The Eastern Conference first-round series between the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards has proven just how big a deal home-court advantage is. The Hawks and Wizards are now tied at two games apiece, both winning the contests on their home floors by at least seven points.
Game 5 in Washington today is the Wizards’ to lose, but Atlanta should put up a fight if it can maintain some momentum from its wins in its previous two games (6pm ET Wednesday on TNT).
Washington suffered from a slightly less spectacular John Wall in Game 4, and the production from all of its post players was unacceptable. Meanwhile, Atlanta had a balanced attack (seven players between 10 and 19 points) and protected the paint very well.
The Wizards have the feel the pressure building for Game 5. Can they make a statement? Let’s ask some burning questions for today’s contest and then get to our picks and predictions for the outcome of the game.
Is Taurean Prince’s High Level of Play for Real?
Where did this level of play from Prince come from? The rookie forward has started all four games of the postseason so far, averaging 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game with a 71.0 true-shooting percentage. Those numbers were 5.7, 2.7 and 51.3, respectively, during the regular season.
Those increases get even more impressive when you realize Prince is playing most of his minutes against the Wizards’ starters, who combine to form one of the elite units in the league.
Prince should turn into an excellent role player down the line. Heck, he’s played like one against the Wizards.
But is there a chance the significance of the moment will get to him in Washington for Game 5? It’s rare for rookies to play this well in the postseason.
Can the Wizards Get Marcin Gortat More Involved in the Offense?
The lack of inside scoring from the Wizards was a killer in Games 3 and 4. After outscoring Atlanta in the paint 94-90 in Games 1 and 2, Washington lost the paint battle by a whopping 104-64 margin on the road.
You can point to Wizards center Marcin Gortat as the key culprit. His production in Washington dropped from 14 points per game to two points per game in Atlanta.
For all of the emphasis on three-point shooting nowadays, it’s very hard to play effectively on offense if you don’t at least establish the threat of inside scoring. Teams can defend more aggressively on the perimeter if they know the opposition is merely looking for a three-point shot or mid-range jumper.
Look for Wizards coach Scott Brooks to involve Marcin Gortat in more pick-and-rolls so he can establish the Polish center’s inside scoring ability.
Can More Members of the Wizards Bench Provide Some Sort of Spark?
The Wizards’ bench has been a weak point all season. In the postseason, only Brandon Jennings has really been halfway decent. All other reserves have either been very inconsistent or just bad.
The gap in ability between the Hawks’ and Wizards’ benches was evident in Game 4. Washington’s reserves combined for just 23 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in the contest, while Atlanta’s subs combined for 32 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.
Taurean Prince’s emergence and Paul Millsap’s return from injury right before the playoffs allowed Kent Bazemore and Ersan Ilyasova to transition to prominent bench roles, where they have provided solid production in several different facets of the game. Even Jose Calderon, Mike Muscala and Kris Humphries have provided some decent play, even if they haven’t sparkled.
The main issue with Washington having a poor bench is that it forces the starters to play too many minutes, exhausting them. Let’s see if the Wizards’ reserves can at least play at a decent level in Game 5.
Our Preview’s Atlanta Hawks vs Washington Wizards Game 5 Betting Picks & Predictions
Washington’s level of play has been quite dependent on its locale all season. The Wizards’ record is 13 games better at home than on the road, including both regular season and playoffs.
Combine that with them being the much stronger team in the starting lineup and having the motivation to respond to the Hawks’ charge, and I see a relatively easy Washington win.
- The online sportsbooks all have Washington favored by circa 5.5 points. I see the Wizards winning by between 10 and 15 points, so the prediction is for the Wizards to cover that -5.5pts spread @ -110 with 5Dimes or MyBookie.
- The listed over-under for this game is either 212.5pts (with most firms) or 213pts. I think Atlanta’s offense played a bit over its head at home, and should have a much more difficult time getting buckets to go on the road. The pick here is to bet the under 213pts @ -115 with Bovada Sportsbook.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.