There’s a growing consensus that the second-round playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers is the de facto Eastern Conference Finals. Whether it’s Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol or LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the Bulls and Cavs have too much for top-seeded Atlanta to handle. That’s the feeling, anyway.
But is it legitimate?
“I’m not so sure about that,” Bleacher Report NBA analyst Jared Zwerling said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “The Hawks are very unique in how they play with their offense (with) the five-man out system. They really spread you out, (and) it’s very tough to defend. And also, they’re very good defensively. So I’m not counting them out. I think their biggest Achilles heel is probably their late fourth-quarter execution, maybe not having a go-to scorer at times. They struggled with that in Game 1 against the Wizards in not finding the right shots. But they’re tough. They’re very unique in how they play. They’re like a mini-Spurs. I know they’ve been called that. Coach (Mike) Budenholzer coached 18 years with Gregg Popovich. I’m curious to see how the Cavaliers or the Bulls match up with them because it is unique.
“So I’m not counting the Hawks out yet,” Zwerling continued. “The Wizards without John Wall, I think that’s pretty much a no-brainer that it’s likely not going to be in their favor. But the Hawks, go back to last season. They almost beat the Pacers in that seven-game series, and the Pacers were the best defensive team in the league you could say last year. So we’ll see.”
The Hawks, it is worth remembering, won 60 games this year and were easily the best team in the East. The Wizards, meanwhile, looked incredible in their first-round sweep of Toronto and their Game 1 win over the Hawks in Atlanta. Now that John Wall has sustained a wrist injury, however, Washington is likely out of the championship running.
“You’ve heard this before obviously: It’s a point guard’s league,” Zwerling said. “That’s so crucial with playmaking, the pick and roll. The point guards now are great scorers. That’s important. Look at Kyrie Irving. Look at Derrick Rose. Without John Wall – Ramon Sessions, he’s an okay player. He’s average. He’s playing pretty good. But for the most part, Bradley Beal is still very young in his career and he’s good off the ball, but he needs John Wall in many ways to get set up for shots, and also John Wall is great defensively. He controls the tempo for that team. He’s one of the fastest – if not the fastest – point guards in the game along with Russell Westbrook. So off a defensive rebound, you lose your pace, you lose your tempo, you lose your floor leader. So I think it’s a huge hole for them if they don’t have him back.”
Washington hosts Atlanta in Game 3 on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET.