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.