The Washington Wizards just won their first division title in 38 years, and expectations are high for the now-experienced Eastern Conference contender. In the past, the Wizards were happy to just qualify for the playoffs, but now they’re looking to make a title run, and they have the weapons to do it.
But they won’t be overlooking the Atlanta Hawks, who found chemistry late in the season and are red-hot heading into the postseason. The Hawks have won four of their past five games, but it’s not about the number of wins, and is more about who they’ve beaten. Atlanta beat Cleveland twice, defeated the Celtics and also disposed of the Hornets — all of which are playoff teams. So it’s clear they’re battle-tested.
The Wizards will be looking for revenge, as the Hawks defeated them in the Eastern Conference semifinals just two years ago. They’ll also be looking to dictate the tempo and will look to push the ball as much as possible, while the Hawks will favor quite the opposite. Atlanta often takes the entire shot clock on offensive possessions, and uses a defensive-minded, grind-it-out mentality to slow teams down and win in gritty fashion.
The best player in the series is John Wall, who’s put together an MVP-caliber campaign. This has been Wall’s best season of his career, and a lot of that is due to the fact that he and Bradley Beal have actually been healthy for almost the entire season. The Wizards were active at the trade deadline — acquiring Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic — and are now a deeper team than they once were. Atlanta, however, is fairly deep themselves, and they have plenty of veterans with playoff experience on the roster.
This series projects to be much closer than it looks to be at first glance. These two teams play a contrast of styles, but both have veterans and are battle-tested, so these games should be fairly close. If the Hawks are able to take the Wizards out of their rhythm, we could see an upset take place.