Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview - Hawks vs Wizards
No. 5 Washington Wizards vs No. 1 Atlanta Hawks
How did they get here?
After having an up and down regular season, the Wizards flipped the proverbial switch to the team that most pundits thought they would be during preseason discussion. Maybe they struggled with inconsistency throughout the regular due to injuries, maybe Paul Pierce was bored with the regular season hubbub. Whatever the case may have been, a completely different team showed up in the playoffs to sweep Toronto.
John Wall and Bradley Beal struggled shooting the ball during the first round. However, Marcin Gortat more than made up for them by shooting 74% and doing his normal dirty work in the paint. Otto Porter’s defense and rebounding has been a revelation for the Wizards. Porter’s performance have allowed Randy Wittman to play Pierce extended minutes as a stretch 4 in a small ball lineup; Pierce has excelled in this role.
The Hawks were supposed to be the team that swept their first round matchup against Brooklyn. But a funny thing happened along their way, they struggled immensely against some gritty veterans. They also had a hard time trying to stop Robin Lopez from scoring on the inside. Atlanta was on cruise control toward season’s end, which might have been the cause of their lackluster play during the first four games.
DeMarre Carroll did a little bit of everything to help his team advance. Carroll was known for bringing the nasty for his team during the regular season but he also led them in scoring in the first round. He and Paul Millsap were accurate from beyond the arc and were able to make up for Kyle Korver’s slump until he found his way. In the end, Atlanta was just the better team as their dominance in games 5 & 6 reflected.
What can we expect?
Although John Wall struggled with his shooting in the first round, he dominated his matchup versus Kyle Lowry on the defensive end and was able to penetrate the lane at will and find open teammates. Wall performed well versus Atlanta in the regular season and that shouldn’t change with Jeff Teague not at 100 percent. Gortat or Nene should also be able to eat in a similar way that Lopez did. If we see the same Porter who should up in the first round, Korver might struggle again.
Washington will have a much harder time slowing down Atlanta than they had with Toronto. The Raptors featured an isolation heavy offense, which is quite a contrast from the ball movement you see from the Hawks. Any person in Atlanta’s rotation can score from anywhere they catch the ball. If the Wizards overplay the passing lanes, Atlanta will kill them with fades to set up an open corner three or back-door cuts to the basket.
Wizards will win in six games. I think Atlanta is real vulnerable right now because of health issues; we also can’t understate how much Thabo Sefolosha meant to them defensively. The Hawks played their starters heavy minutes in the first round while Washington has been resting, chomping at the bit to prove they are among the Eastern Conference elite. The Wizards play a slowdown game until Wall decides to push it up the floor; I expect this to happen often to try and capitalize off of the Hawks’ weary legs. I don’t believe using Pierce at the 4 will be effective versus an athletic Millsap but he will be a key player for them late in games. Expect Al Horford to rise up to have a huge series; with the way the Hawks space the floor, he’ll be the main benefactor of Washington’s attempt to smother the three point-line. Atlanta was a good story to follow but they still haven’t been through many playoff battles. Their run ends here.