ATLANTA -- Throw out what happened in the first round for the Wizards (a surprisingly easy sweep of the Toronto Raptors) and the Atlanta Hawks (a surprisingly difficult six-game series with the Brooklyn Nets).
These are slightly different teams from the regular-season series, won 3-1 by the Hawks, and in a seven-game series it's all about adjustments between games and the more defensive style of play.
Game 1 is today at Phillips Arena (ABC, 1 p.m. ET; Wizards Postgame Live on CSN, approximately 3:30):
- Frontcourt: In terms of sheer numbers and depth, this isn't much of a contest. The Wizards are superior with Marcin Gortat, Nene, Drew Gooden, Kevin Seraphin, Kris Humphries and Paul Pierce. The Hawks counter with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Pero Antic, DeMarre Carroll and Mike Scott. Where the Hawks get a leg up, however, is by forcing opponents to adjust to them which makes the Wizards' size (and slower feet) a weakness. But with Pierce playing more at power forward and Gooden's recent emergence, some of that advantage should be neutralized. Advantage, Wizards.
- Backcourt: Jeff Teague has been better than John Wall head-to-head. Wall, however, is the better player. Kyle Korver is the NBA's best three-point shooter and an underrated defender. Bradley Beal shot good enough from deep to be ninth-best in the regular season. The difference in both backcourts has been consistency for the 82-game season. In the postseason, Wall and Beal have been better. So which duo wins out? Whichever one turns over the ball the least and until the Wizards prove they can be more responsible with it it's difficult to go against the more proven commodity in this key area. Teague will challenge every entry pass, and his wings will support him by denying the ball. Advantage, Hawks.
- Reserves: The Hawks have gotten more production because, like with the starters, they fit. The Wizards have more depth and versatility with Otto Porter, Ramon Sessions, Gooden and can resort to Seraphin, Humphries, Rasual Butler and Will Bynum. Having options in a seven-game series when situations change is significant. The Wizards have the pieces. They have to find a way to make it work in concert. Advantage, Wizards.
- Coaches: It's hard to go against Mike Budenholzer of the Hawks. He led the franchise to a record 60 wins in the regular season and was named NBA coach of the year. But Randy Wittman, who won't get anywhere near the respect of the long-time Gregg Popovich disciple, seems to be better in a series. His teams are 7-1 on the road in the postseason including last year despite being the lower seed in each series. Does that experience matter? How can it not? Even.
- Intangibles: Most of the Wizards have been in this situation and have been underdogs. They weren't as happy to get to the second round this year as they were last year. This is a team that tends to play better when it's the underdog vs. the No. 1 seed in the East, which is a good thing. Plus, they have a swagger with Pierce that wasn't present previously. The Hawks have a perimeter-heavy style that usually has trouble translating the deeper a team like this gets into the postseason. Atlanta is 0-15 in semifinal series. The Wizards haven't been past this round since 1978-79. Advantage, Wizards.