Both teams, the Wizards and Atlanta Hawks, are very different from the teams that played each other on opening night of the regular season.
Even when these teams last played March 22, a 104-100 win for the Wizards at Verizon Center that clinched the season series 3-1, there have been changes.
The No. 5 seed Hawks didn't have Paul Millsap or Kent Bazemore because of injuries in their final meeting. They'll have both today in Game 1 of the first-round series.
The path to victory for the Wizards:
Bigs vs. Dwight Howard
First, if he wants to isolate and take 12-15 foot bank shots, let him. He has a tendency to hold the ball. Within 10 feet of the basket is the danger zone for Howard, who feasts on second-chance points and putbacks. He shoots 65.7% from less than 10 feet. Anywhere else he's well under 40%. Chances are Mike Muscala will defend the stretch bigs, and if so there are switches that can be made to take more dangerous players away and leave samller ones with Muscala. He doesn't aggressively post up. He's a jump shooter.
Battle of power forward Markieff Morris with "stretch four" Paul Millsap
Markieff Morris, who doesn't like being called a "stretch," had this to say about him getting the best of Paul Millsap in their matchup during the season. "Not taking plays off. Not giving him anything free. Fouling the (expletive) out of him when I got a chance." it was a bit more complex than that, but the advantages that Millsap has on bigs or undersized players trying to defend him is harder to come by with Morris who is 6-10 and presents as much trouble on the offensive end. The Hawks run screen-and-roll more with Millsap than Howard because he can spread. Morris can face up Millsap. And if he ends up matched with Ersan Ilyasova, he can get his shot whenver he wants. Ilyasova hasn't been able to stay in front of Morris off the dribble (Ample evidence here from earlier in the season: Wizards' problems solved with Morris at the stretch 4).
System offense doesn't respond well to pressure
Ball pressure and being in the passing lanes will take the Hawks out of their rhythm. The key is to be prepared for the backdoor cuts they'll make in an attempt to make the defense pay for overplaying. Every team runs motion strong/weak sets and have their wrinkles out of it. Same with horns sets or triangle which Hawks will flow into out of motion. Pushing the ball out of the operational zone and forcing them to get shots later in the clock usually will mean lower-efficiency shots.
Keep ball out of the paint
Dennis Schroder has improved his shot, but he's still not a knockdown shooter. He wants to get into the lane and finish. If the help is in place from the frontline, going for the strip from behind is a good strategy because you can recover. But the key is everyone being in position before making the gamble.
Keeping track of Tim Hardaway
When it was Kyle Korver who Bradley Beal had to keep track of, it was a much easier assignment despite him shooting an NBA-best 49.2% from three-point range two years ago. Korver shifted around the arc and rarely attacked the rim. Beal has to play Hardaway for the three and the off-ball cut. He gets his head turned around, loses him and he has an easy deuce. Hardaway is prone to take rushed and low-percentage shots and if he's not identified immediately in transition he will launch threes quickly. Making him defend in help situations can lead to good results. Posting him put with stronger guards in Wall and Beal will work, too.
Shooters vs. Howard
Howard stays back when someone like Beal, Wall or Otto Porter is coming at him with the ball off a screen or curl, cautious of getting beaten to the rim. He plays soft and will give up this mid-range look. If the drive is made, the weakside (Gortat or whichever big Howard is responsible for defending) has to crash and rebound to take advantage of Howard vacating his position. This pocket shot, however, around the foul line or just inside of it should be there.