1. John Wall setting the pace
The Atlanta Hawks are a Top 4 defensive team in the NBA and they’ve had some ability to slow Wall this season. During the middle part of the year, Wall had games in which he was solid from 3-point range, shot well from the field, and demonstrated his superior passing ability. But in their last matchup he was spotty, and that’s saying something considering how well Wall finished the season during the last 15 games or so.
The Wizards are a better team than Atlanta, but there’s some real speed bumps to be had for Washington. Wall playing smooth, and to the level we saw him elevate to this year as a top passer in the NBA should help steady Wizards fans. It’s Washington — and it’s the playoffs — so smooth would be nice.
2. The Hawks defense
As mentioned above, it may surprise some folks that the Hawks are the fourth-best defense in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. While Washington has a Top 10 offense, things get weird in the playoffs. Things slow down. They speed up. Gameplans are exceedingly in-depth, and then change quickly from game-to-game.
Atlanta’s only chance of making this a series is to stun Washington’s attack. The Hawks are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, so providing space for themselves to operate carefully on that end of the floor is going to come through their defensive effort first and foremost.
3. Paul Millsap vs. Washington’s offensive rebounders
The Wizards are a middling offensive rebounding team, and Paul Millsap is one of the best players in this series at pulling down contested rebounds. Then again, so is Marcin Gortat, so watching Millsap tackle him, Otto Porter, and Markieff Morris down low should be critical.
Ian Mahnimi is out to start the series with a calf strain, and offensive chances will be important for a team like Atlanta who already is prone to struggle scoring. Dwight Howard taking up space and battling down low should be a factor here as well, obviously. Look for rebounds to help set the tone for leads here.
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.
The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.
Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.
Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.
“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”
After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.
There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.
Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.
It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.
I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.
There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.
But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.
Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.
This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:
Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.
Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.
“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.
Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).
By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).
But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.