2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Wizards (4) - Hawks (5)

2017 Hoops Inq. Playoff Preview: Wizards (4) - Hawks (5)
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Series Schedule:

Game 1: Sunday, 4/16 @ Washington
Game 2: Wednesday, 4/19 @ Washington
Game 3: Saturday, 4/22 @ Atlanta
Game 4: Monday, 4/24 @ Atlanta
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, 4/26 @ Washington
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, 4/28 @ Atlanta
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, 4/30 @ Washington

Regular Season Series Results:

The Wizards swept their four-game regular season series against the Hawks.

Players To Watch:

Washington Wizards:

John Wall: This team rises and falls with Wall. How far these Wizards go in the playoffs depends entirely on Wall's penetration, scoring, passing, and defending. He'll make mincemeat of Atlanta's backcourt even if he decides to take it easy this series. What's important in this first round matchup, then, is that Wall stays healthy and settles his lightning-fast game into the start-and-stop groove of playoff basketball. This team's playoff ceiling is higher than you think, and if you want an indicator of how far they'll make it, just watch Wall.
Bradley Beal: Beal entered the 2016-17 regular season in a haze of questions about his durability. He put those soundly to rest, as he played in a career-high 77 games and put up All-Star-caliber numbers in the process. The Wizards will need his continued production if they hope to go far in these playoffs. His shooting and secondary playmaking will be essential as they go on to challenge stronger teams after they dispatch with the lowly Hawks.
Jason Smith: I find Smith to be wildly irritating as a basketball player, but he's sneakily important to what the Wizards do. His midrange shooting unlocks a lot of stuff for the Wiz on offense and his defense is consistent enough to make him a player who should be reliable in playoff bench situations. He'll probably give the Hawks weird amounts of trouble in one game this series. He'll probably look supremely annoying and self-satisfied doing it, too.

Atlanta Hawks: 

Dennis Schroeder: The Hawks' front office signaled their belief that Schroeder is their point guard of the future last summer when they moved on from Jeff Teague. He was inconsistent in his first year as a full-time starter, but he seems to have embraced the challenge of running an NBA offense and defending the league's bevy of insanely talented lead guards. This series, which will put him up against John Wall on both ends, will be something of a baptism by playoff fire for the young guard. If he's lucky, Wall won't run absolutely roughshod over him.
Paul Millsap: Millsap is the top-20 NBA player you never think of when you're listing the top 20 NBA players. The Hawks only hope of pulling a game out of this series is Millsap having a monster game on both ends of the floor. This could be his last playoff series as a Hawk, so take the chance to enjoy all the little ways he helps to make Coach Budenholzer's Spurs-y offense tick. Maybe paying attention to that will remind you to include him next time you're making that list.
Dwight Howard: Here's a hot take about Dwight Howard: he's fine. Really. Howard bounced back in his first year in Atlanta, and he's now decidedly an above-average-to-pretty-damn-good NBA starting center. He's not the best big man in the league like he used to be, and he's also not the seriously inconsistent potential locker room cancer he was at times during his stint with the Rockets. That's good for him, it's good for the Hawks, and it's good for all of us NBA fans who don't have to deal with Howard's annoying public persona anymore now that he's settled into normalcy. He won't make a huge difference in this series, but, he'll still pull down 15 boards a game and contribute some fun dunks and blocks, too. That counts for something, right?
 This series will be the embodiment of the most negative stereotype of a first round NBA playoff matchup. A really good team (the Wizards) will tear the heart out of a mediocre team (the Hawks), and then they'll do it again. And then again. And then one more time after that. The Hawks' starters are good, but the Wizards' starters are better on the aggregate. This series will be a good warm up for the Wizards and a quick out for the Hawks, and it won't be much more than that. The best-case scenario is Paul Millsap going off for 40 points in his potential last game as a Hawk in the series' closing game. The worst case scenario looks a lot like John Wall sitting out the  fourth quarters of a couple miserable blowouts. If we're really lucky, we'll only get the first and not the second. More likely than not, though, we'll probably get both in the same game. Put me down for Wizards in four.