Hawks NBA Playoffs Quick Facts:
No. 5 Atlanta Hawks (43-39) vs. No. 4 Washington Wizards (49-33)
Game 1: Sunday, April 16 at 1 p.m.
TV: TNT, Radio: 92.9 The Game
WASHINGTON -- The record is back to 0-0.
The Atlanta Hawks embark on their 10th consecutive playoff appearance on Sunday. They hold the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and play the No. 4 Washington Wizards on Sunday at the Verizon Center.
The Hawks were a tale of two teams this season, beginning with a winning streak of seven games early on in the season to climb on top of the Eastern Conference. But there were also two seven-game losing streaks, injuries and surprising upsets to end the season on a high note.
They have won six out of their last nine games, including back-to-back wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they finished the regular season second in the Southeast Division behind Washington.
"We've had an unusual season, some ups and unfortunately some downs. The key for us is to stay focused, stay humble, keep an edge and not feel too good or anything like that," head coach Mike Budenholzer said.
The Hawks were 1-3 against the Wizards this season, the most loses they had to any team this season. They faced the Wizards in the postseason two years ago after their record 60-win season. The Hawks won in six games, even after Paul Pierce's memorable "I called game" shot to win Game 3. John Wall injured his hand in game one, and he missed three games. They went on to the Eastern Conference Finals, but were swept by the Cavs.
Now, Wall is healthy and makes up a dangerous backcourt with Bradley Beal. Wall is putting up the best numbers of his career with 23.1 points per game, shooting 45 percent from the floor. Defensively, he is averaging 2.1 steals per game, highest in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks are not the best offensive team, ranking 22 in the league in points per game with 103.2. But their shots have been falling late in the season, and they are moving the ball around as well as they have all season, which they stress is important for their style of play.
"Getting back to the way we play basketball, I think that's been important. If we don't get back to how we play and what makes us special, we struggle. And when we realize how we need to win and get out there and do it, that makes us a really good team," Millsap said. "I felt like if we could get [in the postseason] with this group, with this team, we could do something very special. And now we're there, we continue to work hard every day and try to be the best we can be, go as far as we can get."
Millsap averages 18.1 points per game, the highest in his 11-year career. Center Dwight Howard is starting in the playoffs for the first time in his home city since signing last offseason. The eight-time NBA All-Star, who attended Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, has been in the postseason nine times, and he made it to the NBA Finals in 2009 with Orlando.
Howard averages a double-double with 13.5 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game, and his defensive prowess helped the Hawks become the most efficient team on defense in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks' bench has helped the team surge in April, averaging 49.3 points per game in the wins against the Cavs and Charlotte Hornets. Malcolm Delaney knows the importance of being ready to come in and play the point guard position off the bench. He stresses the bench plays well when they share the ball and take can pressure off the starters.
"Once one person makes the extra pass, everyone starts doing it," he said. "We become a better team, and I think we can beat anybody when we play that way, and if we don't, we can lose to anybody."
While the Hawks could find themselves down in the series before returning home for Game 3 on April 22, Mike Muscala said the past few games, like the 26-point comeback against the Cavs, has given them the confidence to come back from anything.
"We'll definitely draw confidence from it, for sure. You got to learn the good and bad from games you learn from games you played in the past," he said.