Hawks Now One Game Away From Eastern Finals, But They’re Sure Not Playing Like Champs!

The top seeded Atlanta Hawks are now one game away from playing in the Eastern Finals. But, they’ve yet to show much evidence in either their first round series with Brooklyn, or their second round series with Washington that they are really championship material.

They almost lost Game Five at home!

Give the Hawks credit for rallying from nine points down in the fourth quarter…and then rallying from one point down in the final seconds to “steal” a game they were favored to win by about seven or eight. But…how are you going to win the East and compete with the West if you have to sweat the Nets and Wizards?

If John Wall of Washington hadn’t fractured his wrist in five places, it’s possible that this series would already be over and the Wizards would be playing for the Eastern crown. And, it’s not like Washington necessarily looks like champions when Wall is healthy! The East is still a “minor league” relative to the West. Nobody’s playing scary basketball.

From Atlanta’s perspective, this is surprising because:

*They haven’t suffered any major injuries
*They have enjoyed the perks of being a #1 seed
*They are supposedly using the “proven” Spurs model on both sides of the floor

Yet, a regular season power (even when facing the West) has paled in comparison to its former self once dealing with playoff pressure. Let’s see how they barely survived Game Five as we gear up to handicap Game Six.

GAME FIVE STATS
Atlanta 82, Washington 81
Shooting Pct: Washington 38%, Atlanta 41%
Three-Pointers: Washington 4/17, Atlanta 5/22
Free Throws: Washington 11/16, Atlanta 9/11
Rebounds: Washington 46, Atlanta 50
Turnovers: Washington 19, Atlanta 23

Again…Atlanta is a #1 seed that was playing at home! They’re shooting was awful. They turned the ball over like it was made of molten lead. Three-pointers continued to be a problem rather than a strength. Believe it or not, Washington has made more treys in the series (47-44)!

This was supposed to be a statement game with a Vegas line of -7.5. The statement made was that Atlanta isn’t ready to play high level basketball on command. If anything, they become afraid of their own shadow.

We should credit the Atlanta defense though. They did a great job of neutralizing Washington’s energy while forcing a lot of turnovers. Defense gives you a chance to win when the shots aren’t falling. This was a “defense and rebounding” victory for the hosts. Can they win on the road Friday to wrap things up?

Friday’s Vegas Line: Washington by 2.5, total of 197

The betting markets are giving Washington a lot of respect in the bounce-back spot. Can a team that keeps blowing fourth quarter leads be trusted to win a high pressure elimination game? Wall showed he can contribute while playing with one arm. He didn’t show he can lead a team to victory.

An important factor here will be determining Atlanta’s mindset. Clearly they’d love to get things over with. But, there could be a tendency to relax knowing that a Game Seven at home wouldn’t be until Monday. Easy to see this one blowing up in either direction. If Atlanta relaxes while Washington brings everything….we’re going the distance. But, if the Hawks FINALLY start making their treys just as the Wizards run out of gas…it could be surprisingly easy for the visitor.

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Playoff coverage this weekend will depend on what happens in the Game Sixes. Then, next week, we’ll have wall-to-wall basketball coverage of both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. When the hoops schedule lightens up…we’ll work Major League Baseball back into the mix. Then Preseason NFL will be here before you know it!

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