The Atlanta Hawks enter the postseason as favorites for the first time in a very long while, hoping their fantastic offensive basketball still works in the playoffs, facing a team they dominated in the regular season, the Brooklyn Nets.
The Hawks finished as the number one team in the East for the first time since 1994, and see this as an opportunity to put forth their best playoff performance since the franchise relocated from St. Louis. Las Vegas doesn’t see it that way, figuring it’s the Cavaliers who look like the best suited team to win the East and reach the NBA finals, although the Nets will find it very difficult to slow their rivals down.
Brook Lopez seems to be the only advantage the Nets have to ride on in this series, and that’s not much. He had an excellent finish to the season with 23.2 points per game over the last 16, and has been overall stellar since the All-Star break. The Hawks don’t have anyone to match his size and strength near the basket, but Lopez can’t keep up if the Hawks turn this into a track meet.
Joe Johnson has his nights, but overall, just like Deron Williams, he’s on the last years of his usefulness. It’ll be something of an oddity for him to come and play in the postseason against the Hawks, a team he played for from 2005 to 2012, never getting past the conference semifinals. Johnson’s trade and getting rid of his contract helped the Hawks retool and quickly build a team without having to go through a painful decline and tanking period.
One thing the Nets, but more likely other teams (if the Hawks do indeed win this series) will enjoy is the injury to Thabo Sefolosha. Paul Millsap is favoring his shoulder but he’s going to play with protection. The Swiss wingman is out for the season after his tackle with the NYPD, and was going to provide the Hawks with quality wing defense off the bench. Now it means Kent Bazemore gets more minutes, but he doesn’t have the size Sefolosha has.
Still, despite not looking great late in the season (partially because they were coasting) and some injuries hurting the overall look of the puzzle, the Hawks have a huge advantage over the Nets and not just because of their regular season meetings. It’s simple: They’re a better team, playing better basketball, and it doesn’t seem like experience or playing more slowly is going to make up for it.