To play­offs

Sce­nar­ios changed since last meet­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

John Wall’s fall. Paul Pierce’s shot. Pierce’s other shot. Rap­per 2 Chainz yelling in Bradley Beal’s ear. Al Hor­ford’s re­bound.

Those were all scenes and events from the 2015 Eastern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals when the Washington Wizards lost a six-game se­ries to the At­lanta Hawks.

Washington was an up­start then. At­lanta en­tered the se­ries as the con­fer­ence’s top seed. Af­ter sweep­ing a firstround matchup with Toronto, Washington moved on to meet the ball-mov­ing, in-sync Hawks and nearly came away with an­other up­set.

The Wizards and Hawks will add a new round to their re­cent play­off bat­tling when the teams meet in the first round this sea­son. Washington will have home­court ad­van­tage as the No. 4 seed. At­lanta beat Char­lotte on Tues­day night to secure the No. 5 spot and a re­match from two sea­sons ago. The times and sched­ule are to be de­ter­mined.

Both are changed teams since they last met in the play­offs -- and since they last played in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

Pierce is gone, rid­ing out his fi­nal sea­son in Los An­ge­les with the Clip­pers. For­mer Washington coach Randy Wittman is also gone. Marki­eff Mor­ris is in and Washington’s bench doesn’t have one player who par­tic­i­pated in that se­ries.

At­lanta brought in Dwight Howard and sent out point guard Jeff Teague. It wob­bled through much of the sec­ond half of this sea­son be­fore beat­ing Cleve­land in back-to-back games last week and win­ning Tues­day night to fin­ish fifth.

The teams opened the sea­son against each other. At­lanta won in Phillips Arena,

114-99. That was the start of a dis­mal be­gin­ning for Washington, which went 2-8 in its first 10 games. The Wizards even­tu­ally be­came the first team in NBA his­tory to start a sea­son 2-8 and fin­ish with 49 or more wins. They wrap the reg­u­lar sea­son Wed­nes­day in Mi­ami.

Two games af­ter drop­ping the opener, Washington beat At­lanta in Ver­i­zon Cen­ter, 95-92.

The teams did not play each other again un­til Jan. 27, when Washington was in the midst of the its high point and At­lanta was dawdling. The Wizards blew the Hawks out in At­lanta, 112-86. An­other Washington win came March 22 at home. This time, the Wizards pushed to a 104-100 vic­tory thanks to a 37-point fourth quar­ter. That coun­tered an ob­scene 16-point first quar­ter.

This week­end will start Washington’s third play­off trip in four sea­sons. It has not held home­court ad­van­tage in ei­ther of the pre­vi­ous two. The 49 wins are the most for the or­ga­ni­za­tion since the 1979 sea­son. The Wizards’ South­east Di­vi­sion ti­tle is the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s first di­vi­sion ti­tle since that same 1979 sea­son.

In a nod to preser­va­tion, the Wizards rested Wall, Beal and Marki­eff Mor­ris in Wed­nes­day night’s fi­nale against Mi­ami. Washington win­ning would vault it to 50 wins, but Wizards coach Scott Brooks opted for rest in­stead of chas­ing one more win with his best unit. Otto Porter was back in the start­ing lineup af­ter miss­ing con­sec­u­tive games be­cause of back spasms.

Brooks also de­liv­ered trou­bling news. Backup cen­ter Ian Mahinmi, Washington’s best de­fen­sive big man, will be out for the first few games of the play­offs be­cause of a calf strain. He will be reeval­u­ated in 7-10 days. Washington is ex­pected to open the play­offs Satur­day or Sun­day.

Mahinmi, 30, has been be­sieged by in­juries in his first sea­son with Washington af­ter he signed a $64 mil­lion con­tract in the off­sea­son. Pre­sea­son knee surgery caused his sea­son de­but to be de­layed un­til Nov. 26. He did not play again un­til Feb. 8. Mahinmi re­ceived platelet­rich plasma in­jec­tions in both knees in De­cem­ber, which fur­ther de­layed his re­cov­ery.

Once he played his way into shape, Mahinmi dis­cov­ered a strong rhythm as Washington’s best post de­fender. His min­utes on the floor in­creased each month and he was es­sen­tially split­ting time with start­ing cen­ter Marcin Gor­tat in April.

But, Mahinmi’s calf was in­jured Mon­day against the Detroit Pis­tons when he chal­lenged a jump shot. He left the game right af­ter the play and did not re­turn.

At­lanta starts burly cen­ter Dwight Howard, though it plays Mike Mus­cala, who is more of a stretch-four than a cen­ter, be­hind him. With­out Mahinmi, the Wizards are likely to use Mor­ris and Ja­son Smith more at cen­ter. Both can guard Mus­cala, who takes about a third of his shots from be­hind the 3-point line.

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