There are a lot of things in sports that just don’t quite deliver on the enormous promise. Suffice it to say that the Clippers/Spurs series was not one of them. I’ll spare the breathless paragraphs about how amazing that series was; how fitting and incredible a Game Seven we were treated to, and how the rest of the playoffs will have a hard time delivering anything even close to that high of quality.
Quite simply, it was probably the greatest first round series in the history of the NBA Playoffs and the only down-side is that the series can only go seven games and one of the teams (the Spurs) now has to go home…
However, we are now down to eight teams standing, and the only thing that is certain is that we will be watching some new participants in May and June. It feels weird to look at the NBA bracket on the first weekend of May and not see San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma City or Indiana in the mix.
So let’s take our first look at round two with today’s free pick.
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Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks -5
Much like the Bulls, the Hawks seemed to have erased several weeks of uneasiness and concern with one massive blowout road win over a far inferior team. But it would be wise to take the Wizards very seriously; they have more playoff experience and might be the more talented team on paper as well.
The ‘rust vs. rest’ argument takes center stage today at 1pm on ABC. The Hawks are turning right around after closing out the Nets in a tougher-than-expected series while Washington has had more than a week off after conquering the North without much resistance (remember the Raptors series? Waaaay back when….) I think Atlanta will have a nice corwd on hand, but I think Washington has a good chance to land a haymaker as the opening salvo to the series. Paul Pierce seems to have not only rejuvenated himself but also inspired some toughness out of Bradley Beal and John Wall – if those two play well, they have a distinct edge over Atlanta’s guards.
Likewise, Washington should be able to contend with Atlanta’s versatile and talented frontcourt. Milsap and Horford are excellent, but Gortat and Nene can play also. I’ll give ATL a slight edge, but not an overwhelming one.
The difference will be which team’s role players and second unit contributes more positively to the series. That is Atlanta’s biggest edge and why I see them wearing Washington down late in the series. But for today, I’ll go with the hot Wizards and their talent advantage, as well as the rest advantage to cover Game One.