It took longer than some hoped, but the Atlanta Hawks were victorious over the Brooklyn Nets in round one. That sets the stage for a highly anticipated battle between the Hawks and a Southeast Divisional rival, as the Washington Wizards swept past the Toronto Raptors in their own first-round series.
The Hawks hold a 3-1 season series advantage over the Wizards, and Washington only triumphed in the finale between the two teams as Atlanta rested starters on April 12. Much has been made of this lopsided group of games, but it must be noted that regular season action is not always the best indicator of what will happen between two teams in the playoffs, lessening any over-confidence for the top-seeded Hawks.
Washington made wholesale changes to their style of play in round one, firing away from beyond the three-point arc, playing fast and deploying small lineups. Fortunately for Mike Budenholzer and his staff, there is now film of these tendencies from Randy Wittman and the Wizards, though the Hawks do not have an extended amount of time to evaluate in the aftermath of a six-game battle against Brooklyn.
Much like the Wizards, Washington leaned heavily on their starting group in the first round, and the Wizards are a talented bunch. John Wall and Bradley Beal (rightly) receive the majority of the attention as an All-Star level backcourt, but the Wizards received quality play from Paul Pierce (58.3% from three) and Otto Porter in round one, and the frontcourt pairing of Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat is formidable. In fairness, Wittman would play into Atlanta's hands by reverting back to their regular season lineup construction, meaning that we could see a lot of Porter and PIerce together at the forward spots.
On the Atlanta side, we know what to expect from the starting five at this point, meaning that the bench is a great point of focus. Dennis Schröder matches up against Ramon Sessions in what should be an interesting battle of backup point guards, while the likes of Kent Bazemore (and his ugly 7.7% clip from downtown in round one) and Mike Scott must improve their play in order to guarantee minutes. Because the level of play from the respective starting fives in this series is far more equal than that of Brooklyn, the bench could play a significant role, and Atlanta has the opportunity to set the tone in Game 1.
Frankly, we could preview Game 1 for hundreds and thousands of words, but until these two teams take the floor and reveal their respective game plans, it is all a simple guess. The Atlanta Hawks are (still) the favorites in this series, and with a four-game sample of Washington's new style, it is perfectly reasonable to question whether the Wizards can be the team that we saw against the hapless Raptors.
Time will tell, but an ABC audience gets a look at the Hawks for the first time in 2015 on Sunday afternoon, and Philips Arena will undoubtedly be lit as a result.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, May 3, 1 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM