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Game 5 Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks

Buddy Grizzard breaks down the round one matchup between the Wizards and Hawks, and picks Game 5.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Atlanta Hawks holding serve at home to tie its first round playoff series with the Washington Wizards 2-2, these teams are starting to look fairly evenly matched. To try to predict what may happen as the series becomes a best two out of three — starting tonight at 6 PM at Verizon Center in D.C. — we’ll start with a brief game-by-game recap of the series to this point, followed by a look at some key stats.

First the series recap:

Game 1: Wizards Starters Dominate, 114-107

The Wizards led the NBA during the regular season in instances of all five starters scoring in double figures. In Game 1, it appeared that Washington’s starting unit had asserted itself as a key factor for the series. All five starters scored in double figures, three scored at least 18 and John Wall dominated with 32 points and 14 assists. Four starters posted a plus-minus of at least +18.

By contrast, all five Hawks starters posted a negative plus-minus, four of them by double digits. Atlanta was only able to keep the game close because the bench outscored Washington’s 35-15. Both teams shot under 29 percent from three while Atlanta held a 39-17 advantage in free throw attempts.

Game 2: Wizards Survive “Double MMA,” 109-101

The Wizards appeared to seize control of the series as its back court dominated once again. Wall had 32 again with nine assists and Bradley Beal dominated Atlanta’s Tim Hardaway Jr. with 31 points and a +14 compared to the Atlanta shooting guard’s 19 points and a team-worst -20. This time Washington’s bench showed up, outscoring Atlanta’s 25-14.

Atlanta shot just 20 percent from three while the Wizards shot 32 percent. Washington pushed its advantage in blocked shots to 19-9 for the series while winning the rebound battle 43-41. Free throws were more even with Atlanta holding a 38-33 advantage in attempts. Paul Millsap had 27 points with 10 rebounds for the Hawks while Dennis Schroder scored 23. But it wasn’t enough to prevent falling into a 2-0 series hole.

Dwight Howard played only 20 minutes and did not appear after he checked out with 3:43 to play in the third. In a possible response to Markieff Morris’ “double MMA” comment, the officials called 55 fouls. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said he went with a “gut feel” in deciding to go small to match the Wizards as Washington closed on a 42-28 run with Howard out of the game.

Game 3: Hawks Show Up, 116-98

Game 3 marked a shift in the series with Atlanta finally showing the necessary mental focus. After committing 19 turnovers in Game 1 and 18 in Game 2, the Hawks committed only 11 in Game 3. Millsap scored 29 points with 14 rebounds. Schroder added 27 with nine assists and Atlanta’s starters ranged from Schroder’s +18 to Howard’s +24.

The Hawks jumped out to a 25 point lead in the first quarter and at times looked to make it a blowout, but Budenholzer had to call several timeouts to keep the Wizards from closing within single digits. Wall led Washington again with 29 points and seven assists, but all five Wizards starters posted a double-digit negative plus-minus.

Atlanta finally had a decent game from three-point range (36 percent) while the Wizards struggled (24 percent). The Hawks won the rebound battle 50-42 and attempted 32 free throws to only 20 for the Wizards. Atlanta dominated points in the paint 60-34.

Game 4: The Jose Calderon Game, 111-101

All five Hawks starters scored in double figures and Atlanta became the only team in these playoffs with seven players in double figures. But the real story was Jose Calderon’s +29 performance in 20 emergency minutes after Schroder picked up three fouls in the first quarter. Budenholzer was able to hold Schroder out until the start of the second half thanks to Calderon’s game-saving contribution.

Beal once again dominated with 32 points, while Wall’s 22 were his lowest output of the series. Atlanta’s three-point percentage ticked up to an impressive 39 percent while Washington shot a respectable 34 percent. Atlanta kept its turnovers low at 12 while free throw attempts and rebounds were fairly even. Taurean Prince became the first rookie in Hawks history to score in double digits in his first four playoff starts. Atlanta once again won the paint scoring battle 44-30.

Key stats

Wall has crushed the Hawks in transition, scoring 1.52 points per possession in 25 possessions. His efficiency in transition is second only to Normal Powell among players with at least 10 transition possessions in the playoffs. Interestingly it’s Beal — not Wall — who has excelled as the ball handler in pick and rolls (1.21 per, 29 possessions). Beal has also excelled with 1.09 points per on 23 possessions off screens. Schroder has been good in higher volume as the pick and roll ball handler (1.06 per, 49 possessions) and Wall has been fairly average (.91 per, 46 possessions).

Millsap has excelled in the post. He’s the only player in the series with at least 10 possessions in post isolation (19) and he’s scoring 1.05 points per. Howard’s one point per in eight post possessions is a vast improvement over the tepid .84 he scored during the regular season. However, after attempting nearly four post-ups per game in the regular season, Howard is attempting only two per game in the playoffs. No Wizards player has attempted more post-ups than Wall’s three, a sign that Howard’s presence at the rim has discouraged Marcin Gortat and Morris from isolating around the basket.

Game 5 Prediction

Simply put, the Hawks should be up 3-1 in this series heading back to Washington. With the officials whistle-happy in Game 2 after Morris’ “double MMA” comment, the Wizards were in deep foul trouble. But Budenholzer took his foot off the gas, failing to capitalize by punishing the Wizards inside with Howard. His decision to go with Mike Muscala in the fourth quarter over Howard harkens back to his head-scratching decision to stick with a hobbled, under-performing Jeff Teague during last year’s 4-0 sweep by the Cavaliers.

Schroder lit the Cavs up for 27 points on 5-for-10 three-point shooting in Game 1 before Budenholzer astonishingly declined to play him more than 15 minutes the next two games. Schroder finished the series with 21 points in Game 4, but it was too little, too late. Teague finished his Hawks career with a five point, two assist whimper. Had Budenholzer trusted in Atlanta’s youth movement sooner, it might be farther along.

Nevertheless, it is the Wizards who find their backs against the wall. Atlanta has already proven that it can play Washington close in its building. There’s no pressure on the Hawks, who can tie the series again in Game 6 at home if it loses Game 5.

But that won’t happen. The Hawks are going to play loose and confident and steal Game 5 on the road in Washington. The Wizards are too focused on winning the press conference and not focused enough on winning the series.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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