There is a basketball game that counts on Thursday evening and that is a beautiful thing. The Atlanta Hawks open the 2016-2017 campaign at Philips Arena and the Washington Wizards, led by John Wall, will be looking to ruin the proceedings by generating what amounts to an “upset” win.
To be fair, it probably would not qualify as a real, live upset if Washington was able to pick up a victory, even if the home venue is a friendly one for the Hawks. The Wizards open the season with relative health, as the entire starting five (including Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat) is expected to suit up on Thursday. Washington is without its major off-season acquisition in big man Ian Mahinmi, but Scott Brooks inherits a talented group that is poised for a bounce-back campaign.
On the Atlanta side, the Hawks begin the year with some uncertainty after the insertion of Dwight Howard and Dennis Schröder (as a starter) into the mix, but Atlanta also resembles its full-strength look. Tiago Splitter and Mike Scott will miss the game with injury, but there are many potential match-ups to focus on between these two division rivals and the Hawks have a complement of respectable reserve options in Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries and (if needed) Edy Tavares.
Point guard will be a potential pivot point, as Wall is among the game’s best at the position, especially when healthy. His 6-foot-4 frame and extreme athleticism and speed could present problems for Schröder, and this is not necessarily the most friendly welcome in the youngster’s first game as a full-time starter. Still, it will be a nice early test for Schröder and his usage rate in this particular match-up could be telling.
Elsewhere, Washington has the personnel to be a strong defensive unit, and that could test Atlanta’s offense. Markieff Morris and Otto Porter, when dialed in, are rangy and athletic at the forward spots and, while Beal isn’t a stopper, he certainly possesses the athleticism to pour around screens in pursuit of Korver or stay in front of Bazemore. It is fair to say that the Hawks likely have a bench advantage over the Mahinmi-less Wizards, but the face-off between the starters could be a wash at best.
In the end, the wrinkles brought forth by Mike Budenholzer on both ends of the court will be interesting in the first “all systems go” action. Dwight Howard’s deployment, especially in service to his pick-and-roll defense against Wall, will be something to follow closely, as will the volume of pick-and-rolls (with Schröder or Delaney) versus post-ups on the other end.
The season opener will be the first occasion to really draw conclusions as to what this team will look like and, for good measure, the “best player on the court” match-up between Wall and Paul Millsap could swing the outcome as well. Stay tuned throughout the evening for the all the latest from Philips Arena.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, October 27, 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Philips Arena
TV: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Radio: 92.9 “The Game” FM