The Atlanta Hawks are in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season but are the No. 1 seed for the first time in a long time. They enter the playoffs as heavy favorites over the eighth seeded Brooklyn Nets but will the series be as easy as it sounds? Here is what our writers think will happen along with what will be the key matchup in the series.
What would it take to consider this playoff appearance a success?
(Brad Rowland) Reaching the Conference Finals. Given the nature of a 60-win season, this may seem like a low bar, but for a franchise that has never reached the conference finals, breaking new ground would qualify as a success.
(Josh Lane) Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
(Mark Phelps) Getting to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the Eastern Conference was created would make this season a success. Atlanta can win more, but if they lose to anyone in the East that isn't Cleveland, this 60 win season will be mostly put aside by Hawks Historians.
(Kris Willis) A competitive Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That feels a little strange to say given that Atlanta won the East by a wide margin. Still, an appearance in the Conference Finals would be unchartered territory for the franchise and would be a statement to the progress made in just two seasons under Mike Budenholzer.
Who is the single most important player in the Hawks are to be successful in this series?
(BR) Jeff Teague. There are a few players who deserve consideration, but Teague outplaying Deron Williams would go a long way toward ensuring a victory for Atlanta. #PLAYOFFTEAGUE has been a lot of fun in the past, and even with the emergence of Schröder behind him, Teague is the offensive engine.
(JL) It would be easy to answer this question if the Hawks had a defined "superstar" like every other title contender in the NBA. That said I am going to go with the one starter on the Hawks that didn't make the all-star game, DeMarre Carroll. If Carroll can keep Joe in check on defense and on the other end make open shots to help open things up for Kyle, then I don't really see any problems with the perimeter scoring.
(MP) Al Horford. Al sets the tone of the team and he'll have a physical defensive assignment in Brook Lopez. When the Boss scores 15 or more, Atlanta is 33-7. When he scores 10 or less, the Hawks are 7-8. You do the math.
(KW) Jeff Teague. During Atlanta's undefeated run in January, Jeff Teague was the catalyst leading the way while playing at an All-Star level. He is the engine and when he is playing well the Hawks usually follow suit.
What individual matchup with the Nets are you most concerned about?
(BR) Brook Lopez. Quite honestly, Brooklyn doesn't have a team that presents anything that should inspire genuine fear, but Lopez is capable of averaging 25-10 in a series, and that is worrisome. The Hawks have had some issues dealing with big lineups, and Lopez is one of the best scoring centers in the NBA when has it going.
(JL) As much as I want to joke about Hawks killer Thad Young, I am concerned about the Joe Johnson scoring and getting hot. I figure we should just let Brook get his much like the Hawks did against the magic a few years ago. Brook can score, but we can't let someone else get it going.
(MP) Teague vs Williams. When I say most concerned, it's still not that concerned because I think Jeff can handle it, but I see a lot of teams biting on D-Will's fake drive before he kicks to Joe or Bogdanovic (even though he usually looks like he's going to pass anyway). Stay in the passing lanes and make him shoot over the D or push him to drive into the help and we'll take the sweep. If we don't, we could get 3s raining on us from the corners.
(KW) Thad Young averaged 16.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in four games against the Hawks this season. Of the 32 rebounds he grabbed against Atlanta, 17 came on the offensive end of the floor. The Hawks need to make sure to get a body on Young to keep him off the offensive glass to limit second chance points in this series.
What is your prediction for the series?
(BR) Hawks in 5. I'm tempted to get aggressive with a sweep prediction, but out of worry about angering the basketball gods, I'll play it safe with a "gentleman's sweep". Brooklyn really isn't very good, and this isn't the type of Hawks team that will overlook an opponent on this kind of stage.
(JL) Hawks in 6. I would have it at 5, but as of right now I am unsure of the extent of injuries to Paul Millsap and Mike Scott.
(MP) Hawks win 4-1.
(KW) I think Atlanta is just about the worst possible matchup Brooklyn could have gotten in the first round of the playoffs. I am tempted to predict a sweep but I settled on the Hawks winning in five games and advancing in front of the home crowd.