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Wizards vs. Hawks Game 1 Preview: Washington kicks off postseason at home

NBA: Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

When: Sunday, April 15, at 1:00 p.m.
Where: The Verizon Center in Washington, DC
TV: TNT, CSN Mid-Atlantic, Fox Sports Southeast

Injury Report

Ian Mahinmi will be out until at least April 19 with a calf injury. The Hawks are expected to have everyone available.

Keys to Victory

John Wall and Bradley Beal need to play their game

The Wizards’ major advantage in this series is their backcourt, period. Wall and Beal don’t need to give superhuman performances, but they do need to play at the high level we’ve come to expect from them. If Wall and Beal have bad games, the Hawks’ superior defense and frontcourt scoring could be too much for the Wizards.

Beal needs to stay active and aggressive. The Hawks will expend a lot of energy preventing him from comfortably catching the ball behind the arc, but unfortunately for them, his ability to attack off the dribble has improved by leaps and bounds this year. Even if his field goal attempt rate goes down, he needs to keep moving to keep the Hawks defense on its toes at all times. Even if he doesn’t touch the ball, he can still have a major impact on the possession just by staying active and engaged.

The Hawks will do everything in their power to bait Wall into taking jump shots. They are one of the most disciplined defensive teams in the league, and they know that if Wall gets to the rim he’ll find the open shooter on the perimeter. They’ll give him just enough space to make the pull-up enticing, and trust that the less efficient shots will drag the Wizards’ offense down.

But Wall is a smart floor general, and the Wizards have enough shooters to put around him to make any help defense risky. If he plays his normal game he’ll still find ways to create havoc and generate high percentage shots for his teammates.

Who will Playoff Markieff be?

Markieff Morris has never been to the playoffs before. On the one hand, it seems unlikely that he’ll be intimidated by the big stage. But what the Wizards need from him this series is to do the dirty work: Rebound, set screens, and above all else make Paul Millsap’s life miserable.

Morris has played Millsap well in the past. As long as he stays locked in on the defensive end, he shouldn’t need to put up particularly big numbers on offense to help propel the team to victory.

The Defense

It’s not just about Morris vs. Millsap. Defense is a team effort.

At the beginning of the season, I thought that the one thing we could know for sure about this Wizards team would be that they would have a good defense. The starting unit has been a good defensive squad in the past, and the addition of Scott Brooks, Mahinmi and expanded role for Kelly Oubre made it seem like a good defense was given.

That prediction turned out to be completely wrong. This year’s squad leans heavily on their offense. They’ve shown they can get buckets against almost anybody. But the defense has been mediocre, sometimes very bad. The team defended well during their January hot streak, with a defensive rating of 103.6, good for sixth best in the league that month. But since the All Star Break, it’s been 110.7, one of the worst marks in the league.

Is there a good defensive team in there, just saving energy for the playoffs? If so, this series will be short. But if the Wizards’ season-long rating (108.5, 20th) is more accurate, things could get uncomfortably close if the Wizards have a cold shooting night or two.

Most Likely Wizard Killer: Ersan Ilyasova

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards have long struggled with sweet-shooting big men. Ilyasova is shooting a respectable 35 percent from three this season. With Morris preoccupied with Millsap, Ilyasova will probably make approximately 75-80 percent of his threes in this series.