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’s all the information you need to follow this first-round series. This post will be updated with results and news throughout.
2017 NBA Playoffs, Round 1: Washington Wizards (No. 4 seed, 49-33) vs. Atlanta Hawks (No. 5 seed, 43-39)
Wizards’ season leaders: Points (John Wall, 23.1), assists (Wall, 10.7), rebounds (Marcin Gortat, 10.4), steals (Wall, 2.0), blocks (Ian Mahinmi, 0.8)
Hawks’ season leaders: Points (Paul Millsap, 18.1), assists (Dennis Schroder, 6.3), rebounds (Dwight Howard, 12.7), steals (Thabo Sefolosha, 1.5), blocks (Howard, 1.2)
Wizards injuries: Ian Mahinmi (calf, to be reevaluated this week)
Hawks injuries: None
Regular season series: Wizards 3, Hawks 1
Schedule and results
Game 1: at Wizards 114, Hawks 107
Game 2: at Wizards 109, Hawks 101
Game 3: at Hawks 116, Wizards 98
Game 4: at Hawks 111, Wizards 101
Game 5: at Wizards 103, Hawks 99
Game 6: Wizards at Hawks, Friday 7:30 p.m. (CSN, ESPN U, NBA TV)
Game 7, if necessary: Hawks at Wizards, Sunday (TBD)
>> Bradley Beal scored 27 points. Otto Porter added 17. John Wall had 20 and 14 assists. Even the bench got in on the action courtesy of Bojan Bogdanovic, who went for 14 to go with six rebounds in 24 minutes of the Wizards’ 103-99 win in Game 5. That variety of contributions pushed the Hawks to the brink and you can read all about them and more in our Best/Worst recap.
>> Before the pivotal Game 5 on Wednesday night, with the Wizards returning home after back-to-back losses in Atlanta, Scott Brooks responded with urgency and creativity. The series was now an unpredictable fight, a battle of two teams running even, and if the Wizards were going to find an edge, it needed to come courtesy of their $35 million coach in his first year in Washington. It was on Brooks to fix their defensive lapses, offensive inefficiency and unbalanced performance. As Jerry Brewer writes, the Wizards needed a fresh plan and a spark.
>> The Hawks did something strange at the end of Game 5: They let the clock run down. It would have taken a miracle for them to win in the final 30 seconds or so. But instead of taking their chances, Atlanta simply did nothing. This may have come as something of a surprise to most observers, the Wizards included. But not the Hawks. “We live with that,” forward Paul Millsap said. “I think we let the clock wind down, play good defense.”
>> In the NBA playoffs, and especially in this series, players and coaches rarely shut up. Rather than existing as the same rote exchanges of information and sound bites they mostly serve as in the regular season, news conferences during the NBA playoffs become performance art. Media obligations multiply, and the statements made — or not made — behind podiums can be dissected and replayed as much the games themselves. Players and coaches use briefings and news conferences to send messages to opponents, referees, teammates or whomever else might be listening.
>> They’ve cloaked themselves with composure, because that’s what proud athletes do, but these are stressful times. The Wizards aren’t playing like the Wizards, writes Jerry Brewer. It would be one thing if they went to Atlanta, stayed true to themselves and simply lost because winning road playoff games is difficult. But there’s one concerning constant about this first-round series, whether the games have resulted in the Wizards winning at Verizon Center or losing at Philips Arena: Washington’s game is out of proportion, and the beautiful basketball it played during the regular season — with a free-flowing offense predicated on ball movement and shot-making from all over the court and a defense that scrapped through its flaws — hasn’t materialized for long stretches.
>> Big trouble for Washington: “He’s back,” Brooks said of Dwight Howard. “He’s back to his old self.” There is a stark difference between how Marcin Gortat and the Wizards’ frontcourt handled Howard at home and how they handled him in Atlanta, but to Washington, Howard’s strong performance in Game 4 is part of a larger issue. The Wizards surrendered 104 points in the paint in Games 3 and 4, while scoring only 64.
>> If Scott Brooks needs something to help motivate slumping starting forward Markieff Morris, he could show him Stephen A. Smith’s lambasting of the Wizards’ frontcourt on Tuesday’s episode of “First Take.” (Morris, you might recall, used a Bleacher Report ranking of the NBA’s top 30 power forwards that was texted to him by his agent and didn’t include his name to fuel his resurgence in January. Smith’s words were much harsher.) “They’re walking around sticking out their chest like they accomplished something. … That damn frontcourt, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself.”
>> Wednesday’s Game 5 at Verizon Center begins with a rare and less-than-ideal 6 p.m. tip-off. The unusual start time, which is an hour earlier than the start time for most weeknight Wizards home games during the regular season, and two hours earlier than the start time of Monday’s Game 4 in Atlanta, is all about TV.
>> Through four games, the Hawks’ third-leading scorer is a rookie, while a veteran reserve player who lost his starting role has made more three-pointers than every Wizards player not named John Wall and Bradley Beal. On Monday night, the Hawks won, 111-101, and tied the series because in two straight games, their role players stepped up when necessary. The same simply cannot be said for the Wizards bench. “We didn’t do our job,” Brandon Jennings said. The one bright spot for Washington? Bojan Bogdanovic finally having a productive game.
>> There’s only one problem with the level of hype and hope that surrounded Washington heading into these playoffs: The Wizards still don’t really know how to handle prosperity. And so, if you saw an easy path for them in the East, you must have a powerful imagination. This may indeed be Washington’s year to go far, but struggle was inevitable, writes Jerry Brewer. And struggle arrived Monday night at Philips Arena.
>> “We’d like to get to the free throw line,” Wizards Coach Scott Brooks said. “We haven’t been there enough.” Brooks highlighted the free throw disparity between the teams. The Wizards may own the two-to-one series edge, but the Hawks are dominating the battle at the line. Through three games, Atlanta has attempted 109 free throws compared to Washington’s 70.
>> As an antagonist, Markieff Morris is a lot more effective when his game works harder than his mouth, writes Jerry Brewer. He is a nuisance — an entertaining one if you’re into conflict — when he talks trash to Paul Millsap. However, when he’s making three-pointers, blocking shots and catching lobs, Morris becomes something greater and more difficult for Millsap to handle: a problem. The Washington Wizards can live with Morris irritating Millsap, but if they want to win two more games and end this series with the Hawks quickly, they would rather see Morris bother Millsap with his play, not his antics.
>> John Wall said he saw it coming, imagining how Atlanta would come out with hair-on-fire intensity in Game 3. “I said, ‘we have to withstand their first five minutes,’ ” Wall recalled. Although Wall was spot on with his prediction, his warning didn’t matter as the Wizards played the first quarter at half speed, allowing 38 points and setting the tone for the rest of the game in which they trailed and chased but never caught up in the 116-98 defeat. Ahead of Game 4, Wall isn’t the only player issuing warnings. In order to leave Atlanta with a stranglehold on this round, up 3-1 as opposed to a 2-2 tie, Washington must heighten its sense of urgency, especially at the start of the game.
>> The John Wall playoff highlight reel has yet to disappoint. In three postseason games, Wall has produced enough wow moments to satisfy the entire spring, raising his superstar profile and carrying the Wizards in this opening round. And though it has been wonderful and necessary, though you’d be a fool to want less from him, it’s time to see more from the rest of the Wizards, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> Wizards forward Markieff Morris continues to make the first postseason series of his career a memorable one — mostly with his words. While many players might opt for cliched praise for opponents as to not needlessly stir the pot, Morris has grabbed the biggest spoon he could find and mixed personal animosity into this first-round playoff series. His target: four-time all-star Paul Millsap. “Good game,” Morris said after Millsap dominated Game 3. “He did more for his team tonight. Me as a man, you know, you take your wins with your losses and I take my wins with my losses all the time. You know, he did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. You get all the calls and you a crybaby. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
>> The gloomy faces on the Wizards’ sideline told the story. John Wall sat closest to the coaching staff, a red towel draped his shoulders — there would be no mistaking it for a cape Saturday night, when Wall’s individual moments of brilliance went to waste. There are plenty of “worsts” — and a few “bests” — in this Game 3 wrap up.
>> Sports fans don’t agree about much. But when the Wizards announced in late March that they would wear their white stars-and-stripes uniforms at all home playoff games this spring, the response seemed pretty close to unanimous approval. There’s one issue, though: You can’t buy them.
>> Prior to Game 3, Washington was pleased with how the team had been sidelining Dwight Howard and the Wizards were also pleased with their adjustments when Howard is absent. Then the Hawks big man posted a +24 in 26 minutes in Game 3, with only three fouls.
>> There’s bad blood between John Wall and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder: “You remember last time we played them in the playoffs, when I broke my hand?” Wall said. “You see the picture he posted, going to the conference finals. And I’m just sitting there, like, sad face, with my hand wrapped, and him and Bazemore just laughing. It’s just about history. Just history in the game.”
>> It’s funny now to remember that, less than a year ago, John Wall and Bradley Beal weren’t enough. As a star tandem, they were thought to be malfunctioning — too inconsistent, too many injuries, too much bickering — and most believed the Wizards needed to add another marquee player to be taken seriously. After failing to land that big-name difference-maker in free agency last summer, the future seemed uncertain. Then, Wall and Beal led the Wizards to their best regular season in 38 years, and now they’re two victories from advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the third time in four years. But the vibe is different this time. They aren’t underdogs showing flashes of becoming an elite backcourt. They have arrived. It took them five years to get here, but if you think that’s a long time, it speaks more to impatience than anything Wall and Beal did wrong, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> Brandon Jennings played an unlikely hero for the Wizards in Game 2. Jennings’s number was called with just more than two minutes left in the third quarter and Washington in dire straits, down four points and relying on a short rotation with four players — including its two starting forwards — in foul trouble. Jennings had played 15 minutes in Sunday’s Game 1 win at Verizon Center and come up with five assists, but no points and a -10 plus/minus rating. But three days later, just more than a minute into the fourth quarter, the backup point guard hit a step-back jumper to cut the Wizards’ deficit to two. Just more than a minute after that, he hit two consecutive jump shots, got a defensive stop, and dished to a cutting Jason Smith for the game-tying dunk. “Some nights, it might be your night,” he said. “But when your number’s called, just do what you have to do for the team.”
>> Everyone agrees the Wizards’ home playoff jerseys are terrific. But no one can buy them. Not at the team store at Verizon Center. Not at the team store online. Not at the NBA’s website. What gives? Dan Steinberg investigates.
>> In good times and bad, the Wizards are an excitable bunch. When your best player is an ebullient point guard, when a moody center nicknamed the Polish Hammer mans the middle and when your power forward creates a “Death Row DC” alter ego, you’re not going to be a laid-back team. Raw emotion fuels and hinders the Wizards. During his first season in Washington, Coach Scott Brooks has attempted to channel that passion, especially with John Wall, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> The story of Game 2 may well have been the referees. Endless, constant fouls turned the game into a near-three-hour slog, with the Hawks shooting 38 free throws and Washington firing 33. The crowd provided its evaluation intermittently, chanting, “Refs, you suck!” throughout the night.
>> Once again, Bradley Beal bounced back from a rough night, torching the fourth quarter of Game 2 with a 6-of-9 shooting performance (16 points). Beal finished with 31 points (12 of 27 from the floor with four three-pointers), his second career 30-plus total in the playoffs. And he credited his superstar teammate. “It’s great,” Beal said, responding to John Wall’s show of support late in the game. “Especially John, more than anybody, he doesn’t care if I shoot the ball 100 times in a game or how many I make or miss.”
>> The key to the Wizards’ Game 2 win? Having their five best players on the floor together, which was more difficult than you’d think. Finally, with the starting unit together through the final 4:35 of the fourth quarter, Washington turned a tie game into a 2-0 series lead. And just like in Game 1, John Wall was the best player on the floor.
>> The local teams took turns congratulating themselves Wednesday for their second-ever triple play, the rare “D.C. sports trifecta.” But it didn’t come without some heart-stopping moments. “They make you work hard for your fun, though, don’t they?” wondered The Post’s Dan Steinberg.
>> In his playoff debut, Hawks rookie Taurean Prince scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half and though he might have been a bit of an enigma, by Monday afternoon Otto Porter declared: “He’s definitely in our film as of today, so we’re going to pay more attention to him.” Porter, matching up with the first-year man, played with the moxie and force of a playoff veteran.
>> As everything seemed to be coming together for Washington at just the right time, the Wizards’ bench took a step backward — especially in the first half. The second unit looked discombobulated, couldn’t find their shots and gave up an 11-point first-quarter lead the Wizards didn’t regain until a three-pointer from Otto Porter Jr. gave them an edge early in the third period. Washington’s reserves didn’t play like the group that helped turn around a once-dismal season. The dominant third quarter that all but spelled out a win for Washington was almost entirely of the starters’ design. For Coach Scott Brooks, that’s a problem.
>> The most interesting comments after Washington’s Game 1 win over Atlanta likely came via Hawks star Paul Millsap. “The difference in the game was we were playing basketball,” he said, “and they were playing MMA.” The Wizards have not attracted any sort of reputation as a brutish team this season, and they spoke of Sunday’s debut as a normal affair, spiced with postseason intensity but nothing remarkable. Nonetheless, Markieff Morris later promised “double MMA.” So there’s that.
>> John Wall was incredible in the third quarter of Game 1, but he might have been even better than you think: The Wizards outscored the Hawks by 43.5 net points per 100 possessions in that frame with Wall scoring in transition, off the pick and roll and on drives to the basket. The guard’s effective field goal percentage (77.8 percent) was light-years ahead of his regular season performance (48.2).
>> A die-hard Wizards fan was crushed by John Wall, who was going for a loose ball late in Game 1. His reaction? “I took most of the impact for him because we can’t afford to have him being hurt, especially with Atlanta being such a dirty team. … I saved our best player, and if that’s what it takes, thank God.”
>> Marcin Gortat was struggling badly but recently he has looked more like the player who once anchored a very good Wizards starting lineup. And all it took was for his backup to get hurt. Gortat’s mini resurgence — in Game 82 of the regular season, he made 8-of-9 shots for 16 points against Miami and he outplayed Dwight Howard in Game 1, scoring 14 points (7 of 11) with 10 rebounds and two blocks — comes as Ian Mahinmi recovers from a left calf strain.
>> Markieff Morris gave the Wizards their social media nickname, Death Row DC. It’s kind of an inside joke. It’s also kind of serious. “Death Row; that’s the type of team we are, that’s the type of team we want to be,” Bradley Beal said. Which is what, exactly? “A physical team that will kind of trash talk you a little bit, and that just don’t take no BS,” Beal said. “That’s pretty much it.” And Morris’s prints are already stamped all over this first-round playoff series.
>> In Game 1, the Wizards didn’t exactly take control and make their superiority undeniable, but they did set the kind of tone that you doubted they could establish as they meandered through the final few weeks of the regular season, writes Jerry Brewer.
>> John Wall was simply amazing in Game 1. The all-star guard scored a playoff-career high 32 points and dished out 14 assists, as the Wizards held off the Hawks, 114-107. He also found a steady complement in Markieff Morris.
>> This NBA playoff run is the most important of John Wall’s career, writes 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 match up? 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 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 finished the regular season with a 49-33 record and has home-court advantage for the first round. The team’s success is in no small part because of Grunfeld, who has held an unshakable belief in the 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.
>> Columnist Dan Steinberg recounts how 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.
>> 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. But 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 Cavaliers, at least according to Charles Barkley. The TNT analyst and former star suggested Cleveland might actually prefer that it finished second because it means they would avoid the 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.