For Atlanta Hawks fans, Christmas came early with a 60-22 regular season record. And now they take out the No. 8 seed in the East, the Brooklyn Nets. The Hawks bring an explosive offense that could potentially be too much for the Nets to handle. And although most view the Nets as an overwhelmingly first round dismissal, they should still be happy they salvaged the season and made the playoffs, despite almost missing them completely with a horrendous first half start to the season.
Atlanta finished as the No. 1 seed in the East with a record of 60-22. They swept the regular season series against Brooklyn 4-0. Their average margin of victory was 17 points. The Hawks ‘space and pace’ approach has been a difficult matchup for the Nets all season and if they don’t figure out how to contain it, could spell trouble.
Their offense can expose the Nets, if the Nets don’t clean up their mistakes. The Hawks also have the edge when it comes to depth on their bench. Their X-factor will be Jeff Teague. It’s safe to say that when Teague is on, he is on. The Hawks went 17-0 in January with Teague at the forefront of it all. And when they played the Nets, he was right there leading the way too. In four games versus the Nets, Teague averaged 14.8 PTS and 9 AST. As a team, they averaged 114 PTS against the Nets. Rebounding hasn’t been Atlanta’s bright spot, as they average slightly less than the Nets at 31.8 DRB a game. They have struggled against teams who can slow Atlanta’s pace down. They will need to step it up a notch in the rebounding department to ensure they keep up their high flying offense.
The Nets rolled into the playoffs with a losing record of 38-44. Yes, they made the playoffs with a losing record. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City will be watching from their couches with a 45-37 record. But that’s neither here nor there. Brooklyn, led by Deron Williams, won 13 of their last 20 games of the season and even had a six-game win streak during that stretch. So there’s that. Williams led a scoring surge down the stretch, including a 31 point game against the No. 4 seed Toronto Raptors and a 24 point game against the No. 4 seed in the West, Portland Trail Blazers. And although Williams tends to disappear in big games, he’ll look to continue his success against the Hawks.
Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic are two huge reasons the Nets are in the playoffs. Of course there is Williams and Joe Johnson (that six-time all-star guy the Hawks traded to the Nets a few seasons back). Johnson has been a force against the Hawks since the big trade. In 11 games, he has averaged 23.2 points per game. This season he’s had games of 26 and 21 PTS. But here lately has trailed off towards the end of the season, averaging only 10.8 PTS. If the Nets want to win, they will need Johnson to regain his Hawk-torturing form. Unfortunately for them, the Nets are ranked 23rd in DRtg. They also rank in the bottom half of teams in defensive rebounds a game (DRB) with 32. To stop the Hawks, Brooklyn is going to have to win the battle at the boards.
The Hawks win in five games. Atlanta is an exciting, young team, but are unproven in the playoffs. With the lack of experience, the Nets could take a game or two, but when it’s all said and done, Atlanta should advance to the second round without any qualms.
Game 1: Sunday, Brooklyn at Atlanta, 4:30 p.m. CT
Game 2: Wed. April 22, Brooklyn at Atlanta, 6 p.m. CT
Game 3: Sat. April 25, Atlanta at Brooklyn, 2 p.m. CT
Game 4: Mon. April 27, Atlanta at Brooklyn, TBD
*Game 5: Wed. April 29, Brooklyn at Atlanta, TBD
*Game 6: Fri. May 1, Atlanta at Brooklyn, TBD
*Game 7: Sun. May 3, Brooklyn at Atlanta, TBD