Opening Statements: Wizards at Hawks, Game 50 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Hawks, Game 50

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Updated: February 4, 2015

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Teams: Wizards at Hawks
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Phillips Arena, Atlanta, GA
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Hawks favored by 5.5 points.


When the Wizards lost three consecutive games earlier this season, there was no reason to panic, point fingers, question the coach, or believe that the system was broken. After a feel-good win against the Houston Rockets, the Wizards played three games in five nights on the road against the Mavericks, the Thunder and the Spurs. They were blown out against the Mavericks, and their losses to the Thunder and the Spurs were by seven and nine points respectively. The road trip ended with another feel-good win against the New Orleans Pelicans, which gave the Wizards a respectable 2-3 record during their first real significant test away from home. The three losses were less than ideal, but they simply meant that the Wizards were not quite ready to labeled as an elite NBA team. However, they were still third in the Eastern Conference behind Toronto and Atlanta, and ahead of struggling, inconsistent teams like Chicago and Cleveland. As Marlo from “The Wire” would say, “That sounds like one of them good problems.”

With the current three-game slide the Wizards find themselves mired in, it is a bit more difficult to find the good part of the problem. Their first loss was on the road to the Suns and was perfectly understandable, given it was Washington’s fourth game in five nights. But the next two losses against the Raptors and the Hornets were winnable games that simply got away from them. These three losses could conceivably be explained away as anomalies or as a simple case of pre-All-Star game fatigue, if there weren’t a few disturbing trends in play.

John Wall, now a two-time All-Star and the fearless leader of the Wizards team this season, has been battling migraines, and it has hindered his play just enough to throw off the rhythm of the offense. Coach Randy Wittman, Bradley Beal, and Wall all complained about a lack of energy after Monday night’s loss to the Hornets. Marcin Gortat’s performance has ranged from ineffective to non-existent, and Rasual Butler has seemingly come back to Earth. Chicago remains consistently inconsistent, but Cleveland has found its stride and is climbing up the standings like Missy’s post-Super Bowl popularity. Milwaukee is playing strong of late as well.

The Wizards are still third in the Eastern Conference standings, but they are one just game ahead of Chicago and 1.5 ahead of Cleveland. With two or three more losses, the Wizards could find themselves in fifth place in the East.

The Atlanta Hawks, the team with the second best record in the NBA, are next on the schedule. The Hawks are reeling (by their standards) having lost one game to Anthony Davis and the Pelicans after winning 19 straight games and going 17-0 in the month of January. As Bo Churney of the ESPN TrueHoop blog Hawks Hoop wrote, the Hawks lost because they got away from their core values: 

Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer has been often preaching that one of the biggest driving forces behind this streak from the Hawks is that they kept playing “Hawks basketball.” They moved with and without the ball on offense, flied around on defense, and maintained a composure where they always exuded the confidence of being the better team.None of that happened versus the Pelicans. Obviously part of that is a credit to New Orleans, but other things were clearly the Hawks not playing like they were during the streak. They over-rotated on defense, whined to the officials, and allowed the ball to stick on offense instead of continuing the movement that the fans have come so accustomed to. Paul Millsap was particularly upset with officiating, so much so that he was finally given a technical in the third quarter after a series of calls that he strongly disagreed with. Later, Pero Antic was given a weak T after waving off an official after fouling Ryan Anderson on a jumper.

If the Wizards are victorious against the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks (they’re 0-2 so far this season), it will serve as sweet-smelling deodorant for the stench that’s been hovering over the team during this three-game losing streak: the lack of effort, lack of ball movement, loss of confidence, etc. ( TAI’s Kyle Weidie broke down the Wizards’ problems in his Wizards vs. Hornets post-mortem piece.) A convincing win against the Hawks will also help the Wizards shake the stigma that they cannot beat or consistently compete with good teams.

A loss to the Hawks would bring the Wizards’ losing streak to four, for the first time since December 6th through 14th of 2013. At least that Wizards team could blame their lackluster play on the injury to Bradley Beal, who was not in the lineup during four losses (which dropped the Wizards’ record to 10-13). Today’s Wizards team is experiencing the normal bumps and bruises that every team endures heading into the All-Star break, but all the major players and contributors are at Coach Wittman’s disposal. Another loss and another lackluster effort could lead to players-only meetings, a knee-jerk roster move, and continued doubt. It is hyperbolic to say tonight’s game is a must-win, but a victory would sure as hell make things better for the Wizards.

The first two matchups were thoroughly dominated by the Hawks—specifically Jeff Teague, who either exploits a poor switch by the Wizards…

…or simply leaves John Wall and the rest of the Wizards defense in the dust:

The Wizards’ struggles against the Hawks start with the ball-handling of Wall. He has averaged 18 points and 10.5 assists against Teague & Co., but he’s also averaged 7.5 turnovers—double his season average of 3.7.  TAI’s Chris Thompson hypothesized that Wall’s struggles against Atlanta are far from coincidental:

Sometimes Wall’s turnovers come as a result of daring playmaking, and, anyway, in general you’re happy to live with turnover counts on the high side when they’re the product of Wall’s particular brand of fearless, heroic basketball. But too many of his eight turnovers against the Hawks were the result of frenzied, sloppy, and predictable recklessness. Wall’s jump-passes are genuinely one of the coolest things in the NBA, night to night, but turnovers are a thing that will happen when a player picks up his dribble and leaps into the air without any certainty that there’s a safe place for the ball to go. The Hawks were expecting them. The Wizards needed a more decisive and cool-headed Wall and what they got is Happy-Go-Lucky Jumping Man.

Wizards/Hawks Reading Material

 

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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.