For a 2nd straight series, my prediction is the Wizards in 6. I’m not overly confident about this prediction despite the impressive sweep of Toronto. Atlanta struggled a bit against Brooklyn but may have gotten some of their mojo back in a Game 6 series-clinching rout in Brooklyn. Here’s a quick list of must-haves if the Wizards are to pull off the upset. And yes, it would be an upset. The Hawks are a 2:1 favorite.
1. Wall continues to play fast. He was so good against Toronto and the pace he set meant everything. Atlanta will embrace an up-tempo pace and yes, it’s a risk taking quick shots because the Hawks will turn misses into open 3’s on the other end. Still, it’s the only way the Wizards play well offensively. I’m not in the camp of slowing it down and pounding the Hawks inside.
2. Limit turnovers. The Wizards averaged 17 turnovers a game in their 4 regular season matchups with the Hawks. Too many turnovers in this series means blowout losses for Washington. They must protect the ball and end up with at least as many, if not more shot attempts per game than Atlanta. Turnovers against the Hawks turn into Atlanta points and lots of em.
3. Rebounding. The Wizards dominated the Raptors on the glass and could do the same against Atlanta. 50-50 long rebound balls will be huge. If the Hawks win that battle, too many open 3’s follow.
4. Wizards’ defense. How Wittman decides to guard Atlanta will be a major key to who wins this series. The Hawks can put five players on the floor that can stretch a defense. And when they sub with Antic or Scott it doesn’t change. Pierce at the 4 may come into play again in this series. Keep one thing in mind. Atlanta is a much better passing team than Toronto. Staying home on shooters and allowing Teague/Schroeder to do whatever they want may be the way to go. Teague’s pick and roll/pick and pop with any of the Hawks bigs (Horford, Millsap, Antic, etc) must be played with one goal in mind. Let Teague penetrate and shoot all he wants but don’t let screeners roll uncontested for open layups/dunks and don’t leave screeners with uncontested pick & pop shots. This is easier said than done.
5. Hawks’ shooting percentage. Bottom line, if Atlanta shoots it well, the Wizards are in trouble. While I’m in favor of the Wizards playing up-tempo, it’s still hard to match the Hawks firepower in that type of game. Korver, Millsap, Carroll….they need to miss a considerable more than they make.