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Wizards Week Ahead - 3/20/17

March 20, 2017
The Wizards enter the week looking for a better showing than their 1-3 mark over their last four games. After a showdown with the Celtics in Boston on Monday, they'll come home for a pair before embarking on their second long road trip of the month. This is the time of year where the playoff picture gets put under the magnifying glass, and Washington will want to make sure they keep at least their current No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. Let's take a look at how they can get there with another busy slate of games this week. 

Monday at Boston Celtics - 7:30pm, CSN/1500 AM

This is the big one of the week. The Wizards and the Celtics are separated by just 1.5 games heading into Monday's final game between the two teams. Each of the three previous games have been hotly contested so far this season, and in front of a raucous TD Garden crowd, this one should be no different. Boston is coming off of a loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night, but had won three straight prior to its stumble against the Sixers. Washington has won the last two meetings against the Celtics and is looking for the season series win Monday. 

Boston is a relatively known quantity at this point in the season, albeit a good one. Isaiah Thomas averages a whopping 29.2 points per game, a mark that's tied for second in the NBA this season entering play Monday. Behind the diminutive scoring dynamo are four more players who average in double figures in Avery Bradley (16.8), Al Horford (14.3), Jae Crowder (13.5) and Marcus Smart (10.7). That's a good first five, but Boston boasts plenty of versatile depth beyond that with young guns like Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier along with bigs Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson. The Celtics are a top-10 team in the scoring department and a middle-of-the-road defensive team, so Washington will need to lock in defensively and use stops to create opportunities. Monday's edition of Wizards-Celtics will be a fun one. 

Wednesday vs. Atlanta Hawks - 8pm, ESPN/1500 AM
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Atlanta's second half of the season has been a story of fits and starts. Its last nine games entering the week have consisted of two three-game losing slides with a three-game win streak in the middle. All of that has landed the Hawks in fifth in the East with a 37-32 record as we near the end of the regular season. For Wednesday, Atlanta will be without two key figures in Paul Millsap (averaging a team-best 18.1 points per game) and Kent Bazemore. The Hawks still bring Dwight Howard (13.1 points, 12.8 rebounds), Tim Hardaway (13.9 points) and Dennis Schroder (17.6 points, 6.3 assists) to the table, but the absence of Millsap and Bazemore will hurt. 

Atlanta has slipped out of its usual spot inside the NBA's top-10 as far as opponent scoring, and their 103.6 points per game are just 21st in the league this season. Washington won its last meeting with the Hawks, 112-86, but will need to stay sharp to secure a win in the middle of a difficult week and hold ground in the playoff picture. 

Friday vs. Brooklyn Nets - 7pm, CSN/1500 AM
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Still in the early stages of a complete rebuild, the Nets come into the week with the worst record in the NBA by seven games at 13-56. They're a middle-of-the-pack scoring team at 105.8 points per game, but haven't been able to stop opponents all season, allowing a league-worst 113.9 points per game. Brook Lopez remains Brooklyn's greatest threat offensively, as he's scoring a team-high 20.7 points per game. Jeremy Lin (13.7 points) and Sean Kilpatrick (13.3 points) round out the team's top three offensively. Finally, Bojan Bogdanovic will get his first look at his old squad on Friday after spending his first 2.5 NBA seasons in Brooklyn. 

Saturday at Cleveland Cavaliers - 7pm, CSN/1500 AM 

The first team in the Eastern Conference to lock up a playoff spot at 46-23 entering the week, the Cavs are getting healthy just in time for the end of the regular season. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are back from injuries, and Cleveland has added Derrick Williams and Deron Williams since its visit to D.C. that wound up being a classic. LeBron James (26.2 points, 8.8 assists, 8.4 rebounds) is still the captain of the ship and the team's leading scorer, but Kyrie Irving is hot on his heels with 25.5 points per game. Love's return makes the Cavs dangerous, as he adds 19.8 points and 11.1 rebounds to the fold. 

Cleveland prefers to outscore its opponents, averaging the fourth-best scoring output in the NBA this season at 110.4. The Cavs also allow 106.3 points per game (19th in the NBA). When the Wizards last saw Cleveland, they scored 120 in regulation and another 15 in overtime. There's no question that the Cavs are the team to beat in the East, but Washington has proven its ability to stick right with them, making Friday's tilt a potential playoff preview. The Wizards will need their best effort to down a deep and finally healthy Cleveland team. 
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