The Washington Wizards bounced back from a mediocre campaign in 2016 to reach the playoffs and secured the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Randy Wittman paid the price for missing the post-season and was replaced at the end of the term by Scott Brooks, who has re-established the franchise’s position as a contender for the crown.
John Wall and Bradley Beal have been the driving force behind the Wizards’ push for the playoffs, with both players enjoying standout seasons.
More will be expected of the duo to perform in the post-season to end the club’s 39-year wait for the NBA Championship to return to the US capital.
Atlanta reached the Conference Semi-Finals last term, only to be defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers on their journey towards the title.
The Hawks lost the veteran presence of Al Horford as he left the club to join the Boston Celtics, although they were boosted by the return of Dwight Howard, while the points were spread around the team with Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroeder leading the way.
Both teams are evenly matched heading into the series – therefore we should be set for a thrilling run of matches for a place in the Conference Semi-Finals.
We’ll now look at the regular seasons of both sides and break down the betting odds for their contest in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wizards started poorly under new head coach Brooks, losing their opening three matches of the season before they achieved their win by defeating Atlanta at the Verizon Center.
However, November was a poor month for the franchise as they failed to find their rhythm on the court, winning just six of their 15 matches, despite solid performances from Beal and Wall.
Shoots of recovery were present in December as the Wizards finally began to click, recording two stretches of three consecutive wins. Brooks’ men used their three home matches immediately after Christmas to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks, the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets to get back to .500.
The first signs of their quality emerged at the turn of the year, despite losing two games on the spin to the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks.
Washington triumphed in 14 of their next 16 matches, round into playoff form before the All-Star break with Beal and Wall leading the charge, with support coming throughout from center Marcin Gortat.
The Wizards produced a strong performance at home to overcome the Golden State Warriors, with Beal notching 25 points, while Wall contributed 19 assists in their four-point win. Bojan Bogdanovic was acquired from the Nets and proved his worth with a match-winning outing against the Toronto Raptors early in his career for Brooks’ men.
A five-match winning streak took them to the brink of securing their post-season berth, including overtime wins over the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers.
Washington’s victory over the Nets got them over the line before the Southeast Division crown was earned by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers on the road.
The Hawks’ had their 2015-16 campaign ended in familiar fashion in a 4-0 series defeat to the Cavaliers – the same side that had beaten them in the Conference Finals by the same margin in the previous term.
Mike Budenholzer’s men lost the services of Horford over the summer, but were able to bring Howard back to his hometown, although he had never previously played for Atlanta, to fill the shoes of the departed center.
The Hawks began the season on a strong note, defeating the Wizards in their opener in a comfortable victory on home soil, and won out in October with further wins over the Philadelphia 76ers and the Kings.
However, problems began to mount in November where the club struggled on the road immensely. The dropped seven out of their 10 contests away from Philips Arena in the month, while the issues carried on over into December – losing seven matches on the bounce to dip below .500.
Strong performances from Howard, Schroeder and Millsap guided the club to important wins over the festive period, defeating the Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets, allowing them to end 2016 with a 17-16 record.
The New Year got off to an excellent start with an overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs in overtime, with Millsap starring with a 32-point performance along with 10 rebounds.
Their impressive form in January put them on course for the post-season, although storm clouds were gathering.
An underwhelming run of results in February put Budenholzer’s men under pressure, while a run of three wins in 13 almost brought them back to the chasing teams below them.
However, they managed to up the ante just in time to secure their playoff berth with wins over the Celtics and Cavaliers.
Although the Hawks won the first meeting between the two sides in the regular season, Washington dominated their contests later in the campaign with three victories on the spin. As a result, Brooks’ men will be fancying their chances to advance into the Conference Semi-Finals.
Atlanta stood in the way of the Wizards in their last playoff push and will be hopeful that their experience will stand them in good stead. Budenholzer’s side played recorded late victories over the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular term, but will need to raise the level of their game on a consistent basis to progress.
Beal and Wall possess the star power for the Wizards to break past the Hawks’ defense, although Budenholzer’s men have allowed the 10th fewest points in the NBA this term. It should be an intriguing battle between offense and defense, but with support coming from Bogdanovic and Gortat – Brooks’ men should be able to reach the last four.
Therefore backing the Wizards with Sportsbet Sportsbook at -204 is the bet to take, given Washington’s strength in depth across the court.
Brooks’ men should have the ability to close out the series with relative ease – therefore taking the 4-1 scoreline at +375 would also be good option, with the security of taking the series in five matches at +240 – if the Hawks are able to turn the tables on the Wizards.
Washington Wizards To Beat Atlanta Hawks
Washington Wizards To Beat Atlanta Hawks 4-1
Series To Be Decided In Five Games