Atlanta Hawks Game Preview: Game 3 vs. Washington Wizards

The Atlanta Hawks face a must-win game Saturday against the Washington Wizards. Can they avoid falling down 3-0 in the series?

It’s time for the Atlanta Hawks to show the NBA what they’re made of. Or, you know, at least win one playoff game. They’ve yet to do that in the 2017 postseason. The Wizards hold a 2-0 lead after Game 1’s convincing win and Game 2’s fourth quarter comeback.

Game 1 wasn’t frustrating for Hawks fans. In that game the Wizards were clearly the better team. They had a double digit lead for much of the fourth quarter and the Hawks clawed back to make the final score look respectable. Losing Game 1 on the road to a better team isn’t anything to feel ashamed about.

Game 2 is another story. This was a game the Hawks were capable of winning. They took a four-point lead into the fourth quarter and had a chance to extend their lead against Washington’s bench.

Instead, Brandon Jennings sparked an 8-0 run to give the Wizards the lead. It was the turning point in the game and gave John Wall and Bradley Beal the opportunity to play like superstars in crunch-time.

Wall finished with 32 points and nine assists. Beal added 31 points on 4-for-10 shooting. The Hawks just can’t match that type of  firepower on the offensive end and they definitely don’t have anyone that can stop it on the defensive end.

Now, everyone let out a loud sigh.

The Hawks have several problems in this series. Ask five Hawks fan what Atlanta’s biggest issue in this series is and you might get five different answers.

First of all, they turn the ball over too much. They have committed 37 turnovers in the first two games of this series.

Then there’s their lack of outside shooting. The Hawks shot 7-for-25 from three-point range in Game 1 and 4-for-20 in Game 2. The pace and space Hawks are a thing of the past. This offense is just plain ugly. Bring back the “Bud Ball”!

There’s also Atlanta’s curious rotations. Mike Budenholzer is a great coach, and he doesn’t make decisions for no reason, but the distribution of minutes hasn’t made much sense through the first two games.

Jose Calderon has played eight minutes in each game, while Malcolm Delaney hasn’t played at all. Delaney has his issues as a player, but he’s been better than Calderon this season, especially on the defensive end. It would be more beneficial to not play a backup point guard at all than to keep playing Calderon against guards he struggles to defend.

Thabo Sefolosha didn’t crack the rotation at all in Game 1 and he played just four minutes in Game 2. He was dealing with a lingering groin injury for the last few weeks of the regular season, so that might be why Budenholzer has limited his playing time.

If he’s completely healthy, or even close to completely healthy, he needs to be playing more minutes. Sefolosha is Atlanta’s best perimeter defender. He’s the only player on the roster capable of sticking with John Wall and Bradley Beal. He can’t stop them, but he can contain them better than Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore. In theory, anyway.

Can anyone really contain Wall and Beal? Can you contain a giant boulder rolling down a hill? Eventually the boulder crushes you, right? I think that’s a perfect representation of this series. Giant boulder or not, the Hawks still have to play at least two more games in this series.

The biggest story coming out of the first two games of this series is the play of Dwight Howard, or lack thereof. Howard famously signed with the Hawks this summer for three years and $70.5 million. The idea, at the time, was to pair him with Al Horford and trade Paul Millsap.

A Howard/Horford backcourt sounds questionable to me, but it made sense for what Atlanta’s front office was looking for. Losing back-to-back playoff series’ to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and getting crushed on the boards both times, made the organization realize they needed rebounding help for Horford.

Millsap can become a free agent this summer. Atlanta wanting to lock in Howard and Horford as the frontcourt of their present and future while cashing in on Millsap was a sound plan. As we know, things changed rather quickly.

Horford bolted for Boston and the Hawks kept Millsap. Now the Hawks are left with a center on a large contract that they can only play for 24.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. That’s right, Howard can’t stay on the floor against the Wizards.

Here’s what Mike Budenholzer had to say after Game 2 when Howard played just 20 minutes and sat the entire fourth quarter. All quotes are from Chris Vivlamore’s recap in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It spreads the court more,” Budenholzer said. “It gets more ball-handlers, more guys who can get to the paint.”

Paul Millsap seemed to agree that small-ball is the way for Atlanta to beat the Wizards.

“It’s simple,” Millsap said. “Our small ball is better than theirs. We think we play small ball better than anybody in the league. That is one of our better lineups. We can push the tempo. Get up and down the court. I think we have taken advantage of that.”

He hasn’t played poorly on paper. Howard scored six points and grabbed five rebounds on 3-for-5 shooting in Game 2. Though, many have suggested his defensive effort was poor.

It’s a tricky situation for the Hawks, and it’s definitely something to monitor going forward. If your big free agent signing can’t stay on the court in the fourth quarter that’s a problem.

We’ll have to wait and see how things shake out in Game 3. If the Hawks win, the series is officially on. If they lose, Washington will have the series firmly in their grasp. I expect the Wizards will continue their trend of riding Wall and Beal to victory.

Who: Washington Wizards @ Atlanta Hawks 

Series: 2-0 Wizards

When: 5:30 PM EST, Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

Where: Philips Arena 

How: TNT

Prediction: Wizards 110 Hawks 100

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