The Washington Wizards will open their playoff run against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Wizards had already been locked into the fourth seed. The Hawks clinched the fifth seed with a 103-76 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday. The Hawks have now made the postseason 10 consecutive seasons, the longest such active streak in the Eastern Conference.
Washington won the season series 3-1, en route to clinching the Southeast division for the first time. The division rivals recently met in the Eastern Conference semifinals back in 2015. Atlanta won the series 4-2. However, the Wizards jumped to a 1-0 lead with an impressive Game 1 win in Atlanta and looked to seize momentum of the series. However, John Wall suffered a broken wrist on an awkward fall late in Game 1.
He would miss the next three games, returning with a brace on his broken wrist. For quite some time, the Wizards along with many fans and analysis felt the Wizards were on route to making the Eastern Conference Finals before Wall’s injury.
That was two playoffs ago, but how that series went for the Wizards is still fresh in their mind.
“I’m still mad about the time I injured my hand,” Wall said via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic. “That’s still in the back of my mind even though they might have a different team.”
Both teams have changed personnel. Gone for Atlanta are Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and Al Horford, three integral parts to their core back then. While the Hawks still feature Paul Millsap, he is joined by Denis Schroeder, who was a backup in 2015, Tim Hardaway who has emerged as a premier shooting guard as of late finally reaching the projection many had on him coming out of Michigan. They also have the rim protecting Dwight Howard, who poses a different problem inside than Horford in the past.
The Wizards transformed its roster as well with nine new players this season from just last season. Wall is joined by Bradley Beal while Otto Porter has an increased role and is one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA this season. Marcin Gortat is back, but the Wizards are much deeper than years past.
Markieff Morris is the stretch four that Washington did not have to compete with Millsap. In fact, Morris has been primed for the challenge during the regular season. Morris is similar in stature and abilities on both ends of the floor, which is problematic for the Hawks forward.
In comparison, Millsap averages 16 points and six rebounds, shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three in three games. Morris averages 17 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 41.7 from three in four games. Where the separation comes is their efficiency rating. Morris is an offensive rating against the Hawks of 107 and a defensive rating of 92 per 100 possessions. Meanwhile Millsap has a rating of 97 on both ends of the floor — advantage Morris.
While the Wizards defense has been suspect as of late, they did enjoy success against the Hawks this season, allowing 98 points per game in their season series. The Wizards only stifled the New Orleans Pelicans more this season.
Another storyline to look for is the Wizards backcourt. They are superior to the Hawks on paper, by far. Bradley Beal averaged 21 points while shooting 45.2 percent from the field. He had an offensive rating of 111 compared to a defensive rating of 99 — his best versus any opponent this season. Meanwhile, Wall was just as good defensively with a rating of 94 — also his best versus any opponents. However, Wall struggled offensively in four games as a whole against Atlanta.
Wall shot just 32.9 percent from the field. Only the Golden State Warriors held him to worse shooting. His offensive rating of 98 was the lowest against any Eastern Conference opponent. For the Wizards to dispose of Atlanta, Wall and Scott Brooks will have to figure out Atlanta’s game plan versus Wall. In addition, this may need to Beal and Morris series to carry the load offensively. And with the willing passer in Wall, he should have no issues obliging.
Atlanta surged to six wins in eight games to clinch the fifth seed. Meanwhile, the Wizards have struggled as of late. After making history with the greatest season turnaround winning 49 games after starting the season 2-8, they have stumbled going 8-7 in their last 15 games. However, the Wizards are primed to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals.