PBT Second-Round Playoff Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks

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SEASON RECORDS

Washington Wizards: 46-36

Atlanta Hawks: 60-22

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Washington Wizards: Offense 101.8 (19th in NBA), Defense 100.0 (5th in NBA)

Atlanta Hawks: Offense 106.2 (6th in NBA), Defense 100.7 (7th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Which Wizards? During the regular season, Washington couldn’t beat the Hawks, and dropped all three meetings where both teams were at full strength. Both teams have looked markedly different in the first round of the postseason, however, especially the Wizards.

Washington is the number one team in offensive efficiency after one round of the playoffs, outpacing even the mighty Golden State Warriors by scoring at a rate of 112.5 points per 100 possessions. And, the Wizards are second in defensive efficiency in the postseason behind only the Chicago Bulls, who faced an anemic Bucks team that was near the bottom of the league offensively during the regular season.

The playoff Wizards are very different than the team we saw for the bulk of the regular season, and if we see that version in round two, things could be very difficult for the top-seeded Hawks.

2. Are the Hawks back? For five-and-a-half of the six games Atlanta needed to eliminate the Nets in the first round, the Hawks rarely displayed the kind of offensive prowess that allowed them to win 60 games during the regular season. Atlanta finally regained its edge in Game 6, with the starting unit rolling offensively in both the first and third quarters, and finally looking like the club that won 40 of its first 48 games of the season.

The problem with Atlanta was its reserve unit, which the Nets were able to exploit consistently throughout the series. Dennis Schröder was largely awful in trying to run the team when Jeff Teague needed to rest, Kent Bazemore couldn’t shoot, and Mike Scott and Pero Antic weren’t great defensively. The Hawks will need strong, cohesive performances from their starters in this series (like the one they put together in closing out the Nets) in order to stay with what’s become a very good Wizards team.

3. Kyle Korver: It’s no secret that Korver is a devastating threat for the Hawks offensively. He shoots the ball at an extremely high percentage, and can run a defense ragged in trying to account for him on every possession. Washington needs to stay home defending Korver, and never (never!) help off of him, because Atlanta finds him seemingly every time he’s left open for even a second.

Washington’s ability to slow the Hawks starts with shutting down Jeff Teague at the point of attack, which John Wall should be capable of doing at times. But once the ball gets moving and the cutters start diving to the basket, the rest of Washington’s team defense needs to account for everyone, while Korver’s man stays glued to him at all times.

PREDICTION

I’m not convinced Atlanta can consistently carve up Washington the way they did the Nets, and I’m choosing to believe that the playoff Wizards will return for at least one more round.

Wizards in 6.