Season series are fickle. In some instances, much can be gleaned from what transpires on the floor between two teams during the regular season. In others, previous match-ups are basically useless when attempting to project what will take place moving forward. In the case of the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks in advance of the 2017 NBA Playoffs, the jury is out.
The two teams, by nature of playing in the Southeast Division, faced off on four occasions, with the Wizards claiming three victories to just one for Atlanta. The win for Hawks was memorable in that it arrived on Opening Night but, since then, the Wizards are a (very) different basketball team that seemingly rose from an early grave on the way to nearly 50 victories on the season.
In the three defeats, Atlanta was competitive on two occasions, losing by a total of seven points combined between the games on Nov. 4 and Mar. 22. In the outlier game, however, the Hawks were unceremoniously thrashed by the Wizards, succumbing by a final score of 112-86 on Jan. 27.
What does it all mean?
A quick glance at the numbers indicates that John Wall actually struggled mightily against the Hawks this season. In four contests, Washington’s best player and floor leader averaged 18.5 points and 8.8 assists per game and that might be impressive by normal standards. However, Wall shot just 32.9 percent from the floor and a paltry 25 percent from three point range, lending efficiency concerns with regard to his play.
Wall’s backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, had no such issues. The talented shooting guard led Washington with a 21.0 points per game scoring average that came along with 45.2 percent shooting and 34.6 percent from three. While that was not off the charts for Beal, it could be a window into what to expect moving forward.
On the Atlanta side, Dwight Howard stuffed the stat sheet against Washington to the most blatant degree. The veteran big man posted double-doubles in each of the four games and, in total, Howard averaged 14.3 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. However, the Hawks were unable to score at a passable clip with Howard on the floor (94.8 points per 100 possessions) and that was an unfortunate trend for Atlanta in the series.
In fact, Atlanta’s offense struggled to a comical degree in the aggregate, scoring just 93.4 points per 100 possessions, but the defense (96.7) was actually quite effective. That type of small sample size theater is almost worthy of dismissal given the fact that the Wizards boast a (very) explosive offense, but the Hawks were able to stand tall defensively in the four games.
In terms of individual success, the Hawks were able to make hay with the bench on the floor against the Wizards. It is worth noting that Washington’s bench changed dramatically in season with the additions of Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings, but Atlanta’s best lineups included Mike Muscala (+13.2), Tim Hardaway Jr. (+7.5) and Malcolm Delaney (+3.5) despite relatively limited action.
The season opener, especially in retrospect, does not seem particularly indicative of anything, if only because Washington is a vastly different team. On the flip side, the extremely lopsided defeat that Atlanta took in the series also isn’t representative of much beyond the impotence on the offensive end displayed by Mike Budenholzer’s team.
All told, a quick glance at the four games reveals that when the Wizards are dialed in defensively, they are more than capable of exploiting the same offensive weaknesses that Atlanta has displayed throughout the season. On the flip side, the Hawks performed quite well defensively and, if fans are looking for something to hang their collective hats on in advance of the series, that performance is a good option.
The Wizards are the better team in this series by any metric but the Hawks have also shown themselves to be a team capable of wild outcomes when compared to expectations. Hold on to your hats.