Much has changed, but rivalry with Hawks hasn’t
The 2015 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals seem like a distant memory. Many of the principal characters who starred in the drama have since changed alliances. The man who called “Game!” will soon retire and the point guard who clotheslined Bradley Beal wears a new uniform, too
Still, Beal has not forgotten about the bad blood between his Washington Wizards and divisional rival Atlanta Hawks.
The Wizards will open the season at Atlanta on Thursday night. Though both teams have undergone massive renovation — the Wizards added a new coaching staff and bench rotation, while the Hawks replaced longtime starters — the heated competition still flares.
“It ’ l l probably be chippy this game,” Beal said Tuesday. “It’s our first game of the year; everybody’s excited and emotions usually run high, and that’s a team we kind of go back and forth with.”
Two seasons ago, the teams competed in the second round. Through the six games, Beal averaged 25.1 points per game. There was Paul Pierce’s buzzer-beating fadeaway in Game 3. On that same night, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague tried ripping off Beal’s head, committing a flagrant-1 foul. And as the lament in Verizon Center goes: If John Wall hadn’t suffered a fractured left hand and wrist, the Wizards would’ve reached the conference finals.
Now Pierce is a Los Angeles Clipper who says he will retire after this season. Teague is an Indiana Pacer, and center Dwight Howard has moved in as the Hawks’ newest star. And after missing t he 2016 playoffs, the Wizards have pressed the reset button with new coach Scott Brooks and eight new players. Even so, the feeling of f acing t he Hawks arouses good vibes.
“I love playing there. I love playing against some of the people they have there,” Wall said.
Ocheful on roster: Rookie free agent Daniel Ochefu, a Baltimore native who attended high school in Pennsylvania, has made Washington’s 15-man roster.
Ochefu, 6 feet 11, became the Wizards’ backup center when the team lost free-agent acquisition Ian Mahinmi to a knee injury that required surgery. Mahinmi would have been the team’s only rim protector but will be sidelined until mid-November.
Now Ochefu, who averaged 1.5 blocks per game during Villanova’s NCAA championship season, is stepping into Mahinmi’s role. “Unfortunately when [Mahinmi] got hurt, I’m the next biggest guy on the roster,” Ochefu said. “I have to be able to step in whenever coach needs me to and provide whatever the team needs me to do.”