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NBA Daily: From 17-32 To Playoffs, Where Do The Washington Wizards Go From Here?

With Washington’s season under wraps, Tristan Tucker evaluates the Wizards’ options moving forward and why this offseason is the most important in recent franchise history.

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While it was quite the bumpy ride, the Washington Wizards clinched a playoff berth in the 2020-21 season despite starting the year at 17-32. It required big moves at the trade deadline, a 17-6 run to close out the regular season and a Play-In Tournament win but the Wizards managed to make the playoffs and steal a game from the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.

Despite the tremendous finish to the season, an ever-important question looms over the franchise — what’s next?

The first path, banking on internal growth, is the easiest for the front office to do but could leave the franchise stuck with a first-round exit ceiling for the foreseeable future. Don’t be mistaken, the Wizards’ second-half run was phenomenal. Of the team’s six losses after starting 17-32, only one was by more than four points. Three of those losses were by one point. Even more impressive is the fact that it all happened without Thomas Bryant or Deni Avdija, two key contributors for the team that went down for the season.

Washington’s front office may decide that it liked what it saw from this group and run it back. There’s no denying that the team’s center conundrum would be resolved by Bryant’s return and Avdija showed enough flashes to be a starting-caliber player on a playoff team. Add Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford’s next steps to the equation, and there’s a formidable team in the making.

“We’re young,” said Russell Westbrook. “It’s important that [the young players] understand what it’s like in the playoffs. Understand what it’s like to be in the fight. Understand what it’s like to not take nights off. And that’s a part of my job, to make sure that I’m here to make sure that that’s instilled in them… With that, we still fought through and got ourselves in the playoffs. But understanding the importance of coming back each year better…is important for our group.”

The Wizards also have the 15th overall pick in the upcoming draft, which is supposed to be one of the deepest in recent years. Pick No. 15 has a complicated history itself. In recent years, that selection has seen players like Adreian Payne, who is no longer in the league, or Troy Brown Jr., who the Wizards traded this year. On the other hand, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard were 15th overall picks in the last decade; and the Wizards might land an instant contributor that could add to an already stacked young core.

But the logic of running largely the same team back is flawed for several reasons. For one, there’s no guarantee that any of the talented young players that this roster boasts will develop into a tertiary star for Washington. Hachimura is the closest thing, and he did have a dominant playoff series averaging 14.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 61.7 percent from the floor, but that’s never a given.

Furthermore, Washington’s run saw nearly every veteran player on the roster playing at their best and it still wasn’t enough to come close to upsetting the Sixers. There’s a sizable gap between the Wizards and the upper playoff teams.

For reference on why running back the same squad is a bad idea, look no further than the 2016-17 Miami HEAT. After losing franchise icon Dwyane Wade, the team started 11-30 but finished the year at 41-41 and had the ninth seed. That summer, the HEAT strapped itself with huge contracts handed out to James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk. The team proceeded to miss the playoffs the following season. While the HEAT returned to playoff form shortly thereafter, Washington doesn’t have the luxury of being a big market team.

While the Wizards have limited cap space anyways, rewarding players like Robin Lopez, Raul Neto and Ish Smith with pay raises following their strong campaigns could lead to mediocrity. Pair that with a looming rookie-scale extension for Hachimura and long-term decisions on Bryant and emerging role player Anthony Gill, and there’s a bloated cap sheet on the horizon.

And even though Washington fought admirably to get into the playoffs and the front office was aggressive in adding talent for Bradley Beal this season, it might not be enough to keep the star around much longer. In fact, Beal didn’t want to talk about the subject following the team’s first-round exit.

“I’m not even going to think about that or talk about that right now,” Beal said when asked if Washington did enough to convince him to stay. “The biggest thing for me is we battled the whole year. We didn’t start off the year the way we wanted to. It was frustrating all around for everyone… I’m very optimistic and I persevere through a lot of adversity and I think we did that as a team. 

“So for me, I think we just put ourselves in the best position to win… For the most part, I was happy with that. I was excited with the fact that we competed and we gave ourselves a chance at the end of the year. We obviously still need to get better. We have a lot of room for improvement across the board. But as of now, I haven’t thought about any of that.”

Beal has given it his all for Washington over the course of his career but hasn’t exactly been rewarded for his loyalty. The additions of Westbrook and Gafford were steps in the right direction, but the front office cannot afford to be complacent this offseason. Keep in mind that both Beal and Westbrook have player options for the 2022-23 season. That means that Washington has, at most, one more season to prove to its stars that it can compete.

That means changes will be necessary this offseason, which could start with the coaching staff. There have been rumors all season about a potential Scott Brooks departure. However, the players seem to be happy to have him around.

“Man, it was amazing,” Westbrook said. “You know, Scotty has always been close to me throughout my career. To be reconnected with him was a blessing overall and this year made it a hell of a job. He did a job that I’m pretty sure people didn’t think he was able to do. He kept us together. He kept us encouraged. He kept us fighting. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for it but he deserves a lot of credit for putting us in a position to be successful… I’m so thankful to have a coach that believes and trusts in my abilities.”

Brooks seemed to be filled with nothing but pride following Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Sixers in the playoffs.

“I love it here,” Brooks said. “There’s no decision in my mind. I love it here. I’ve gotten to know Ted [Leonsis] and his family and the ownership group. And what I saw in the first three and a half years was incredible. When COVID-19 suspended play, that’s when I saw what great ownership is about. I saw firsthand, he made every decision based on our team, our employees, our people. And that is what a good organization is about… I wouldn’t want to move on. I love it here. I love this city.”

There’s also a chance that the Wizards get in on star chasing, which they absolutely have the ability to do via trade. If there’s a disgruntled star that fits with Beal and Westbrook, Washington has larger contracts for some of its role players, along with several young assets to include in potential trades. General manager Tommy Sheppard reportedly isn’t afraid to swing for the fences.

“We’ve gotta continue to add talent everywhere we can, and I think we’ve shown that I’m not afraid to take big swings,” Sheppard told Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. “We’re not afraid to go out and acquire players in trades, to do whatever it takes.”

Normally, Washington wouldn’t sound like a great destination for a disgruntled star looking to win, but the franchise proved that it could with its surging second half of the regular season.

Fortunately for Washington, this season appears to be the year of the small market. Of teams left in the playoffs, five have never won the finals. Out of the three others, the most recent champion is Philly, who last won in 1983. Add to that the ability to play with two bonafide stars in Beal and Westbrook and Washington looks far more appealing than most might think.

Even if the team doesn’t swing for another star, it has multiple avenues to work and build around the edges. Players like Davis Bertans and Bryant are on tradeable contracts if need be, and more moves around the edges like the one that brought Gafford to the Wizards could be fruitful. However, making these types of moves won’t be the end-all, be-all for the team.

For most of the last two seasons, even during the playoff run, it felt like Washington’s rotation was constantly in flux. Including players that the team traded, the Wizards had roughly 18 rotation players in total. This was evident in the playoffs more than anywhere else when the team used four different starting lineups in just five games. If the Wizards hope to take a step forward, injuries permitting, this cannot happen again.

As previously stated, this looks like it might be the final opportunity for Washington to prove itself to Beal. With several critical decisions to make before the end of July, the pressure is officially on for Sheppard and the Wizards.

My name is Tristan Tucker and I am a basketball writer currently enrolled at North Carolina State University. I am the school paper's assistant sports editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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NBA Daily: Milwaukee Bucks Face Unique Situation

Despite a successful season, Tristan Tucker looks at why the Milwaukee Bucks face uncertainty regarding their future.

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Despite beating the dominant Brooklyn Nets in seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks face more uncertainty about their future than any other team in the playoffs. Last season, the Bucks accrued a 56-17 record that was good for best in the league. However, the team disappointed and saw a second-round exit at the hands of the Miami HEAT.

After that disappointing finish to a season that many believed would lead to an NBA Championship, the Bucks faced many criticisms. In response, Milwaukee rushed to fix many of those issues. Eric Bledsoe and a boatload of first-round picks were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday. The team then swapped out its bench rotation, filling it out with players like P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. The Bucks even got older rookies Sam Merrill and Mamadi Diakite to play quick spot minutes.

But Milwaukee’s biggest criticism was one that was left unresolved: the coaching situation. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner. Budenholzer first won the award after getting the Atlanta Hawks over 60 wins in 2014-15. Then, he did it again with the Bucks two years ago. Despite his metal, Budenholzer’s rotation decisions were met with criticism and confusion during the heartbreaking loss to Miami in 2020. Many fans around the league noticed that many stars were playing well over 40 minutes in big games and never played less than 36. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s big names sat for extended periods of time.

For reference, Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers played over 36 minutes per game in the playoffs last season. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo did the same for the HEAT. Both of those teams moved on to the Finals. On the other hand, Khris Middleton led the team with 35.5 minutes per game in the playoffs while Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 30.8 minutes a night.

Despite this, Milwaukee’s brain trust kept Budenholzer into the 2020-21 season. And so far, that seems like the right decision. The Bucks came back in a big way in the playoffs, being the only team to sweep another team, Miami, in the first round. Then, the Bucks battled back into the series against the Nets, evening the series twice after falling back the same number of times before eventually overcoming the then-title favorites. The team is now matched up with the scorching-hot Hawks and has gone down 1-0 in the series.

All seems to be going relatively well for the Bucks despite the current series. Budenholzer seems to have learned his lesson, his stars are all playing over 37 minutes per game. In fact, the whole rotation seems to be clicking.

Middleton in particular put together the best postseason performance of his career in Game 6 against the Nets. The former All-Star ended that contest with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, missing just five of his 16 shots. This isn’t new for Middleton, who is the face of consistency in the league. Outside of an injury-marred 2016-17 season, Middleton has averaged around 20 points per game for almost six straight years.

In each of the last two seasons, Middleton came within inches of securing a 50/40/90 season. Both seasons have seen a respectable amount of attempts from deep and the charity stripe. Middleton even became the go-to guy on offense for the Bucks. Just watch his and his teammates’ confidence in him as he buried a four-point play to ice Game 6 against Brooklyn:

It isn’t just Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing more aggressively as of late, securing 30 points on 20 field goal attempts in Game 6 against the Nets. “The Greek Freak” followed that performance up with a 40-point showing to clinch that series, officially avenging last year. In Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Antetokounmpo put up 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 41 minutes.

Holiday hasn’t had the best playoff stint of his career, but there’s no denying how absurdly better the team’s perimeter defense is with Holiday substituting for Bledsoe and George Hill. The team’s faith in Holiday paid off with a 33-point, 10-assist showing that saw the middle Holiday brother connect on five 3-pointers.

Some of the most notable changes came from Milwaukee’s bench. Forbes and Portis in particular took the next step as players this year. Both players took one-year bets on themselves in the offseason that are sure to result in paydays this summer. Portis and Forbes ranked third and fourth in the regular season in three-point percentage, respectively. Forbes in particular became notorious for how he torched the HEAT in the first round from deep.

And yet, despite the positives, the Bucks still face one of the biggest crossroads of any team in the playoffs. And it all depends on how deep this team can go.

Despite beating the Nets, Budenholzer is still on the hot seat. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the series win over Brooklyn will go a long way in determining Budenholzer’s future, the two-time Coach of the Year still hasn’t made the Finals as a head coach. If Budenholzer and the Bucks lose to the Hawks, who they are much better than on paper, it could have a ripple effect on the franchise. In fact, several reports indicate that the team is already looking at potential replacements if things go south.

It’s an odd turnaround for a team that is experiencing the high of knocking off the title favorites. Middleton had a poor Game 1, and the team likely doesn’t lose that game if he is clicking. But Budenholzer’s questionable rotation decisions still plagued the team, with seldom-used Jeff Teague seeing six critical minutes against Trae Young.

Firing a head coach — especially one as successful as Budenholzer has been in the regular season — is no small task. The move would likely come with several other staff and roster changes.

Despite how great Portis and Forbes have been for the team, it’s unlikely Milwaukee can afford either moving forward. Portis and Forbes both have player options for next season, Portis at $3.8 million and Forbes at $2.4 million. There’s no way either remains on the Bucks at that price with a weak free-agent class on the horizon. And unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the money to re-sign either to a huge number.

That path would lead to the team being extremely aggressive with what money and assets it does have. The team reportedly agreed to trade Donte DiVincenzo — who is now out with injury — for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade before Bogdanovic refused to be traded there. Other players like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have tradeable salaries and could help bring in another impact player.

If the Bucks went the distance, Budenholzer would most likely stay and the franchise would avoid a culture reset. Forbes and Portis probably still depart, but other free agents like Tucker would likely be more inclined to re-sign for a smaller salary.

In that case, the team would be more inclined to sit back and watch internal growth. Players like Jordan Nwora, Merrill or Diakite could fill the holes left by potential Forbes or Portis departures. That isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be aggressive, but there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that would see such a huge change if they were eliminated. 

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns was a Coach of the Year finalist. The Suns have the assets for internal and external growth if eliminated. The Hawks vastly improved from the last season, and have a direct pathway to getting better through guys like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. And the Los Angeles Clippers will likely retain Tyronn Lue and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, even if things go awry.

Unfortunately for Budenholzer, this is a unique situation. There haven’t been many do-or-die cases involving jobs this deep into the playoffs involving contenders. For Budenholzer, winning the title secures his job. If he fails to do so, it could spell the end of his Milwaukee tenure.

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Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night

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Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.

The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.

Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…

Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?

All odds from Bovada Sportsbook. New customers get $750 free to bet on Suns @ Clippers

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds 

Phoenix Suns: -115

Los Angeles Clippers: -107

Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)

Phoenix Suns -1

Los Angeles Clippers -1

Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.

Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.

There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.

Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.

That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.

Phoenix Suns Preview

The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.

Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.

Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.

Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.

Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction

We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.

We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

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NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue

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The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.

In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.

2021 NBA Championship Odds

With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.

Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard

It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.

After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.

Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise

The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.

Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.

It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.

Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks

Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.

Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.

That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.

Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.

Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!

Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions

The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.

Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.

It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.

Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

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