The Washington Wizards won their first divisional title since the 1978-79 Washington Bullets. That team went on to reach the NBA Finals. This Wizards team enters the playoffs seeded fourth with an opportunity to make a deep run into the playoffs like Washington’s last division champs. Up first: the Atlanta Hawks.
Here are best and worst moments from the Wizards’ 114-107 win over the Hawks in Game 1 of their first round playoff series.
Best omen: The last time the Wizards franchise hosted Game 1 of a playoff series was April 15, 1979. It was Easter Sunday, and the opponent was the Atlanta Hawks. Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge scored 31 and 30 points, respectively, in the Bullets’ 103-89 win at Capital Centre that day. The Hawks took Game 2, but Washington went on to win the series in seven games en route to their second straight trip to the NBA Finals. Could Sunday’s seven-point win spark a similar run 38 years later? A 1-0 series lead is nice, anyhow.
Best Wall: John Wall scored a career playoff-high 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting and had 14 assists for the Wizards. Wall was especially dominant in the third quarter, when he helped Washington erase a halftime deficit with 15 points and four assists. After getting a friendly roll on a three-pointer, Wall turned around a shrugged a la Michael Jordan as he headed back down the court. The Verizon Center crowd serenaded the point guard with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” after his three-point play with 3:32 to play in the quarter.
Best playoff debut: Wall had plenty of help on offense, with all five Wizards starters finishing in double figures, but his co-star was Markieff Morris, who had 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks in his first career playoff game. Morris scored 11 points in the third quarter, during which Washington outscored Atlanta 38-28. Bradley Beal missed seven of his first 10 shots, but caught fire after halftime and finished with a respectable 22 points on 9 of 21 shooting.
Worst poster: The Wizards led by as many as 14 in the third quarter, but the Hawks kept things interesting against Washington’s reserves. Tim Hardaway Jr.’s dunk over Bojan Bogdanovic was a particularly bad look.
Worst scare: Wizards reserve center Jason Smith went down with an apparent knee injury late in the third quarter, but was later cleared to return.
Best assist: Wall already had double-digit dimes to choose from by the middle of the third quarter, and many of them were equally pretty, but this spin-o-rama drive and dish to a wide open Otto Porter Jr. helped give the Wizards their first lead since the first quarter. They wouldn’t trail again.
Worst free throw disparity: The Hawks took a 48-45 lead into halftime, thanks in large part t0 their 19 made free throws on 22 attempts. The Wizards made all nine of their attempts, including three by Morris after he was fouled on a shot from the corner just before the buzzer.
Best halftime adjustment: TNT’s Allie LaForce reported that Wizards Coach Scott Brooks told her at halftime that Washington needed to do a better job of defending without fouling in the second half. Technically, they accomplished that goal, as Atlanta finished with 39 free throw attempts.
Worst beef: Paul Millsap and Morris exchanged words at the end of the first half, apparently because Millsap thought Morris was stepping over the line on his free throw attempts. That sounds like something a stretch-four would complain about.
Best intensity: Morris and Millsap continued to jaw during a chippy second half and Marcin Gortat got in on the beef after a ferocious dunk in the fourth quarter. Gortat, who shoved Millsap aside and shouted something at the Hawks’ stretch-four, was assessed a technical foul on the play.
Worst bench: The Hawks outscored the Wizards 17-2 over the final 3:19 of the first quarter to take a 29-25 lead. Atlanta did most of its damage against Washington’s second unit, which was one of the Wizards’ biggest weaknesses early in the season. Atlanta’s bench outscored Washington’s bench 35-15 in the gam.
Best finish and flex: Wall opened the scoring on Sunday by making his first jump shot and later weaved his way through the Atlanta and finished at the hoop while drawing the foul. Wall flexed and sank the ensuing free throw to spark a 14-4 run that gave the Wizards a 23-12 lead. Wall finished with 13 points and seven assists in the first half.
Worst shooting: After making 1o of their first 20 shots, the Wizards missed 15 of their next 18 attempts. The Hawks went cold, too, missing 15 of their first 19 shots of the second quarter. Both teams shot 33 percent in the first half.
Best chase-down block: The Hawks scored later in the possession, but Wall denied Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder what looked to be an easy layup on a 2-on-1 fast break late in the first quarter by turning on the jets for one of his trademark chase-down blocks. Schroder led the Hawks with 25 points and nine assists.
Best brotherly love: Morris’s identical twin brother, Pistons forward Marcus Morris, wore Markieff’s No. 5 Wizards jersey to Sunday’s game. Marcus, who beat Washington with a last-second tip-in back in January, was able to make time for his brother’s playoff debut because Detroit didn’t make the postseason.
Worst violation of personal space: Either Prince wanted to know if the fabric of Washington’s alternate jerseys are as soft as the Wizards’ regular home threads, or he was trying to twist Bogdanovic’s nipple.
Best bonus: Fans didn’t serenade Kent Bazemore with “M-V-P!” chants, but they were pretty pleased with the Hawks’ forward after he missed two free throws with 27 seconds remaining to win everyone in attendance free chicken sandwiches.
Worst experience: The Wizards’ two most important players — Wall and Beal — are no strangers to the playoffs, but Washington has the least amount of postseason experience of the 16 NBA teams still playing this season. Meanwhile, the Hawks are the fifth-most playoff-tested team. It didn’t matter in Game 1.
Best prediction: TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who has been bullish on Washington all season and recently suggested that the Cavaliers “would rather not play the Wizards in the second round,” remains confident that Wall and Co. will make a deep playoff run. “The Washington Wizards going to the Eastern Conference finals,” he said. Washington’s sloppy start to Game 1 hardly tempered Barkley’s expectations. “Relax,” he said at halftime. “The Wizards are going win this game and this series.”
Worst prediction: Of course, Barkley also predicted the Hawks wouldn’t make the playoffs, so…
Best shirts: White “D.C. Family” T-shirts were draped over every seat at Verizon Center before Sunday’s game. The shirts match the “Stars and Stripes” alternate uniforms that the Wizards will wear for every home game during the playoffs.
Worst sight: Blame it on the 1 p.m. start or it being Easter, but there were a lot of unclaimed T-shirts on empty seats shortly after tip-off. The Wizards ranked 27th in the league in home attendance during the regular season.
Best deal: There were plenty of nice ticket deals available on the secondary market before Game 1.
Washington Wizards (East’s No. 4 seed, 49-33) vs. Atlanta Hawks (East’s No. 5 seed, 43-39)
Date and time: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Channel: TNT, CSN
Location: Verizon Center
Regular season series: Wizards 3, Hawks 1
Game 2: Wednesday, 7 p.m. (CSN, NBA TV)
Game 3: Saturday, April 22, 5:30 p.m. (CSN, TNT)
Game 4: Monday, April. 24, 8 p.m. (CSN, TNT)
Game 5 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 26, TBD (CSN)
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, April 28, TBD (CSN)
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, April 30, TBD (TBD)
What you need to know
>> This NBA playoff run is the most important of John Wall’s career, writes Post columnist Jerry Brewer. It could shatter the false perception that he’s a player who is not quite elite. It could elevate the 26-year-old Wall to a level of respect that he’ll boldly tell you is overdue.
>> How do the Wizards and Hawks matchup? We break it down, position-by-position.
>> The Wizards stunning turnaround from a 2-8 start to a 49-win season began during a 1-2 road trip in December. “One thing I’ll say about this team, nobody threw coach under the bus,” John Wall said. “ … Then we started to have a stretch of a lot of home games when we started to win and win and win and finding a way to win a couple games on the road. I think that’s what built our confidence back and then we were like, ‘We’re a pretty damn good team.’ ” Here are the five most important games of the Wizards’ season.
>> The Wizards last trip to the postseason ended in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The team that jettisoned Washington? The Atlanta Hawks. This isn’t 2015, however, and the Wizards are welcoming this playoff series against the Hawks. Part of that is the addition of Markieff Morris to keep up with four-time all-star Paul Millsap, who has given the Wizards plenty of trouble in the past. “We’ve been going at it all year,” Morris said about playing Millsap. “It’s a matchup I’m definitely looking forward to in the playoffs. We’re going to get it in, for sure. It’s going to be a good one.”
>> When the Wizards began the season by losing eight of their first 10 games, Ernie Grunfeld‘s 14-year tenure as the team’s general manger was quickly called into question. Washington is now 49-33 and has home court advantage for the first round. The team’s success is in no small part due to Grunfeld, who has held an unshakable belief in the Wizards’ core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr., as well as the organization’s long-held strategy, referred to simply as “The Plan.” Throughout all the ups and downs, Grunfeld remained patient, and now he’s reaping the results.
>> Scott Brooks calls D.C. a “magical” city. You’ll be forgiven for thinking Brooks might have a bit of magic about himself. Maybe his first 10 months in this city could have gone better, but it’s hard to imagine how. He helped turn a .500 team with a downtrodden fan base into an Eastern Conference heavyweight, boasting the best record in the East since Dec. 1. He won Washington’s first division title in 38 years, clinched home-court advantage in the opening round for the first time in 38 years, and flirted with 50 wins for the first time in 38 years.
>> The Hawks simply don’t have the personnel to keep John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. in check. But the Hawks pose a threat inside with the frontcourt combo of Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard, and is Atlanta should win, it will have more to do with how that pair dominates the paint than whether the Hawks stop the Wizards’ trio.
>> The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps broke down all of the NBA’s first-round matchups ahead of Saturday’s kickoff. He predicted the Wizards would win in five games, but would need John Wall and Bradley Beal to again play like they have in past postseasons.
>> Brace yourself Washington fans. You’re in for a wild ride over the next two weeks to two months, writes Post columnist Thomas Boswell. The District has never had two teams in the playoffs at the same time with expectations nearly as high and talent as good as these Caps and Wizards. Both enter their postseasons with serious expectations, but lack one vital piece of firsthand experience: an understanding of what a long and often dispiriting fight they are about to encounter — even if things go well.
>> We’ve got good news and bad news: Washington is the 13th team, including the 1987-88 Bullets, to qualify for the playoffs after starting 2-8 or worse since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1983-84. Now for the bad news: Teams that turned their seasons around after 10 games typically haven’t fared well in the postseason. In fact, the 2003-04 Miami Heat are the only team among the previous 12 to reach the postseason after starting 2-8 or worse to win even one series.
>> You know who does fear the Wizards? The Cavs, at least according to Charles Barkley. The TNT analyst and former star suggested Cleveland might actually prefer to finish second because it means they would avoid the mighty Washington Wizards until the Eastern Conference finals. No, really.
>> The side of the original Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street in Northwest D.C. got a fresh coat of paint just in time for the NBA playoffs. A new, temporary mural featuring Wizards guards John Wall and Bradley Beal now adorns the wall that had been bare since January, when the restaurant painted over five-year-old portraits of Bill Cosby, Barack Obama, Chuck Brown and DJ Donnie Simpson.