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Atlanta Hawks vs. Washington Wizards, NBA Playoffs 2015: Series preview, schedule and prediction

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The Hawks will try to go back to playing like the team that dominated the Eastern conference when they face the Wizards in round 2.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

These two teams got to the second round in different ways. Atlanta Hawks took longer than most expected to advance from the first round but finally dispatched of the Brooklyn Nets in six games. The Wizards, meanwhile, exceeded expectations with a sweep of the Toronto Raptors that showed their late season struggles are not reflective of their talent. As the Hawks look to re-discover the identity that led them to the top spot in the East, the Wizards will continue to be in playoff mode and hope the extra gear they found is enough to pull off the upset.

The Hawks, the epitome of a balanced team, finished the first round with their five starters averaging between 14 and 18 points per game. That doesn't mean everyone is equally important, however. Without Al Horford anchoring their defense and providing an inside scoring punch to complement a perimeter-oriented offense, the Hawks suffer. It's not a coincidence that in the crucial last two games of the series against Brooklyn the team thrived as he did. His play will be even more important now that the Hawksis facing a team with a physical frontcourt that can exploit one of their biggest weaknesses: defensive rebounding.

While Horford is important for the Hawks, John Wall is key for the Wizards. They go as he goes. The All-Star point guard has become one of the best floor generals in the league and his athleticism and court vision often create open looks that shouldn't be there considering the spacing issues that plague Washington. He struggled with his shot against Toronto but averaged over 12 assists per game while Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal handled the scoring. Wall will need to be more efficient against a better Atlanta defense but there are enough threats on the roster, specially with Paul Pierce creating mismatches sliding up to power forward, that the team can survive without him putting big scoring numbers.

In a match between good defensive teams Atlanta's superior shooting should give them the edge but the Washington's size could create some complications for the East's number one seed. Who gets easy buckets from extra possessions could determine who advances. The Hawks do it by forcing turnovers while the Wizards should look to crash the offensive glass against a subpar defensive rebounding squad.

The matchup

  • Hawks (60-22, expected 56-26) vs. Wizards (46-36, expected 43-39)
  • Offensive efficiency: Hawks 106.2 (6th) | Wizards 101.8 (19th)
  • Defensive efficiency: Hawks 100.7 (7th) | Wizards 100 (5th)
  • Season series: Hawks 3-1. The Hawks won the first three matchups, blowing up the Wizards by 31 points once. Washington won the last time they faced each other but Atlanta rested all of its starters in that game.

4 questions that will decide the series

We asked our Hawks site Peachtree Hoops and our Wizards site Bullets Forever to give us the lowdown on these two teams.

1. What do you think is your team's biggest advantage in this series?

Peachtree Hoops: Atlanta had a lot of success spreading the floor against the Wizards during the regular season. Jeff Teague won his matchup with John Wall while Paul Millsap and Al Horford are tough matchups for Marcin Gortat and Nene.

Bullets Forever: The Wizards' biggest advantage in this series is preparation. The Wizards have been able to spend the last five days preparing for Atlanta while the Hawks have been busy focusing on the Nets. But even now, there's not much film available on this new Wizards' attack featuring more of Paul Pierce at power forward and Otto Porter taking on a larger role on the team. Certainly, by the time this gets to Game 4, Atlanta will be plenty familiar with Wizards, but by then, Washington may have gotten just enough to steal a game on the road.

2. What do you think is your team's biggest disadvantage in this series?

PH: Rebounding is the Hawks biggest weakness. It hurt them early in Round 1 but they came back to finish strong on the boards. Marcin Gortat and Nene present a challenge for Atlanta in the paint and on the glass.

BF: The Wizards' defense has been the team's strong suit all season long, but if there's one weak spot, it's how they defend the three point line. Atlanta can take advantage of that flaw better than almost any other team in the NBA, and they did in their four meetings this season. The Hawks attempted 27.5 threes per game against the Wizards this season and made 39.1 percent of them. If the Wizards can't find a way to cut into that productivity and efficiency, they're simply not going to be able to score enough points to keep up with Atlanta.

3. Which player needs to step his game up most for your team to win?

PH: Dennis Schröder. He bounced back in Game 6 but struggled for most of the first round. His quickness and playmaking skills are valuable to the Hawks off the bench but Atlanta needs him to focus in defensively and play under control against the Wizards.

BF: There's been a lot of talk in the playoffs about Paul Pierce's impact as a stretch power forward in the playoffs, but don't overlook the impact Nene can have in this series. He's the only player on the roster who can slow down Paul Millsap and he's still great at keeping speedy guards like Jeff Teague from getting into the lane. Yes, they'll still need Paul Pierce to space the floor at times, especially against Mike Scott, but don't overlook what Nene can provide in this series.

4. What is your series prediction and why?

PH: Hawks in six. Washington was very impressive in their first round win over Toronto while Atlanta struggled a bit against Brooklyn but got better as the series went on and are healthier than they were when the playoffs began. They are also in rhythm and the short layoff between the two rounds could work to their advantage. I'm looking forward to what I expect will be an entertaining series.

BF: There's a lot of reasons to like the Wizards in this series. They're playing their best basketball of the season, Al Horford and Paul Millsap are playing through injuries, and John Wall will be the best player on the floor. But it's hard to shake how well the Hawks played against the Wizards in the regular season. Yes, the Wizards showed they could dominate a team in the playoffs that swept them in the regular season, but those games they lost to Toronto were were more competitive than the ones they lost to Atlanta. And as well as Otto Porter defended DeMar DeRozan, I'm not sure he's going to do as well chasing Kyle Korver around screens. I'm more confident in the Wizards' chances to make this a competitive series and pull off the upset, but my gut still says Washington isn't quite at Atlanta's level. Hawks in six.

Predictions

Ziller
Flannery
Prada
O'Donnell
Peachtree Hoops
Bullets Forever

Hawks logo

In 7

Hawks logo

In 5

Wizards logo new

In 6

Wizards logo new

In 7

Hawks logo

In 6

Hawks logo

In 6

Schedule (all times ET)

Game 1: Sunday, May 3. Philips Arena, Atlanta GA. 1 p.m. (ABC)

Game 2: Tuesday, May 5. Philips Arena, Atlanta GA. 8 p.m. (TNT)

Game 3: Saturday, May 9. Verizon Center, Washington D.C. 5 p.m. (ESPN)

Game 4: Monday, May 11. Verizon Center, Washington D.C. 7 p.m. (TNT)

Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, May 13. Phillips Arena, Atlanta GA. TBA (TNT)

Game 6 (If necessary): Friday, May 15. Verizon Center, Washington D.C. TBA (ESPN)

Game 7 (if necessary): Monday, May 18. Phillips Arena, Atlanta GA. 8 p.m. (TNT)