Much has changed, but ri­valry with Hawks hasn’t

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD SERIES - By Can­dace Buck­ner

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.”

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