No matter how well the Wizards played in the first round, that'll have nothing to do what happens vs. the Atlanta Hawks, who host Games 1 and 2 Sunday and Tuesday, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They'll go as far as the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal takes them.
The Hawks' ability to spread the floor with five shooters poses matchup problems for everyone, but like the Toronto Raptors who weren't quite as versatile with their post players, the Wizards have a quiet confidence that they can win this series to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1978-79:
- Wall's and Beal's turnovers will set the tone. If they're in a giving mood, it will be a short series. In the first two losses to the Hawks, the Wizards had 20 turnovers in each. The backcourt accounted for 12 in a four-point loss and 10 in a 31-point loss. The one game that the Wizards had a chance to win, and led late, they only accounted for three turnovers. Put Hawks point guard Jeff Teague in transition with shooters spotting up around the arc and it's asking for trouble.
- Don't be surprised if the Wizards dare Al Horford to beat them. Horford is an All-Star and a very versatile player. But there's a belief that playing him straight up, and allowing him to get his points if necessary, is a better option than allowing Teague to get in the lane and Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap to get clean looks from three-point range. The question becomes who among the starters is best-suited for that assignment. Marcin Gortat is a true center while Horford is undersized but having him pulled away from the basket to defend isn't ideal for him or Nene. Horford averaged 12.7 shot attempts per game in the regular season. If he takes closer to 16-18, which would mean fewer threes from Atlanta, that's probably better for the Wizards even if he shoots a decent percentage.
- This is where Ramon Sessions, who was acquired in a trade after the three losses, pays off most. When Atlanta's reserves come in with Dennis Schroder, Shelvin Mack, Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and Mike Scott, the pressure doesn't relent. It's where the Wizards severely lacked with Andre Miller who was traded for Sessions as a result. Drew Gooden is a given with the second unit, which means Kris Humphries likely takes a back seat when it comes to playing time in this series, too. None of the Hawks' players can defend Kevin Seraphin one-on-one in the post but they create such havoc on the defensive end that the Wizards can't take advantage of him. This will be Sessions' job, and maybe where Will Bynum could factor in, too, to give them a dose of their own medicine.
- Nene stays focused on rebounding. In two of the three losses, the Wizards have come up short on the smaller, less physically imposing team. In the one game that Nene didn't play, the Nov. 25 matchup, is when the Wizards actually had a rebounding edge. He only has nine total rebounds in the two games he played which just isn't enough no matter how much time he logs. When the Wizards got off to a good start by upsetting the Raptors twice at home in the first round, Nene averaged 11 rebounds.
- The Paul Pierce-Otto Porter connection continues to work. They belong on the court at the same time. Pierce is about the buckets while Porter is about the utility work. If Porter is hitting the open jump shot, too, this combination becomes a major equalizer to open the floor for Wall or Sessions to get in the paint.
[MORE WIZARDS: Rundown of Wizards' difficulties facing Hawks]