In this match-up, we have a great series on our hands featuring two Southeastern Divisional foes in the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards. Washington, finished with a 49-33 record and earned the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. Also, the Wizards won their first division championship in franchise history since the 1978-79 season. Entering the playoffs with the second most dynamic back-court duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, they will be looking for revenge after the Hawks eliminated them in six games two years ago in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
As for the Hawks, after a up and down year, Atlanta finished strong and earned their 10th Playoff Appearance in a row, longest streak behind the San Antonio Spurs.After finishing the season 43-39, with Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap running the front court, the Hawks will look to win their First Round match-up for the third consecutive year.The Wizards have stars, role players and depth. The Hawks have experience, rebounding and have found some momentum heading into the playoffs. Which team will emerge? All of the Hawks Talk staff will give their series breakdown and prediction.
Daric Clemens-(@DClemens_): Hawks in 6
The Hawks have been on and off this season and the Wizards have been the complete opposite. However, the good news is the Hawks have started to heat up towards the end of the season, and they match up well with Washington. The only true advantage for the Wizards entering the series is John Wall, one of the top point guards in the league, the Hawks success or failures this series solely depends on how we’ll adjust to his impact.
If the Hawks can figure out a way to contain Wall, there’s a strong chance we will win the series. Another defensive mismatch the Hawks will have to contain is shooting guard Bradley Beal. Beal has fared well against Atlanta but he’ll be challenged by one of the league’s top notch defensive units. Hawks fans will finally get to see if “Playoff Dwight” still exists, I feel that Dwight Howard will be dominate against the Wizards and could play a key factor to winning the series.
The Hawks will have to eliminate their high turnover rate, which they struggled to contain throughout this season. Although they were 1-3 against their Southeastern Division foes this season, the playoffs is a different atmosphere. They will need production from everyone in order to win this series and if they continue to move the ball and limit iso ball, they will advance to the Semi-Finals.
Malik Brown- (@_MalikATL): Wizards in 5
Yes, I’m a Hawks fan, but let’s face it: you don’t know what you’re going to get out of this team as we’ve seen this season. This team can be real good at times, and they can be real bad. This series doesn’t make anything better because the Hawks have struggled against the Wizards this season, with their only victory coming in the season opener.
Right now, I don’t see how the Hawks are going to guard the backcourt of Wall and Beal. They can put Thabo Sefolosha and Kent Bazemore on them, but that leaves a matchup of Dennis Schroder against Otto Porter, which can be exposed at any time. I’m expecting to see Bazemore play Point Guard in this series for match-up purposes, and maybe that could limit their backcourt. Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard can dominate their match-ups against Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, and that could be a game changer for the Hawks.
The only way the Hawks are going to have a chance in this series is with their ball movement. In their wins over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, that was some of the best we’ve seen in the team throughout the season because the ball kept moving. Also, I think in order for us to have a chance, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Taurean Prince have to continue their solid contribution like we’ve seen the past weeks. I expect Coach Bud to come out with a great game-plan, but it all comes down to if the Hawks play like they want it. I feel like I’ve seen more bad Hawks than good Hawks this season though, so you can’t blame me for my prediction (hopefully I’m wrong). Wall and Beal are some bad boys.
Phil Veasley -(@ATLHawksPhil): Hawks in 6
The Hawks hold the upper hand in coaching, bench play, front court play and experience. With that being said, the Hawks could easily get swept by Wall and Beal. This team is capable of anything. Good or bad. I’m going to go with my heart here though and pick the Hawks in six games. The dominance of the front court will be too much for Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat to overcome. Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap will have a huge series.
Dennis Schroder can and will hold his own against John Wall and Tim Hardaway Jr. will once again flourish (Pay that man!) This Hawks team is playing with a level of confidence that has not been seen all year and that alone is a difference maker. As we saw in last year’s first round series, Bud will make the necessary adjustments to give this team the best chance to win.
Our biggest challenge will be matching up defensively. Dennis Schroder can’t guard John Wall or Bradley Beal. This will force Bud to “hide” him on Otto Porter but he’s blooming into a great player. Overall, the dominance of the front court will prove to be the difference in this series.
Nathan Butler Jr. (@ATLSportsNate): Wizards in 6
Despite Washington winning the regular season series 3-1 against Atlanta, I feel that the Hawks have a favorable match-up with their Southeastern Division foes. Although the Wizards dynamic duo of Bradley Beal and John Wall presents defensive nightmares for the Hawks, the Hawks have an advantage in the front court with Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard. In particular, Howard averaged almost 15 rebounds per contest against the Wizards this season and with Gortat’s recent struggles, that could be a huge factor for the Hawks in this series.
However, my biggest concern for the Hawks is their offensive production. Atlanta has one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, which ranked fourth best in the league during the regular season with (103.8 points allowed per game). Despite our elite defense, the Hawks offense have their ups & downs which is the biggest reason the team struggled throughout the regular season. Although the bench has improved late in the year, we’ve never seen Atlanta’s bench perform at a high level in the playoffs and with our struggles to generate offense at times, it’s imperative for the Hawks to keep up on the scoreboard or the season will end sooner than the team envisioned.
Washington enters this series with a few advantages such as boasting arguably the second best backcourt in the NBA behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson. Wall should win the matchup with Dennis Schroder and players such as Otto Porter and Bojan Bogdanović,could be a quiet factor in the series so the Hawks will need Thabo Sefolosha, Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore to step up.
Homer: Atlanta in 6
Gut Feeling: Washington in 6
Rashad Milligan: @jeff3006 – Wizards in 5
The Wizards are just a terrible match-up for the Hawks. Since the two last met in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, John Wall is now healthy and even had a stretch of the season where many considered him an MVP candidate. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are older as well. Ian Mahinmi is out the first few games of the series and the Wizards finished the second half of the season ranking 27th in defense since the All-Star Game.
Mar 22, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) shoots as Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) defends during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Dwight Howard should continue to dominate the Wizards in the series, putting up nearly 15 points and 15 rebounds a game against them in the regular season. Howard, however, isn’t the problem. Nor is Mahinmi an issue for the Hawks. Markieff Morris has played physical with the Hawks bigs not named Howard all season long and he’s thrived in games where he rested well in the days leading up to action, which is exactly how the playoff schedule is structured.
Wall and Beal are out for blood, Schroder’s out for Wall, Howard’s out for redemption, and Hardaway Jr.’s out for his new contract. The Hawks should get a win at home, but the Wizards have been one of the more underrated teams in the Eastern Conference this year and this first series is a chance for them to make a statement.
Michael Thomas:@ChosenOne_MT10- Hawks in 6
The Atlanta Hawks are set to face a familiar opponent this weekend to begin the NBA playoffs. Not only will the opponent be the reigning Southeastern Division winner, but these two teams had a very entertaining playoff series just two years ago. The Washington Wizards have been nothing short of an anomaly the last few seasons. One would say this year as well; Atlanta held the first-place position in the division a majority of the first half of the season. Washington started off a little slow, but in a blink of an eye leaped as high as the second seed in the East.
Just over a month ago, pundits were considering the Wizards as a legitimate contender to dethrone LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, Washington did what they have done a lot over the years. The team faltered down the stretch, but regained steam to hold on to homecourt for at least the first round. On the other hand, Atlanta has been erratic all season. The last two weeks of the season, Atlanta was swept by the NBA’s worst team (Brooklyn Nets) and also swept the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. It will be very intriguing to see how the Hawks perform in the first two games in Washington; I’m sure the Hawks will take a sweep, but realistically a split would be just as good.
Washington is coming into this series with a lot of confidence, winning the series 3-1. The two opened up the regular season in Atlanta and the Hawks prevailed in a 15 point victory that wasn’t as close as the final score. Paul Millsap scored 28 and nearly posted a triple double, Dwight Howard had a flawless Hawks debut; scoring 11, posting (19) rebounds and 3 blocks. One of the benefits the Hawks exploited during the series was their effective defense against John Wall . The Hawks held Wall to (3-15) shooting and kept the Wizards lethal perimeter threats from going off.
As I stated earlier, the Hawks have been very inconsistent this season, which could also explain why the Wizards would win the last three matchups between the two teams. The Wizards won the second matchup 95-92 in a very close game throughout. Hawks stayed on course in dominating the boards, however, like most of the season, turnovers was Atlanta’s Achilles heel. The two Eastern conference titans faced off the week before the Super Bowl and you could tell. Dwight Howard donned a Julio Jones jersey before the game and a few members of the Falcons attended the game. It’s safe to say the entire city of Atlanta was distracted and rightly so, but the Hawks didn’t show on this particular night getting blown out 112-86. There’s a few misleading numbers that standout from this game one in particular was Paul Millsap shooting 1-7. I’m confident he won’t be as ineffective in a playoff series.
Mar 22, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) shoots over Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) during the first half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Another staggering stat was every Wizards starter scored AT LEAST 15 points on this night. It’s going to be extremely difficult to beat a team whose starters combined for 90 points. In the final matchup of the season, Hawks were without Paul Millsap and in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. The Wizards went on to win 104-100 in Washington behind a combine 50 points from the Bradley Beal and John Wall. Tim Hardaway Jr. ended his night with 29, and the Hawks both got double doubles from Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder
Outside of the blowout loss, this was a very competitive season series. However, 3-1 is 3-1 and the Wizards have the edge and will look to use homecourt advantage to its benefit. There are three keys to this series that will separate these two teams.
REBOUNDS: The team who can win the rebound battle will win each game in the series. Dating back to the 2015-2016 season, the team whom dominated the boards won the game. I don’t expect anything different in this series and the Hawks should have the edge due to the physical impact of Howard & Millsap.
EXPERIENCE: The Hawks are making their tenth consecutive playoff appearance and their roster will enter with more experience in the Post-Season than Washington. With the addition of Dwight Howard, the Hawks have a player with NBA Finals Experience, he led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009. Experience can play a underrated factor in the playoffs and is overlooked, but is a vital key in winning a series where it is very hard to give an edge to one team or another.
PAUL MILLSAP: Wall and Beal are two names you’ll hear throughout this series to nausea, but don’t be fooled. Paul Millsap is the best player in this series. Millsap had another incredible season and continues to improve even on the downside of 30. Paul averaged 18 points per game and 7 rebounds this season in route to his fourth consecutive All-star appearance. The biggest key to the Hawks success in this series will be how Millsap benefits from the amount of rest he’s received the latter part of the season due to precautionary reasons involving an injury.
Intriguing matchups to watch:
· Tim Hardaway Jr. vs. Bradley Beal
· Dwight Howard vs. Marcin Gortat
· Dennis Schroder vs. John Wall
The Hawks are one of the hottest teams in the league entering the playoffs. Initially, I saw the series in 7, but I frimly believe that Atlanta can steal a game in Washington and sweep at home. According to the ESPN power index, Washington has a 66% chance to win the series, however they have the greatest percentage of every team that has homecourt to be upset. This series ends in 6, Atlanta 4-2.
Garrett Brown: @_GMB96 – Hawks in 6
Washington’s offense enter the playoffs ranked 9th in the NBA. An offense that boast the elite backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards success starts and end with their contribution . If the combination of Beal and Wall continues their dominance against Atlanta in this series, the Hawks could be in trouble. Another stat Washington could use to their advantage in this the Hawks inability to take care of the basketball. This season, Atlanta averaged (15.8) turnovers per game, which is 3rd worst in the NBA and w the Wizards averaged (17.7) points off turnovers, which is the third best in the league as well. One major disadvantage for the Wizards will be their front court. Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris are going to struggle to limit the impact of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard in the series. Washington arguably was the biggest surprise in the NBA this season especially after their slow start. No one didn’t expect them to be a top-5 seed in the East. The Wiz are probably toughest matchup for the Defending Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In regards to the Hawks, there are a few reasons I could see them winning this first round series. Hawks fans are looking forward to watching fourth year point guard Dennis Schroder in his first playoff series as the Hawks starter. The intensity of a playoff series calls for Schroder to play with a lot of patience and limit the turnovers if he’s expecting the Hawks to make a deep playoff run. Also, the Hawks defense will be up for a challenge in this series. Despite having the fourth best defensive unit in the NBA this season, they will have to play with the same style that earned them some key victories against Boston and Cleveland over the last weekend. A Top 10 offense vs a Top 5 defense? Should be a great series to watch! Also, the production of Atlanta’s bench will be vital throughout the playoffs. In the Hawks winning streak, we saw them earn a dominant win against Cleveland on the road without all of their starters and watched them battle from down 26 to win in overtime two days later in Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr., Ersan Ilyasova and Taurean Prince are some of the players who will need to have a solid impact in the series if the Hawks plan to advance to the Semi Finals.
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Phil Veasley is a resident of Atlanta who has been a die-hard Hawks fan since 2005. He is Civil Engineer student at KSU. Currently, Phil writes for Atlanta Hawks Talk while also managing all ATLSportsHQ sites. He can be reached on Twitter at @_ATLPhil