The beginning of the NBA playoffs is one of the most exciting sports moments of every year, and the Atlanta Hawks will kick off the second day of the postseason against the Washington Wizards this afternoon. The long, grueling NBA season rewarded the Hawks with a fifth-place finish in the East and a first-round draw against Washington. Now, the story of this week (and every week until the season ends) will be all about the playoffs.
There are plenty of predictions and previews floating around the internet right now, and Jeff Siegel’s analysis of some of the Wizards’ favorite plays ranks high on that list. Washington had one of the most impressive turnarounds in the NBA this season, winning 49 games after a truly abysmal start. The Wizards also won the season series against Atlanta, en route to winning an encouraging (but ultimately meaningless) division title.
FiveThirtyEight gives the Wizards a 79% chance to win this series against the Hawks. Given the talent on Washington’s roster — John Wall and Bradley Beal are easily one of the best duos in the NBA — this projection makes sense. Wall and Beal have been able to break down many defenses across the league, and keeping up with them will be a challenge for Atlanta’s defenders.
In an interesting development, Mike Budenolzer plans to start Tim Hardaway Jr. and Taurean Prince in game one of the series. Prince and Hardaway have both been valuable contributors this season, and getting the starting nod for the playoffs shows the level of confidence that Budenholzer has in them. They’re also both young and athletic, which should provide a nice energy boost for this team.
The two biggest questions for Atlanta in this series are the team’s ability to score and whether or not the perimeter defenders can keep up with Beal and Wall. The Hawks’ defense has been borderline-elite this year, but Schroder and Hardaway aren’t good enough defenders (on their own at least) to stop Washington’s guards. They won’t carry this burden alone, since Thabo Sefolosha should play extended minutes if healthy, but on paper this looks like a clear mismatch. On the other side, the team’s complete inability to score at times could be fatal.
This week, the Hawks will play the first three games of the series. The team will play in D.C. today and Wednesday night, and then return home for game three on Saturday. Neither team in this series is famous for having a solid home-court advantage, and it’s quite possible that several games could go to the road team.
It’s been a long season, one that looked frustrating at times for Atlanta. The team won several huge games down the stretch though, and has the good fortune to find itself in an entirely winnable playoff series. Washington is a clear favorite, and a rightful one. They have more talent, and one of the best starting fives in the league. However, the playoffs are often famous for their unpredictability, and the Hawks are ready to start things off this afternoon in Washington.