demonstrated his superior passing ability. But in their last matchup he was spotty, and that’s saying something considering how well Wall finished the season during the last 15 games or so.

The Wizards are a better team than Atlanta, but there’s some real speed bumps to be had for Washington. Wall playing smooth, and to the level we saw him elevate to this year as a top passer in the NBA should help steady Wizards fans. It’s Washington — and it’s the playoffs — so smooth would be nice.

2. The Hawks defense
As mentioned above, it may surprise some folks that the Hawks are the fourth-best defense in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. While Washington has a Top 10 offense, things get weird in the playoffs. Things slow down. They speed up. Gameplans are exceedingly in-depth, and then change quickly from game-to-game.

Atlanta’s only chance of making this a series is to stun Washington’s attack. The Hawks are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, so providing space for themselves to operate carefully on that end of the floor is going to come through their defensive effort first and foremost.

3. Paul Millsap vs. Washington’s offensive rebounders
The Wizards are a middling offensive rebounding team, and Paul Millsap is one of the best players in this series at pulling down contested rebounds. Then again, so is Marcin Gortat, so watching Millsap tackle him, Otto Porter, and Markieff Morris down low should be critical.

Ian Mahnimi is out to start the series with a calf strain, and offensive chances will be important for a team like Atlanta who already is prone to struggle scoring. Dwight Howard taking up space and battling down low should be a factor here as well, obviously. Look for rebounds to help set the tone for leads here.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.