The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks will face off in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. The Wizards finished the season with a 49-33 record, earning themselves the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington’s Southeast Division rival, the Atlanta Hawks, finished with a 43-39 record this season. The winner of the series will face the winner of the Boston Celtics-Chicago Bulls first round matchup.
The Wizards controlled the season series against the Hawks, 3-1. Here’s a look at their matchups in the 2016-2017 campaign.
October 27, 2016 - Washington @ Atlanta – 114-99, Hawks
The two teams faced off in the season opener. Atlanta was buoyed by strong performances from Tim Hardaway Jr. (21 points) and Paul Millsap (28 points). Dwight Howard snagged 19 rebounds (seven offensive) in his Hawks debut. For the Wizards, John Wall had a poor shooting night, scoring 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting. Marcin Gortat had trouble containing Howard, picking up four personal fouls in a game that got ugly in the fourth quarter. The loss at Atlanta was the start of a three-game season-opening losing streak for the Wizards.
November 4, 2016 – Atlanta @ Washington – 95-92, Wizards
Washington notched their first win of the season in their second matchup against Atlanta. Washington was able to withstand a late game surge by the Hawks. Kyle Korver missed a shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game up at the end of regulation. The combo of John Wall and Bradley Beal combined for 49 points for the Wizards, while Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard combined for 40.
January 27, 2017 – Washington @ Atlanta – 112-86, Wizards
This game got out of hand early, with the Wizards grabbing a 67-45 lead by the half. It was win number three in a seven-game win streak for the Wizards – a sign of their New Year’s turnaround. Washington’s starters scored as many points (86) as the Hawks’ entire team. The Wizards improved to 26-20 on the season after starting the year 7-13.
March 22, 2017 – Atlanta @ Washington – 104-100, Wizards
The Wizards were resilient in this one. John Wall did not score in the first half but was able to score 22 points in the second half, complementing Bradley Beal’s 28 points. Atlanta went on a 12-3 run with less than three minutes left in the game, but Wall was able to score on an uncontested off the dribble jumper to give the Wizards a comfortable cushion for the victory.
Previous Playoff Matchups
The last time Atlanta and Washington faced off in the Playoffs was in 2015. The number-one seeded Hawks beat the fifth seed Wizards in six games. Both teams are drastically different now. Of the Hawks’ 2015 starters, only Paul Millsap remains. The Wizards have a different coach in Scott Brooks this season as well. A lot can change in two years.
Things to Watch for in Wizards vs. Hawks
1) The Backcourt Battle
The duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal is one of the most potent 1-2 punches in the league. They will be matched up against Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. Neither Schroder nor Hardaway Jr. is known for their defensive prowess. Hardaway and Schroder will have their work cut out for them on the defensive end. Beal’s improvement this season helped the Wizards turn things around compared to last season – and compared to the beginning of this season. He shot 40 percent from three on the season. His perimeter shooting will be needed if the Wizards’ big men are unable to create down low.
Wall led the way for Washington all season – things will likely be similar in the Playoffs. While his playoff numbers may not be as gaudy as his 23.1 points and 10.6 assists per game, Wall will likely look to disrupt the Hawks’ defense with his speed and vision.
One aspect the Hawks addressed in the 2016 offseason was rebounding. The addition of Dwight Howard and the departure of Al Horford ushered in a different era of Hawks basketball. Despite being past his prime, Howard is still an interior presence – especially on the boards. Howard and Millsap is a tough frontcourt tandem to battle against on the glass. Atlanta ranked ninth in the league in rebounding per game, while Washington ranked 22nd.
In a seven-game series, Atlanta will look to exploit their rebounding advantage to generate second chance looks. While Marcin Gortat is an above average rebounder, he may not be able to match up with the tenacity and sheer strength of Howard on the boards. Markieff Morris also isn’t a particularly strong rebounder. Washington will have to rebound as a team in order to negate the Hawks’ hard-hat big men.
3) Otto Porter’s Adjustment
Otto Porter became one of the league’s best role players this season. His role as a deadly perimeter option – and a solid defender will likely garner him some Most Improved Player votes. Atlanta will likely gameplan heavily in stopping the Wall-Beal tandem, especially the John Wall pick and roll. If Atlanta effectively neutralizes Wall (and Beal), it may be up to Porter to step up and make key shots. He and Markieff Morris will also need to work defensively as well. With a speedy point guard like Dennis Schroder, they will need to make the proper defensive rotations off of penetration to prevent easy baskets for Millsap and Howard, or open threes by Hardaway Jr. and Kent Bazemore.
This is a different Atlanta Hawks team from previous years. Their more bruising style with Dwight Howard seems built for slower-paced playoff contests. But Washington is also different from years past with the ascension of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. Despite a relatively mediocre end to the season, Washington should be able to pull out the series victory.
Wizards in 6.