Tonight, the Hawks open their home season against the Washington Wizards. Despite the fact that the Hawks and Wiz have been division rivals twice in their respective histories, there have been no playoff series betwen the two since the 1970s!
The Hawks moved to Atlanta prior to the 1968 season and competed in the Western Conference their first two seasons here. Beginning in 1970, the Hawks were shifted to the Eastern Conference where they became rivals with the Baltimore Bullets.
From 1970-78, the Hawks and Wizards (then known as the Bullets) were actually division opponents. Both clubs played in the NBA’s Central Division those years. The clubs were reunited in the Southeast Division when the league realigned in 2004.
Despite their commonality, there have been only two seasons in which the Wizards and Hawks have met in the playoffs. Washington beat the Hawks in the first round in 1978 on their way to the NBA Championship.
The very next season, the Hawks and Bullets squared off again, this time in the Eastern semi-finals. Atlanta pushed Washington to the brink before losing Game Seven at the Capital Centre, 100-94. The Wizards went on to the Finals for a second straight season, this time losing to coach Lenny Wilkens and the Seattle SuperSonics, the team they vanquished to win it all a year before.
Incredibly, the Hawks and Washington have not met in the playoffs since. Yet, four men who played in those playoff series could very well be in attendance tonight.
Phil Chenier, who was a back-up guard for Washington back then, is here broadcasting the game back to DC for Comcast SportsNet.
Unless his advance scouting duties call him away, the Hawks Greg Ballard can be spotted behind the bench tonight. Greg was a key contributor for those Bullet teams. Ballard was Washington’s top draft pick (4th overall) in 1978 out of Oregon, and won a championship ring his rookie season.
Spotted in the crowd will be Hawks alums Dan Roundfield and Charlie Criss.
Roundfield was the leading rebounder for that ’79 Hawks team, that finished with 46 wins, and only two games behind San Antonio and one behind Houston in that season’s Central Division race. Criss was a backup guard for coach Hubie Brown.
(The preceeding was written for the Hawks Game Night program. Pick one up tonight at Philips Arena!)