Wall, Beal healthy as Wizards, Hawks meet again in playoffs
WASHINGTON (AP) Plenty has changed about the Washington Wizards in the two years since a playoff series loss to the Atlanta Hawks, yet Bradley Beal harbors the same feelings.
''We're still salty about it,'' Beal said. ''Regardless of the teams maybe (being) different than the last time we were there, that's the team that knocked us out. It's kind of a little vengeance-type thing.''
Two years ago, the Hawks eliminated the Wizards in six games in the second round, with Washington point guard John Wall dealing with a broken hand. Scott Brooks is in as Wizards coach, Dwight Howard has replaced Al Horford in Atlanta and Wall and Beal are now healthy going into the playoff rematch.
''Both teams added some different people, but the teams still play kind of the same way,'' said Wall, who set career highs by averaging 23.1 points, 10.7 assists and an NBA-best 2.1 steals this season. ''It's fun and it's exciting that we're healthy.''
Two years ago, Wall suffered five fractures in his left hand and wrist in Game 1, missing the next three and being hampered after that. His teammates have said they believe they would've won the series had Wall been healthy, and they will now get the chance to show it with the additions of power forward Markieff Morris, swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. and the expanded role of sharpshooter Otto Porter.
Atlanta has the inside-out combo of Howard, power forward Paul Millsap and point guard Dennis Schroder to cause problems. The Hawks won six of their last nine games.
''We needed that extra little boost, that extra little nudge to get us back to where we needed to be,'' Millsap said.
Though the Hawks are in the playoffs for the 10th consecutive year, the Wizards return after a disastrous injury-plagued 2015-16 season that led to the firing of coach Randy Wittman and many more changes.
But the biggest improvement in Washington is health that contributed to a 49-win season. Wall had been recently bothered by a calf injury but said he's ''perfecto'' now.
''Been getting a lot of treatment every day and doing the stuff I was doing before I had it,'' Wall said. ''It feels way better, 100 percent.''
Here are some things to watch in the first-round series between the Wizards and Hawks that begins Sunday:
HAWKS LINEUP: Rookie Taurean Prince will remain a starter in the playoffs after getting limited minutes for much of the season. Prince didn't make his first career start until March 26, but he has played well enough for coach Mike Budenholzer to keep him in the lineup along with Tim Hardaway Jr.
''I think having them in the starting lineup has been good,'' Budenholzer said. ''It's just a good mix of guys that we're going to stick with.''
WIZARDS DEPTH: Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld emphasized improving the bench, signing big man Jason Smith in the offseason, trading for swingman Bojan Bogdanovic and adding Brandon Jennings after the deadline. The second unit is now formidable and can match up with Atlanta and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
ATLANTA BENCH: Teams generally shorten their benches in the playoffs, but the Hawks are planning to stick with a deep rotation that includes former starter Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Muscala, Mike Dunleavy and Thabo Sefolosha.
The backups played well during a late-season surge that coincided with a reduction in minutes for Howard.
''I just feel like we've got a lot of options, a lot of guys we have confidence in,'' Budenholzer said.
PORTER TIME: Porter improved his 3-point shooting to a career-best 43.4 percent even as opponents started keying on his shot. Brooks wants the Wizards to get better at guarding the 3-point line, but Porter and Oubre's ability to respond in kind helps Washington.
STOPPING WALL: The Hawks will have their hands full against Wall. Schroder, who will draw the imposing defensive assignment, said it's vital that his teammates step up to provide help when Wall gets free.
''When John Wall beats me, we've got to do a good job,'' Schroder said. ''We've just got to scramble. Everybody got to cover for each other.''
AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.