Two years ago, the Hawks and Wizards battled in one of the best series that year. Don’t expect that same battle this year.
Two familiar faces will match up in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as the Wizards host the Hawks. Washington took the season series 3-1, with the lone Hawks win coming in the season opener, a 114-99 win in Atlanta. Here’s a look at the series preview.
Keys To The Series
The frontcourt must also produce for the Wizards to win. There’s no doubt Washington has the better backcourt in the series and possibly the best in the Eastern Conference (debatable, I know). John Wall is easily a top-five point guard in the league this year.
But the frontcourt for the Wizards will have a tough time dealing with Dwight Howard and specifically Paul Millsap. Howard and Millsap averaged a combined 31.6 points and 20.4 rebounds per game in the regular season, almost seven more points and four more rebounds than Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris combined.
Gortat and Morris, along with the rest of the Wizards outside of Beal and Wall, must produce for the Wizards to win the series.
X-Factor: Otto Porter
Otto Porter will look to continue his career year in the first round. The fourth-year Georgetown product earned career highs in points and rebounds per game, as well as field goal and three-point shooting percentage. In fact, Porter was fourth in the league this year in three-point shooting at 43.4%.
Beal and Wall have and will produce for the Wizards, but Porter has been great as well. Porter is also one of the better defenders for Washington, as he averages the second most steals on the team behind Wall and is second in defensive box plus/minus. He does a little bit of everything for the Wizards, and must continue to do so against the Hawks.
Keys To The Series
In terms of stats, the Hawks are the opposite of the Wizards. They’re better on the defensive end (10th in opponent points per game), but a lot worse on the offensive end (22nd in points per game and 27th in offensive rating). That points per game average was even lower against the Wizards this year, as the Hawks only averaged 98 points per game and shot a dismal 41% from the field. Key number one for Atlanta is finding a way to score against the Wizards.
The Hawks will also have to figure out a way to stop Wall and Beal. Surprisingly the Hawks held Wall in check this year, as he only shot 33% against the Hawks. However, for the Hawks to lose three of four against the Wizards when Wall was off doesn’t bode well. They have to find a way to score while stopping the two Wizard stars. Wall has been the ultimate creator for the Wizards, averaging almost 12 assists during Washington’s last playoff run in the 2014-2015 season. Wall is the guy who makes the Wizards run, and if the Hawks have any chance, they have to keep him in check and keep his impact on the game relatively low.
X-Factor: Dennis Schroder
I could go with Dwight Howard, who averaged 14 points and almost 15 rebounds per game against the Wizards. Howard has quietly had a very good year in the shadow of Paul Millsap. The former Magic superstar averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game this year. But I’m going to go with Dennis Schroder and his important matchup against John Wall.
Schroder has to compete with Wall and at least have close to the same impact Wall will have on the series. Stats wise, Schroder averaged less in pretty much every category when matched up against John Wall. The Hawks have the advantage in the front court with Millsap and Howard, as mentioned before. But the backcourt advantage is clearly in favor of the Wizards. Beal and Wall both average over 23 points per game. Beal had a phenomenal year, but once again Wall makes this team go. If Schroder can come anywhere close to Wall’s production during the series, the Hawks have a shot at taking the series.
Two years ago these two teams squared off in the conference semifinals, with the Hawks taking the series in six games. However, each roster has gone through substantial changes, and people forget that John Wall missed three out of the six games in that series which the Wizards were on the brink of pushing to a Game 7.
Washington has been amazing at home this year, top-five in the league this year with a 30-11 record. The Hawks don’t have enough firepower to keep up with the Wizards offensively. In the end, I think the Wizards’ backcourt will get them through to a highly anticipated matchup with Boston.
Each game will be close, but Wizards in five.
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