The Hawks clinched the fifth seed on Tuesday night with a win at home over the Hornets. Washington clinched the fourth seed last week. It will be a rematch of Washington’s last playoff series, the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the Hawks edged out the Wizards in six games.
However, a lot has changed in those two years. This time around, the Wizards will be the squad with the better record, and several key players on both sides have gone elsewhere. Four of the five starters from Atlanta’s 2015 team — Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, and DeMarre Carroll — have gone off to new teams.
Washington still has three of their five starters, but won’t have Paul Pierce, who had several big moments in the series:
The 2017 series will face two teams who have struggled in recent months in different areas. The Wizards are 26th in Defensive Rating since the All-Star break, while the Hawks are dead-last in Offensive Rating over that same time.
Still, Washington should be favored to win the series. They’ve won three of the four head-to-head meetings this season and will finish at least five games ahead of Atlanta no matter what happens between now and the end of the season. As we saw the last time the Wizards and Hawks met, Atlanta can hang with Washington if they can drag them into a slow-paced, defensive game. But if Washington can force some turnovers and get out in transition, like they did late in that game to pull away, it will be difficult for the Hawks to keep up.