A look at the matchups in the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the No. 4-seed Wizards and the No. 5 Hawks:
The Wizards have the advantage here in All-Star John Wall. The Hawks have to stay close in this backcourt matchup to take advantage of their edge in the frontcourt. Dennis Schroder had 22 turnovers in four games against the Wizards in the regular season. He will have to take care of the ball. Neither Schroder nor Wall shot well in the series matchup. Schroder had a .382 field-goal percentage, including .167 (3-of-15) from 3-point range. Wall shot .329, including .200 (3-of-12) from 3-point range. The Hawks will need others to help defend Wall and his ability to get to the basket. If Wall is able to distribute off penetration and get the ball moving on the perimeter, the Wizards will get open shots. The Hawks do not defend the 3-point line well. The Hawks will need reserves Jose Calderon and Malcolm Delaney.
Tim Hardaway Jr. will be in the starting lineup, and that may help the Hawks here. Bradley Beal has been a pain for the Hawks, as he averaged 21.0 points in four regular-season games. The Hawks devoted much personnel and strategy to slow Beal. Hardaway averaged 18.0 points against the Wizards and shot .400 (8-of-20) from 3-point range. He will be a scoring option for the Hawks, and that will enable Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to help defend Beal. Bazemore will need to use his athletic ability to take advantage of matchups against the Wizards’ reserves.
It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out over the course of the series. The Hawks have used Taurean Prince as the starter here, with Sefolosha just back with from a groin injury. The Hawks may keep the rookie in the lineup. He will need to stay close to and pester the Wizards’ Otto Porter, who shot .467 (7,of,15) from 3-point range against the Hawks. The Wizards don’t have much depth behind Porter in Kelly Oubre Jr. The Hawks counter with Bazemore, Sefolosha and Mike Dunleavy. This is a position battle that may be key to the series.
Paul Millsap has to be the All-Star here if the Hawks are going to win this series. He is the Hawks’ best player and needs to be in this season. Markieff Morris will present problems. The two averaged nearly the same stats in the series matchup. Millsap averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in three games. Morris averaged 17.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in four games. The bench will be an advantage for the Hawks, with Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala.
Dwight Howard had a double-double in all four games and averaged 14.3 points and 14.8 rebounds against the Wizards. He will have to be an inside presence to stop or slow Wall getting to the basket without getting into foul trouble. The statistics show the Hawks are a better offensive team without Howard on the floor, but they need his defense here. Marcin Gortat averaged 11 rebounds against the Hawks and that could be a big deal if he is able to be force on the boards. The Wizards will be without backup Ian Mahinmi for at least the start of the season. Muscala will be called on to defend away from the basket when the Wizards use Jason Smith.
The reserves have to be a factor for the Hawks. When the bench has been good, the Hawks win. When they were not, there was too much pressure on the starting unit. The Hawks are deeper, especially now that they are healthy and players are back in familiar roles. The Wizards’ bench is better since the acquisitions of Brandon Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovich, but the Hawks are deeper.
Scott Brooks was Coach of the Year in 2010. Mike Budenholzer was Coach of the Year 2015. Each have a ton of playoff experience.
This series will be close. The Hawks’ near-miss in Washington without two starters shows they can win away from home. They’ll need to do so in Game 7. Hawks in seven.