Opening Statements: Wizards at Hawks, Game 37 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Hawks, Game 37

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Updated: January 11, 2015

Washington Wizards at Atlanta Hawks - Nov. 21, 2012

In what was supposed to be their litmus/validity test, and the Wizards went 2-3 against some of the best teams the Western Conference had to offer.  The West is viewed as the adults table at a holiday gathering, while the Eastern Conference teams as a whole are sitting at the kiddie table waiting for acceptance or an invitation. The Wizards are among the gifted and talented of those kiddies with a 25-11 record, which is good enough for a tie for second (with Toronto) in the East. They started and ended the trip with wins against the Rockets and Pelicans, and in between were tough losses to the Spurs (who come to D.C. on Tuesday), the Thunder, and the Mavericks. The Wizards were far from dominant but they certainly didn’t embarrass themselves on the trip either.

Now, just a week later, Washington is now in the midst of a second round of significant testing, except this time the challenges come from within the Conference. Just as they did on their trip out West, they started well with a wire-to-wire victory against the Chicago Bulls. After today’s game against the conference-leading Atlanta Hawks, they face off against the Spurs at home on Tuesday, then the very next night they play the Bulls in Chicago, and after one day of rest they have a home/away back-t0-back against the Brooklyn Nets.

A mediocre performance during this stretch has much more dire consequences than simply not looking good against the NBA’s better conference. If the Wizards do not play well, they could lose ground in the competitive, Lebron James-less (for now) Eastern Conference race. A strong showing during this seven-game stretch could possibly result in the Wizards sitting atop the Eastern Conference, which COULD mean that Randy Wittman would coach the East in the All-Star game, which would be a perfect compliment to leading vote-getter among guards in the East (so far), Mr. John Wall. Not to put the cart before the horse or anything.

This afternoon the Wizards face a Hawks team that has won seven straight games, nine out of their last 10, and is undefeated in 2015. The Hawks are coming off a tough 106-103 victory against the Detroit Pistons, who were in the midst of a seven-game win streak of their own.

The leader and MVP of the Hawks’ resurgent season has been Jeff Teague who is averaging career-highs in points (17.5), assists (7.2), field-goal percentage (48%) and PER (22.6). The supporting cast features the physical, versatile front court tandem of Paul Millsap (17 points and 8.1 rebounds per game) and Al Horford (14.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), and two specialists: DeMarre Carroll on defense and Kyle Korver from 3-point range.

The Hawks previewed this season’s brilliance during last year’s 4-3 loss to the Indiana Pacers during the 2014 Playoffs, and this year—with a healthy Horford—they’ve continued that momentum so far. The last time the Wizards and Hawks met, it was the day before Thanksgiving, and the Wizards played like they ate a day early. They committed 20 turnovers, they could not stop the Teague-led pick-and-roll down the stretch, and they lost 112-106. Garrett Temple was still starting back then, Beal was being brought off the bench, and Nene did not play at all, so there is good reason to think today’s outcome could be different.


Teams: Wizards at Hawks
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Hawks fav’d by 4.5 points.


Three Things to Watch:

#1  3-point shooting

The Wizards lead the NBA in the 3-point percentage at 39 percent, and the Hawks are fourth at 37 percent. Kyle Korver leads the NBA in 3-point percentage (51%) and 3-pointers made (106), while Rasual Butler is third in 3-point percentage (49%). It isn’t a matter of if 3-point shots will be made and taken, it is a matter of how many. Four of the five Hawks’ starters are threats to step beyond the arc, which presents a unique set of challenges for the Wizards defense—especially Gortat and Paul Pierce who will most likely be guarding Korver.

#2 The Atlanta Defense

According to Jeff Siegel of the ESPN True Hoop blog, Hawks Hoop, the Hawks defense specializes in two specific areas on defense:  Forcing teams to shoot mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers, while keeping their off the free throw line:

“To aid their below-average percentage at rim protection, the Hawks are moving teams further away from the rim, choosing to give up contested mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers over shots in the restricted area. Atlanta’s opponents have the longest average shot distance in the league (per Basketball-Reference), which allows their long perimeter defenders to force contested jumpers.

“The main benefit of moving teams further away from the basket is that Hawks’ opponents aren’t getting to the free throw line for easy points. Atlanta commits the second-fewest fouls and gives up the third-fewest free throw attempts per game, which forces opponents to earn their points from the field and has the additional benefit of helping the Hawks turn great defense into easy offense on the other end.”

John Wall’s bread and butter this season has involved hitting the outside jumper with more regularity, and getting to the paint at will, where he score or kick out to others who score more prolifically. If the Hawks take both of those options away early, Wall will have to rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting which brings us to…

#3 Paul Pierce

Pierce has had an uneven start to 2015. He was quiet against the Bulls (9 points), he sat out against the Knicks, he was efficient in the Wizards’ victory against the Pelicans, and he had just 12 points in the win against the Thunder. Certainly no one expects Pierce to score 20 points and average 35 minutes per game at this advanced age. However, Pierce has stepped up in big-games this season, and a game against the leading team in the Eastern Conference—even on a Sunday in January—qualifies as a big game.

Jeff Teague figures to give Wall all he can handle and DeMarre Carroll will do his best to do the same to Bradley Beal. Pierce will need to score and make himself an offensive threat early in the game, to assist with the offensive burden. His last 20-point game (21) came two weeks ago in a road-win against the Rockets.  He may need to reprise that version of the Truth tonight.

 

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.