The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks face off for the second time in eight days tonight in Washington. For tonight’s 3-on-3, John Converse Townsend (@JohnCTownsend) and I, Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) are covering the game at the Verizon Center, and we sourced some pre-game quotes to answer the questions about tonight’s game. The 28-20 Hawks are favored by three points over the 11-35 Wizards. The Q&A starts now…
#1) The last time these two teams played, in Atlanta on March 16, the Wizards were short-handed, as well as playing their fourth road game in five nights. Washington lost, 102-88, and were outscored by the Hawks, 30-5, on fast break points. What needs to happen this time for Washington to be successful?
RANDY WITTMAN: “We’ll see how the game goes, but obviously we got to make shot when that happens, from the perimeter. We didn’t knock down open jump shots [in Atlanta] and that shrinks the floor even more when that happens. But this is a new day and we’re going to come out here really focused on what we have to go try and do.”
TREVOR BOOKER: “We just got to play like we did in the first half when we played in Atlanta. We had great defensive pressure, we were out on the wings denying passes, we were digging out of the post, we just played great team defense in the first half. That’s how we have to play the whole game tonight.”
JOHN CONVERSE TOWNSEND: If the Wizards hope to avoid being swept by the Atlanta Hawks in this year’s three-game series, they’ll need Chris Singleton to put the cuffs on Joe Johnson, who scored 34 of the Hawks’ 102 points in their last meeting with the Wizards. Johnson missed four games in early March with a sore knee, but has returned in fine form, averaging 25 points per game on 50-percent shooting from the field since being sidelined. Atlanta is 16-3 when Johnson scores at least 20 points and 13-4 when he dishes out at least five assists. Let’s see if the Wizards’ rookie is up for the test and able to force the Hawks to find scoring answers elsewhere.
#2) What a difference does Nene make (who was en route the last time these teams faced)?
HAWKS COACH LARRY DREW: “I’m sure they’ll be throwing the ball inside a little bit more with him. We actually just saw him maybe a week and a half ago, we were in Denver. We’re fully aware what he’s capable of as a big man, he’s a guy that has strength, has quickness down there, and we’re going to have to do a good job in defending the low post. Whenever we’ve played this Washington team, our primary concern has always been the transition game, having to get back and making sure we don’t give up a lot easy fast break point, but with Nene, he gives them a solid big man that they can post up.”
KIRK HINRICH: “He’s a proven player in this league; he’s really one of the best players at his position in the league. I think he’s definitely going to help them a lot. I don’t think it’s really one aspect, it’s just all around … We have to guard his post ups. Obviously he’s a good pick-and-roll player, and he throws a lot of energy around. So we’re going to have to match that.”
RANDY WITTMAN: “He gives us the presence inside on both ends of the floor. Somebody we can drop the ball down to, and he’s a willing passer, with a very high basketball IQ that helps these young guys. At both ends of the floor he’s really been a positive for us so far.”
#3) The difference?
JOHN WALL ON TURNOVERS (he had nine assists but nine turnovers against the Hawks on March 16, many give-aways of the ‘jump-to-pass’ variety): “You think you see something — they’re just like Miami, they do a great job closing the gap pretty quickly. So you just got to not force those passes, and also when you’re coming off pick-and-rolls. Their wing men do a great job of digging in, and I got a couple turnovers that way. So I gotta do a better job, especially against teams like that, that they’re game plan is to take me out the game. Just like the Heat did, they trap me every time. I just got to do a better job moving the ball and let my teammates make the plays and eventually something will open up for me.”
TREVOR BOOKER ON GUARDING JOSH SMITH: “Try to keep him away from the basket. He’s improved on his jump shots, so I rather him shoot jump shots rather than him close to the basket.” [NOTE: Smith went off for 30 and 12 against New Jersey last night, and Trevor has struggled guarding him before. Booker's foot has been bothering him lately. He said it felt fine in pre-game warm-ups, but he didn't put game-time pressure on it. Wittman indicated that they were going to monitor him closely.]
KYLE WEIDIE: The Wizards had dead legs the last time they faced the Hawks; still, it’s really hard to believe Atlanta out-scored them that badly in transition (30-5 Hawks). With a sour taste in his mouth after losing to Indiana on Thursday (when his potential game-tying buzzer beater came after the actual final buzzer), look for Wall to attack Hawks PG Jeff Teague. “We give credit to them for playing hard, but we gave that game away. Starting in the third quarter, we played terrible, we played selfish as a team,” Wall told me before tonight’s game. The NBA soph also said that his Wizards need to keep close tabs on Joe Johnson in transition. With the way Atlanta defends and moves the ball, that won’t be easy. Plus, while Wall’s teammates are worrying about Joe Johnson, he’ll have to worry about Jeff Teague, who had 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals in the last meeting.
Photo: Getty Images