ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks hope a return to their homecourt will provide the boost they need to overcome the odds and get back in their first-round playoff series. But the Washington Wizards have other ideas.
The two teams play Game 3 on Saturday at Philips Arena, with Washington holding a 2-0 lead.
“They have home-court advantage,” Atlanta forward Paul Millsap told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They played off of that. To us, it’s 0-0. We are going back to Atlanta. We are still confident.”
Washington guard John Wall said, “We’re supposed to protect home court. We’re supposed to win. Now we have to go on the road and try to get a game there. We feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet.”
Washington won three of the four regular-season meetings. The two teams split the two games in Atlanta. Including the playoffs, Washington has won five straight against the Hawks.
Although Atlanta does have the next two games at home — where the Hawks are 23-18 this season — only 18 teams have erased a 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
“We had a chance in both games,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We gave ourselves a chance on the road in the playoffs. Nobody likes the result. Nobody feels any better. But the fact that you are there and you have an opportunity, you have to keep building on it.”
Turnovers have been a big stumbling block for Atlanta in the first two games. The Hawks turned it over 16 times in the second game, six of them in the fourth quarter. They committed three turnovers in the final five minutes, leading to a 16-4 run for Washington.
“Turnovers killed us,” Millsap said. “We didn’t execute. We let them play their style of game. When we do that, they obviously hurt us getting up and down the court. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially in the fourth quarter.”
Atlanta must also find a way to slow Washington’s guard tandem of Wall and Bradley Beal. They combined for 54 points in the opener and 63 points in the second game. In Game 1, Wall became the first player since 2011 to record 32 points and 14 assists in a playoff game, a feat accomplished only four times since 2000.
The Wizards have also gotten a solid effort from center Marcin Gortat, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in both games. Gortat has gotten the best of Atlanta center Dwight Howard, who was limited to six points and seven rebounds in Game 2 and played only 20 minutes.
The Wizards finished the season as one of the league’s hottest teams and have not slowed down in the postseason. Washington was 43-21 over the final 64 games, the third-most in the league behind Golden State and San Antonio.
The only player known to be out is Ian Mahinmi, Washington’s backup center, who will miss at least Games 3 and 4 with a strained left calf. Mahinmi has yet to play in the series.
The fourth game will be Monday in Atlanta. A fifth game, if needed, would return to Washington on April 26.