The Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets begin their first round battle on Sunday evening at Philips Arena, and for fans of the team from Atlanta, the wait has been quite long. The Hawks wrapped up the number one seed (and home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference Playoffs earlier in the month, and since that point, it has been full cruise control for Mike Budenholzer and his club.
That ends now.
The Hawks do have the advantage in that they face an inferior opponent in round one. Brooklyn finished the season with the 18th-ranked offense and 24th-ranked defense in the NBA, and in simpler terms, the Nets are below-average in both facets. It must be stated that Brooklyn has performed much better in the recent past, wrapping up the season with an 8-4 stretch, but as the Nets were battling for a playoff spot, the Hawks were focused largely on preparing for the playoffs.
From a match-up standpoint, there are a few things up in the air for Game 1. First, the Hawks will be operating in the playoffs without the benefit of one of their best perimeter defenders in Thabo Sefolosha. This is nothing new for Atlanta, who performed without him on 30 occasions this season, but it will be interesting to see what Budenholzer does against the likes of Joe Johnson during portions of the game when DeMarre Carroll is not on the floor.
Throughout the series, Atlanta's defense will be focused on slowing both Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, in addition to the aforementioned Johnson. The Jeff Teague-Deron Williams combination could be a swing point in the series, as Teague has been the better player all season, while Williams shows only flashes of his All-NBA form. In Lopez, the Nets have a "trump" card of sorts offensively, but Al Horford, Pero Antic, Mike Muscala and even Elton Brand could see time against the skilled big man.
Three days in between games leaves a lot of time to focus on the Brooklyn Nets and what they bring to the table, meaning that we won't attempt to break the entire series down in this space. However, the Atlanta Hawks could do wonders for themselves by sending a message of dominance in Game 1, and if they are able to accomplish that, the underdog Nets could simply run and hide.
Stay tuned to Peachtree Hoops throughout the series and the entire 2015 playoffs, and let's do this together.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, April 19, 5:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: SportSouth, TNT (national)
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM