#1 – Atlanta Hawks
It took six games for the Atlanta Hawks to finally knock out the Brooklyn Nets in round one of the playoffs, which came as a surprise for some who had higher expectations. However, those looking for a positive spin should look to the Hawks’ dominance over the Nets in the final two games as signs that the franchise enters the second round on solid footing.
After an uneven first four games against Brooklyn, in which the series was tied 2-2, Atlanta found their offensive and defensive rhythm and closed out the series with two consecutive resounding victories.
Waiting in round two are the well-rested Washington Wizards, who easily swept through the overmatched (but higher seeded) Toronto Raptors in round one.
The Hawks won the regular season series versus the Wizards 3-1, with an average margin of victory of close to 15 points. Atlanta’s only loss to Washington came in the closing week of the regular season, when the Hawks rested all five starters and the Wizards coasted to victory.
Now, the biggest question for the Hawks is how the team will refocus just two days after closing out Brooklyn. The Hawks have the advantage of playing at home and are in a rhythm, but the Wizards have been off for a week. It’s the classic rhythm versus rest debate.
Atlanta had trouble on the interior guarding former All-Star center Brook Lopez throughout their first round series and the Wizards feature two efficient scorers on the inside in Marcin Gortat and Nene. Hawks point guard Jeff Teague was up and down versus the Nets, and he can’t do that against fellow All-Star John Wall on the opposite side of the ball.
#5 – Washington Wizards
Every year come playoff time, there is a team that underachieved during the regular season but manages to hit their stride in the biggest moment. The Washington Wizards are this year’s candidate for that honor as inconsistency and injury dampened hopes around the team for title contention.
But the Wizards turned on the switch in round one, methodically picking apart the unprepared Toronto Raptors. Future Hall of Fame forward Paul Pierce has provided confidence and attitude to the Wizards’ locker room and the team has fed off of his energy.
Although the Wizards lost the season series to Atlanta 3-1, which included a 31-point shellacking, Washington has the physical advantage on the inside against a smaller Hawks unit which sometimes has been known to struggle on the boards. Toronto swept the season series against Washington, and we all know how that ended for the Raptors so don’t put too much stock in the regular season results.
While everyone focuses on the interior matchup, the key to the series could be decided by the backcourts. Atlanta’s features All-Stars Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, while John Wall was the lone All-Star representative for Washington. Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal will likely develop into a future All-Star and must win his matchup versus Korver on the perimeter.
At small forward, Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll continues to emerge as an important contributor and will have to face an old wily veteran in Pierce in a battle of old and new, high energy versus craftiness.
Wall was dynamic in round one win against Toronto and made All-Star guard Kyle Lowry look pedestrian. Wall controlled the tempo, scored at will and found teammates for open shots.
Who Wins Game 1?
So will it be rhythm versus rest? The Wizards have had time to game plan, rest and prepare for the Hawks for a week, while Atlanta is riding high after two straight victories to close out their first round series.
With Game 1 being played at Philips Arena and with the Wizards likely needing a quarter or two to readjust to game speed, look for Atlanta to jump out to an early lead and hold on late for a victory.
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