PBT Second-Round Playoff Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks

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SEASON RECORDS

Washington Wizards: 46-36

Atlanta Hawks: 60-22

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Washington Wizards: Offense 101.8 (19th in NBA), Defense 100.0 (5th in NBA)

Atlanta Hawks: Offense 106.2 (6th in NBA), Defense 100.7 (7th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Which Wizards? During the regular season, Washington couldn’t beat the Hawks, and dropped all three meetings where both teams were at full strength. Both teams have looked markedly different in the first round of the postseason, however, especially the Wizards.

Washington is the number one team in offensive efficiency after one round of the playoffs, outpacing even the mighty Golden State Warriors by scoring at a rate of 112.5 points per 100 possessions. And, the Wizards are second in defensive efficiency in the postseason behind only the Chicago Bulls, who faced an anemic Bucks team that was near the bottom of the league offensively during the regular season.

The playoff Wizards are very different than the team we saw for the bulk of the regular season, and if we see that version in round two, things could be very difficult for the top-seeded Hawks.

2. Are the Hawks back? For five-and-a-half of the six games Atlanta needed to eliminate the Nets in the first round, the Hawks rarely displayed the kind of offensive prowess that allowed them to win 60 games during the regular season. Atlanta finally regained its edge in Game 6, with the starting unit rolling offensively in both the first and third quarters, and finally looking like the club that won 40 of its first 48 games of the season.

The problem with Atlanta was its reserve unit, which the Nets were able to exploit consistently throughout the series. Dennis Schröder was largely awful in trying to run the team when Jeff Teague needed to rest, Kent Bazemore couldn’t shoot, and Mike Scott and Pero Antic weren’t great defensively. The Hawks will need strong, cohesive performances from their starters in this series (like the one they put together in closing out the Nets) in order to stay with what’s become a very good Wizards team.

3. Kyle Korver: It’s no secret that Korver is a devastating threat for the Hawks offensively. He shoots the ball at an extremely high percentage, and can run a defense ragged in trying to account for him on every possession. Washington needs to stay home defending Korver, and never (never!) help off of him, because Atlanta finds him seemingly every time he’s left open for even a second.

Washington’s ability to slow the Hawks starts with shutting down Jeff Teague at the point of attack, which John Wall should be capable of doing at times. But once the ball gets moving and the cutters start diving to the basket, the rest of Washington’s team defense needs to account for everyone, while Korver’s man stays glued to him at all times.

PREDICTION

I’m not convinced Atlanta can consistently carve up Washington the way they did the Nets, and I’m choosing to believe that the playoff Wizards will return for at least one more round.

Wizards in 6.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.