The Wizards don’t know where they’ll start or who they’ll play, but the NBA has already announced that Monday will mark the start of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Washington advanced to the second round for the first time since 2005 with Tuesday’s 75-69 victory over the Chicago Bulls and will face the winner of the first-round series between the top-seeded Indiana Pacers and eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta has a 3-2 lead over Indiana and will host Game 6 on Thursday at Philips Arena.
By eliminating the Bulls in five games – a first for the franchise in a seven-game series – the Wizards gave themselves plenty of time to recover from a physical battle. The Wizards have have won eight of their past nine games but don’t seem to be worried about possibly being rusty when they return to action.
“It means a lot,” Bradley Beal said of eliminating the Bulls in five games, “because get a little rest now, but it shows that we’ve been through so much this season and it showed our continued growth. We played great basketball in this series and we can only continue to get better.”
If the Hawks are able to complete the upset, Game 1 will be at Verizon Center. The Wizards would become the first fifth seed to have homecourt advantage in the second round since 1994, when Utah defeated Denver, which had upset the top overall seed, Seattle, in the first round.
A series against Indiana would begin at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Wizards have lost 12 straight, dating back to April 11, 2007. The Pacers won both games in Indianapolis this season by a combined 47 points. But Indiana has been imploding since March 4, losing 17 of 29 games. Washington has gone 17-10 over that span, including a 91-78 victory over the Pacers on March 28 at Verizon Center.
The Wizards won the season series against the Hawks, 3-1, with the only loss coming in overtime when Al Horford made a jumper over Trevor Booker as time expired. Horford has been sidelined since December with a torn right pectoral muscle and isn’t expected to return for the playoffs.
“No matter who we’re going to play in the next round, we’re going to approach it the same way with a defensive presence and the offense will take care of itself,” Beal said. “For now, we have to be proud of what we’re doing but at the same time staying humble and continue to move forward and stick together as a team.”