Washington Wizards beat writer Todd Dybas of the Washington Times was good enough to answer five questions about the upcoming Hawks-Wizards first-round series which starts Sunday in Verizon Center. To the questions:
1. Was the Wizards’ turnaround as simple as getting John Wall healthy?
It sure has not hurt (no pun intended). At the end of last season, Wall had reached a point where he could not straighten his right leg. Once he was back into basketball shape at the start of this season, you could see a difference in his explosiveness. Remember, this is someone who was in the dunk contest and is often viewed as among the fastest point guards in the league, if not the fastest. Knee problems are diabolical for any player, let alone one constructed that way. Remaking the bench and Bradley Beal playing a career-high number of games and minutes have been significant factors, too. One other thought: Washington’s roster was built around one-year deals last season. Now, it’s built around Wall and Beal long-term, with several others on multiple year contracts. It’s a different vibe, with a different roster and different coach.
2. Are there teams that have been able to contain John Wall/Bradley Beal duo? If so, how?
Wall does, at times, have problems with the enormous shot-blockers in the league. Rudy Gobert dominated against Washington in both games it lost to Utah. DeAndre Jordan gave them problems, too, though those guys give the entire league problems. Efficient offense by the opponent is probably the best way to slow Wall and Beal. Washington kills teams off misses and turnovers. Those turn into a push from Wall and often a trail 3-pointer from Beal. If the game is open and loose, they are at their best.
3. What player do you consider and X-factor in the series?
Markieff Morris. He played very well during the Wizards’ burn through January and into February. He is a stout foil for Paul Millsap and players like Millsap, which is something the Wizards have been missing. The last time these teams met in the playoffs Washington was trying to survive with a mix of Paul Pierce and Otto Porter on Millsap. That won’t be the case here, and they think Morris is a prime counter to Atlanta’s best player.
4. The Wizards win if …
Their defense resembles what it was from December to the All-Star break. Washington became a much better defensive team in that stretch, but has not been good since the weekend off in mid-February. The acquisitions that bolstered the bench – Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings – are poor defenders, particularly Jennings. Porter is a middle-of-the-road wing defender and Morris’ defense depends on his engagement in the game. Washington is an offense-heavy team, so any positive postseason results will be predicated on its defense.
5. What is your prediction for the series?
I think Washington matches up well here. The early absence of Ian Mahinmi will hurt, but the Wizards have a clear advantage in the backcourt and the aforementioned model to handle Millsap (Morris has been in early foul trouble multiple times, so that’s something to note). Howard has the advantage against Gortat. I think Washington also has an advantage on the wings, where Porter has had his best season and Kelly Oubre has been playing better the past three weeks. Wizards in five.