Welcome to a new voice on Capital Games: Ben Standig, host of the "Locked on Wizards" podcast and blogger for Breaking Burgundy!
The Wizards left town last week with a 2-0 series lead over the Hawks. Now both teams are headed back to D.C., all tied. Here are four things we’ve learned about Washington and Atlanta after four games of this NBA Eastern Conference first-round matchup.
John Wall Is So Good – But So Is Paul Millsap
The two best players in the series are meeting expectations and then some, especially in their wins.
Wall’s blinding speed and relentless attack mode fueled Washington’s victories in Games 1 and 2. Millsap’s versatility, strength and smarts helped tie the series. Wall is one of only two players currently averaging at least 28 points and 10 assists in the playoffs. Millsap is also filing up the stat sheet: 23.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals and a whopping 10.8 free throw attempts per game.
The point guard and power forward aren’t in any kind of head-to-head battle, yet whichever one ends up as the unofficial best player in the series probably advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
3s and Free Throws
The Wizards finished the regular season eighth in 3-point percentage (37.2). Having Otto Porter, Bradley Beal, Jason Smith and Bojan Bogdanovic each sink around 40 percent helped. Through Monday, Washington is last among 16 playoff teams (29.7). Having those four players shooting in the 20s has hurt.
The Wizards went 9-19 when shooting under 32 percent from deep during the season. They’ve done that three times this series with only Game 4’s 34.4 percent pushing across that line.
Most teams in the modern NBA will struggle if the 3-point shots aren’t falling. Atlanta (31.7) isn’t lighting it up either, but that wasn’t a strength for the Hawks (23rd) during the season.
They’re about getting to the free throw line and they’re doing that better than anyone in the playoffs. Meanwhile Washington center Marcin Gortat hasn’t attempted a single free throw this series. If these trends continue, look out, Wizards nation.
Markieff Morris held his own and then some against Millsap during the regular season. That trend continued with 21 points and four blocks in Washington’s Game 1 win. Since then, he has more fouls (15) than field goals (eight). When the 6-foot-10 forward sits, the Wizards don’t have another forward capable of defending Millsap one-on-one.
Washington is already shorthanded in the frontcourt with reserve center Ian Mahinmi sidelined with a calf injury. … Atlanta rookie Taurean Prince looked like the weak link among all the starters for both teams entering the series. Oops. Prince is giving the Hawks efficient scoring – 13.3 points on 64 percent shooting – while providing even more muscle up front beyond Millsap and big-shouldered Dwight Howard.
Home Sweet Home
There’s a saying that a playoff series doesn’t truly begin until the road team wins a game. Whether one buys that premise or not, the good news for the Wizards is that as long as they never lose a home game, they win the series.
All that work over 82 games paid off in giving Wall and company home-court advantage this series. In what looks like a 50-50 series, that might be the decisive factor.
Here’s more good news: Only the teams with the best regular season records – Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio – won more home games than Washington (30). The Wizards are 4-0 at Verizon Center against the Hawks this season. They’re also just 10-11 overall since March 13.
Washington cannot count on home cooking alone to pull them across the finish line. The time to find that formula that propelled them to the most wins (49) in franchise history since the 1978-79 season is now.