July 22, 2014

Washington Wizards Game 73 Recap: With playoff berth in sight, Wiz edge past Hawks

With their first playoff berth since 2008 in sight, the Washington Wizards held on to top the Atlanta Hawks 101-97 Saturday night.

A Sunday win by the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks could seal the deal for the Washington team which continues to insist their focus has been on winning the games at hand. But, the Wiz Kids, without a doubt, will keep their eyes peeled for what happens at Oracle Arena.

“We’re just trying to play basketball the right way like we did the last three games and find a way to win,” guard John Wall said after Saturday’s game. “We had a bad stretch in that west coast trip and came back and lost games and then we got back on the right track and we are just trying to stay that way. We knew these two games were pretty big for us and the game on Monday is even bigger against Charlotte that’s coming to try to get our sixth spot.”

“I just want to finish the season strong, make sure that we’re going to secure a good spot and then we’re going to think about playoffs,” added center Marcin Gortat.

Still, in the here and now, the Wizards will have to figure out how to hold onto games without losing momentum in the final minutes of play. In Saturday’s win, Washington led by 10 points with just 2:38 remaining in the game before the Hawks scored eight straight points to make it 99-97 Wizards.

Luckily for Washington, Drew Gooden made two free throws with seven seconds remaining, to bring the Wizards to their 101-97 final.

As Gortat eloquently stated after the game: “”We call this fatigue and [being]  too relaxed. I’m glad we won that game. Otherwise, I’d probably shoot myself at home.”

Wall was the star of the game with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza added 14 and 13 points, respectively. Washington also enjoyed a huge advantage off the boards, thanks in part to Gortat’s 11 rebounds. The Wizards recorded 44 rebounds, to just top  the Hawks’ 40, but, in the second half, Washington outrebounded Atlanta 26-17.

An added element to the game was the fact that the two teams had to overcome slippery conditions, resulting from Saturday afternoon’s Washington Capitals game at the Verizon Center. The matchup between the Caps and Boston Bruins pushed back the Wizards’ start time by an hour, and yet players from both Washington and Atlanta commented that the floor was slippery and could have caused player injury.

“Everywhere was slippery and to be honest we were scared to make a move,” Wall said. “The situation with Trevor [Ariza] I mean he could have torn a groin or anything. So at certain times you’d see certain guys just start to fall and slide and it was getting worse and worse so I don’t know, they didn’t fall the first half but we did the second half.”

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 34: He’s Back; Wall Puts on Show in Win

It was a triumphant return for John Wall, who posted 14 points, two rebounds, four assists and multiple highlight reel plays in his return off the bench Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks.

Oh, and the Washington Wizards won their second game in a row, 93-83, but who really cares? John Wall.

Washington, D.C. waited almost four months for the return of their former first overall pick. The third year guard out of Kentucky is arguably one of the best creators in the league and after seeing the way rookie Bradley Beal has played since the middle of December, you can imagine many were licking their lips to see them on the court together. Well, Wall had one thing to say to anyone watching tonight.

“Ah, yeah ['I'm Back'] is what I was saying the whole time ,” Wall said following the game. “To anybody, I was just happy to be playing basketball so whoever was in my way that is what I was saying.”

There certainly were not a lot of people in Wall’s way for part of the night, as he made several cuts to the basket for layups and helped make space for other players on the court. With him back, Martell Webster says the team plays totally different.

“Did you see what he … it’s like he parted the Red Sea out there. He [was] telling everybody to spread out and that court [was] wide open, you could have a picnic in there,” Webster said. “He completely changes the dynamics of this team.”

Wall was clearly the story and he is most likely going to make the SportsCenter top-1o at least once, but there are two plays that stick out from his outing.

The best is by far a dish Wall had to Beal who put on some Moon Shoes to launch for a huge “show me” jam putting the Wizards up 27-17 towards the end of the first quarter. His second best play of the night came when he threw a behind-the-back pass to Trevor Ariza that made it 93-81 and really sealed the game for the Wizards.

Those are highlight plays though, the most impressive ones for Wall all came in the fourth. The first when he hit a reverse layup to send the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy, the second when he did an absolute ankle-breaking crossover on a drive down the lane for a lay-in. Those are impressive, solely for understanding the injury he is coming off of. It is the crossover specifically, that shows he is close to completely healthy.

“I think about another week, a couple more practices, a couple more games,” Wall said about when he will be fully healthy. “Right now I feel like I have jiggly legs, so its tough. I got them underneath me [in the fourth]. [I] just [need to] keep taking caring of my body and get into better shape.”

Despite his electric comeback, Wall was not the best player on his team. That honor goes to Beal, who had ice in his veins several times throughout the evening, including when he followed up his huge dunk with a clutch jump shot. Beal finished with 16 points, tied with AJ Price for the team lead. Webster also had a strong game with 15 points of his own, although he did miss four free throws.

The team played well as a whole though start to finish.

“That good feeling of playing a really complete game,” Head Coach Randy Wittman said about the win. “Obviously we’ve always talked about ups-and-downs in a game and we of course had them here but we didn’t have any lasting bad spells.”

The lack of droughts is what helped them to their first winning streak of the year, even if Wittman says it takes three games to make it a winning streak. Washington has a chance to make it just that, three in a row, when they welcome the Orlando Magic to the Verizon Center on Monday. Of course, at the risk of sounding cliche, the real story Monday is seeing what other magic Wall can make in his second game of the year.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 22: Crawford, Beal put forth valiant efforts as Wizards fall to Atlanta, 100-95

Despite Jordan Crawford’s triple double, the Washington Wizards (3-19) lost in yet another nail-biter, this time to the Atlanta Hawks (15-7) in overtime by a score of 100-95.

Tuesday night’s game marked the third of four meetings between the two teams this season but, in spite of any familiarity factor, the Wizards failed to find the formula for shutting down Atlanta. As a result, the Hawks are a perfect 3-0 against the Wizards this season.

“I wake up every morning to make sure the sky is up there, that it’s not falling in on me,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the loss in regards to Washington’s 3-19 record. “Trust me, this has not been fun. We’re continuing to fight. We’re going to continue to try again.”

On the bright side, a large fraction of the 15,123 in attendance at the Verizon Center seemed to have fun, at least during portions of the night.

After all, Jordan Crawford tallied a season-high 27 points, as well as 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Bradley Beal earned another 17 points and five rebounds, and Earl Barron tacked on an additional 14 boards and four blocked shots for Washington. To add to that, the Wizards allowed Nene 24 minutes of playing time – four more minutes than the limit set for him due to his left foot injury.

However, the end result was an all-too-familiar tale for Wizards fans.

While the Wizards shot 52.9% from the field in the first quarter, they also allowed the Hawks to net 28 points.

Yet, things continued to click for Crawford, Beal and company. Trailing 35-34, Emeka Okafor – who otherwise had a sub-par night – bounced to Crawford, who then managed a picture-perfect layup to put the Wizards on top. Almost more importantly than the go-ahead shot itself was the obvious momentum change that occurred as the Wizards moved the ball quickly – and with much-needed precision – in the quarter.

Although the Wizards soon forfeited the lead, they kept it within six at the buzzer to end the half.

Trailing 52-46 in the third, Crawford continued to light up the court. He scrambled ahead of the Hawks’ defense in time to pitch it to Martell Webster for the alley oop to make it 52-48 Hawks. Then, Crawford returned the lead to Washington by tacking on eight more points via a jump shot and two stellar three-pointers.

All tied up at 58 points apiece, Beal drove for the net but, instead, found Josh Smith, who blocked the shot. Beal collided with Smith and hit the hardwood with such force, he remained on the floor for several moments before walking off the court to eventually head to the locker room. After the game, Beal noted that he had been administered a test for a concussion and passed, allowing him to return off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Immediately after the collision, however, Jeff Teague sank a three-pointer and then tore through the Wizards’ defense for a driving dunk before Smith added a layup of his own to give the Hawks a 65-58 cushion.

With the Wizards trailing just 74-73 in the fourth, Beal returned to the game, despite showing signs of pain on a few occasions as he pressed his hand to his back. His presence, nonetheless, was a welcomed sight as he and Crawford kept things close in the final minutes of regulation.

But, the Wizards had to battle to overcome missed opportunities. By the end of the night, the only player with a plus/minus on the positive side for the Wizards was Nene with +9, which meant the defense had to come up big – and for some time, it did. Offensively, the Wizards kept good movement on the ball, controlled the pace throughout much of the game and managed crucial chase-downs to maintain possession.

“The way we play, you would think – giving ourselves a fighting chance in all of these games – that [our 3-19] record should be flipped,” said Martell Webster after the game. “But, the reality is what it is. We got to continue to grind and continue to work together and fight for one another.”

And, fight they did.

With seven minutes left to go, Beal managed a steal off Josh Smith, but the Wizards struggled to find the net. However, they communicated well on the court and tossed to one another, tallying rebound after rebound until nearly a full minute later when Crawford finally found the net – from 26 feet away – to put the Wizards up 82-80.

If any one play killed hope for a Wizards’ win in regulation, however, it was Beal’s personal foul with just under five minutes left, which allowed Louis Williams to shoot – and sink – three free throws. Although the Wizards came back to tie it, the Hawks maintained momentum and, with 43 seconds left, Williams himself shot a picture-perfect three. Not 20 seconds later, Barron – of all people – tied it for the Wizards, and the Hawks failed to nail down a shot to end the game in regulation.

Unfortunately for Washington, the Wizards didn’t continue to carry the momentum of the game beyond the first 48 minutes. Beyond a free throw from Nene and a jumper by Barron in overtime, the Wizards trailed throughout the five extra minutes of playing time before falling to the Hawks, 100-95.

The Wizards will travel to Orlando, where they will face the Magic Wednesday at 7:00p.m.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 16: Disastrous First Quarter Sets Tone in Wizards Loss to Hawks

The script was familiar for the Washington Wizards in their 104-95 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, who kept the red, white and blue winless on the road this season.

After winning two of their last three, including a shocking victory over the defending champion Miami Heat Tuesday night, the Wizards looked to be rebounding as a team. Friday’s game showed there was a lot of work still to be done, as the team fell into old habits that haunted them during their seemingly endless season opening losing streak. At one point trailing by as many as 18, the Wizards closed the gap late, but couldn’t find enough gas in the tank to pull out the victory.

Washington made it close in the fourth quarter, pulling within two by closing the game to 91-89 after Bradley Beal hit two free throws. It all fell apart quickly for the Wizards though, as Atlanta went on a 12-6 to close out the game. With time ticking away the Wizards looked like they could get back into the contest with a big defensive stop, but instead they did the one thing they could not do, give up a three point play. Josh Smith of the Hawks was fouled by Martell Webster when the score was just 99-91 with 1:21 left in the game and Smith went to the line. Suddenly the Wizards went from being down just eight points, to being down 10 after Smith made the bucket.

Atlanta would continue the strong defense, as the only other points they would surrender in the remaining seconds were to Jordan Crawford, on free throws and a layup.

It was the first quarter that really did the Wizards in, again. Atlanta stomped on the red, white and blue dropping 31 points compared to just the Wizards’ 19. Despite sticking close with the Hawks for the next three quarters, even outscoring them in the third, the team just could not dig deep enough to pull themselves out of the early hole.

Four Wizards scored in double-digits, with Kevin Seraphin totaling a team high 19 points and to go along with seven boards. It was the first time in three games Seraphin failed to post a double-double. Beal added 18 of his own points and was a perfect six-for-six from the free throw line. Friday was the third time in four games former first round pick Jan Vesely did not take the floor for Washington.

Josh Smith was the game’s high-scorer and led the Hawks with 23 points and added 15 rebounds for a double-double. He was not the only Hawk with a double-double either, as Al Horford had 14 rebounds to go with 14 points of his own.

The loss drops the Wizards to 2-14 on the season and continues the nightmare of a season for Head Coach Randy Wittman and the rest of the Wizards coaching staff. Washington will not get any relief either, as the team returns home to the District of Columbia to take on the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night at the Verizon Center. Sitting at 12-7, the Warriors sit fifth in the Western Conference and are having one of their best starts to a season in recent memory.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 10: Wiz Miss First Win by Less Than One Second, Fall to Hawks 101-100 in Overtime

The Washington Wizards were milliseconds away from ending their season long losing streak, but a late Martell Webster basket in overtime was waived off, as time had expired, giving the Atlanta Hawks a 101-100 win and  the Wizards their tenth straight loss to open the year.

Despite having a close game for most of the second half, a couple of costly fouls from Nene, who made his first start of the year, allowed the Atlanta Hawks to tie the game at the free throw line. Nene fouled Devin Harris, who proceeded to hit both free throws and tied the game at 90 with three seconds left. The Wizards were unable to score on their next possession and went to overtime after blowing yet another fourth quarter lead.

Once in overtime, Washington went up by as many as four-points, before Atlanta made a late push with less than a minute left. Despite missing all four of his overtime free throws, Al Horford benefited from a strong set of offensive boards, allowing the Hawks to convert both possessions for four-points, tying the game at 98. Following the game tying deuce, Kevin Seraphin came down the court and hit a clutch midrange two to give the Wizards a 100-98 lead, but the Hawks were no done yet. Kyle Korver, who killed the team all night with five three-pointers and 16-points, drove down the court and hit a huge jumper from three-point land giving the Hawks a 101-100 lead with just over one second left on the clock.

Of course, this is the Wizards you are talking about, so losing by a clutch three is not painful enough.

Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman used a timeout following the three and moved the ball to the offensive side of the court. After the inbounds pass, a missed hook by Seraphin bounced off the rim, which should have all but ended the game. Webster got the rebound though, and gave the ball a last millisecond heave, putting the ball in the basket and sending the Wizards running off the court with what they thought was their first win of the season.

What the shot really was, was a little too late. Upon further review, it was clear ball did not leave Webster’s hands before the clock expired and the Wizards were sent home with yet another painful loss.

One bright spot on the night was Nene. Washington’s injured center made an immediate impact in the lineup, scoring on his first possession. The 6’11” center from Brazil, acquired last March from the Denver Nuggets in a three-way deal, provides a veteran presence for a team lacking in real NBA experience. He put up 12 for the game and really helped the Wizards stay competitive with Atlanta in the second half, providing a sense of urgency and energy, even despite two costly late fouls.

Even though Nene did not have a great night on the boards, it was one area the Wizards did not struggle with for most of the game. As a team, the Wizards out rebounded the Hawks by 31, led by Trevor Ariza’s career night. Ariza had 11 rebounds on the defensive side of the court and added four more on the offensive side to give him a career high 15. The next closest Wizard to him in rebounding was Seraphin who had 10 of his own, which in addition to his 21-points gave him a double-double on the night. Even though the team had two players in double figures, the game ultimately came down to the team’s inability to grab a defensive rebound in overtime.

In addition to their failure to rebound, Washington’s failing, or deciding to not, cover players beyond the three point arc cost the team repeatedly throughout the game. Even though the team hit the same number of threes in the first half, four, Atlanta’s seemed to come during big runs and to retake leads. That theme would continue in the second half and overtime, as the Hawks would only hit nine total triples, compared to the Wizards’ seven, but one of them gave the team the win and the other one gave the Hawks back momentum.

It is yet another tough loss for a franchise full of them over the last four years.

At 0-10, the Wizards are now staring the elusive 0-18 mark set by the New Jersey Nets in the face. With the Wizards only facing teams above .500 for the next seven games, their next best shot at winning a game is this Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats, who have been playing very good basketball lately and are the weakest of the winning teams. If they cannot win Saturday, the Wizards could be in for a rough ride, as it will be more than two weeks until they play another “weak” team in the New Orleans Hornets. If they do not win before that, Washington would need a win against the Hornets to avoid tying the NBA record for worst start to a season in history.

Wizards blow 16 point third quarter lead, fall at home to Hawks 95-92

Since the trade deadline acquisition of Nene, the Washington Wizards have looked like a different team. Unfortunately one serious problem remains—consistency—and it reared its ugly head again Saturday night as the Wizards blew their second consecutive double digit lead at home in losing to the Atlanta Hawks.

A night after losing a 22 point lead and falling to the Indiana Pacers in the final seconds, the Wizards were at it again. Despite having control of the game for the better part of three quarters, the Hawks were able to hit some clutch shots down the stretch—none more clutch than Joe Johnson’s three pointer with under a minute ago that gave the Hawks their first lead since the opening minutes of the second quarter, 93-92.

The Wizards failed to capitalize on solid efforts from Nene (22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks) and Jordan Crawford (20 points on 9-for-19 shooting) in the loss. Trevor Booker also hauled in 14 boards to go with his 8 points, but John Wall struggled, shooting 1-for-10 and tallying only 8 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.

Josh Smith paced the Hawks with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Joe Johnson came through for them in the fourth to finish with 16 points and five rebounds.

While only one Washington starter (Crawford) had a negative plus/minus on the night, the majority of Atlanta’s starting unit was outscored when on the floor. The bench units, however, were the opposite—with only one of the Wizards sub registering a positive (Roger Mason), and only one of the Hawks reserves in the negative (Jason Collins).

A Crawford three pointer with under four minutes left in the third quarter made the score 71-55, giving the Wizards their largest lead of the night. But after the teams traded baskets the Hawks went on a 17-5 run over the next four minutes. Josh Smith’s jumper with just over three minutes remaining knotted the score at 90, and scoring was at a premium for the rest of the game.

Johnson’s jumper with 46 seconds left in the contest may have been the key shot in the game, giving the team their first lead in almost 35 game minutes, but there were several other important plays down the stretch. Immediately before, Trevor Booker was whistled for a loose ball foul that set up Johnson’s look off the inbound play.

“There’s a 50-50 ball between Booker and Josh Smith that we get called for a foul. Just blows my mind.” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “That foul’s not called in the first 30 seconds of the game, let alone the last minute. That’s what’s tough for those guys. I mean, it’s a 50-50 ball they’re both jumping for. Booker is called for a foul and Joe Johnson hits a three on the side out of bounds after that.”

Immediately after, the Wizards went 22 seconds into the shot clock before Crawford’s errant jumper, allowing the Hawks to run out the clock. The Wizards allowed them to waste nine seconds…before the Hawks called timeout. The Wizards wised up during the break and fouled Johnson on the inbound, his two free throws becoming the final margin.

The Wizards missed 2-for-1 opportunity was just another contributing factor in their collapse down the stretch.

Wall missed a three pointer as the cock wound down, capping a difficult night for the Wizards star guard. “Some of my shots were good, some were bad, but they just didn’t go in,” Wall said. “That’s kind of frustrating.”

It was the worst shooting night of his young NBA career, absent a 1-for-12 debacle against the Magic earlier this year.

The Hawks, coming off a late win Friday night in New Jersey, had a reason to run out of gas. But it was the Wizards who were unable to convert down the stretch, leaving them with another “what if?” in a season chock full of them.

While the Wizards are far from playoff contention, and every loss means additional ping pong balls in the NBA draft lottery, wins against a competitive team (Atlanta is currently holding the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs) can give a young squad confidence to build on.

The Wizards try to end their demoralizing two game losing streak in Boston tonight as they take on the Celtics.

Wizards Leap, Fall from Hawks’ Nest

In Monday’s home opener the Washington Wizards took a big lead early before running out of steam. In the Atlanta Hawks’ home opener…well, let’s just say they had plenty of steam.

Atlanta started the game on an 11-0 run and never really looked back. The Hawks led wire to wire and easily defeated the already-reeling Wizards, 101-83.

Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 18 points, but the game was won on the boards and at the free throw line. Washington was out-rebounded 45-32 and Atlanta shot 13 more free throws.

Josh Smith and Al Horford had double-doubles, and Marvin Williams was impressive after off-season back surgery, as he scored 17 points on eight shots while going 7-for-10 from the line.

It was Johnson who caught fire early, hitting his first three shots—all three pointers—in a game that was rarely close. Strong guard play gave Atlanta an early lead, but the Hawks would finish with six players in double figures.

Obviously the new (and drastically improved) Wizard uniforms can’t mask uniform struggles for the young squad.

Andray Blatche went 2-for-13 from the field and mustered only four rebounds in 27 minutes. Jordan Crawford missed all five of his three- point attempts against his old team, and Shelvin Mack didn’t make a single basket—despite taking five shots in his 11 minutes.

JaVale McGee had an up-and-down night, scoring 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and collected 12 rebounds, but only played two more minutes (27) than his absolute plus/minus |-25|.

Nick Young and Chris Singleton were also relative bright spots for a Wizards team that may be seriously re-examining its lineup after just two games. Young had 21 points to lead the team off the bench, and Singleton is receiving a trial by fire in his rookie campaign, drawing some difficult defensive assignments during his 26 minutes of action.

“We’re searching,” Flip Saunders said after the game, “Our main group is not performing well together at this time.”

Even John Wall, who ended the night with 20 points, six assists and three steals on 6-for-15 shooting, at times contributed to the mismatch. He had trouble staying in front of Hawks PG Jeff Teague, a far less heralded player who received some playoff seasoning last year and appears to have built upon those impressive performances.

Wall also had six turnovers in his 37 minutes, attempting to do everything after the team’s lethargic start. His determination did get him to the line 10 times for eight points in the game, several as he willed the Wizards back during the second quarter.

The Hawks built a 19-4 lead only six minutes into the first, and Wall’s frustration quickly became apparent. He sped down the court after a made basket and drew a foul on a contested layup—just as he had done to score the first Wizards points three minutes in. He followed that up with an 18-footer early in the shot clock, a driving lay-up that was waived off after he was called for a charge, and another quick 18-footer to close the gap to 19-10.

The Wizards would get as close as 35-33 in the second, storming back behind 18 straight Wizards points from Wall and Young. Wall’s competitive nature was evident, and Nick Young seemed prepared despite his short off-season with the team.

But the Hawks would go on a 20-9 run to close the half, and the lead was double digits for the balance of the night. Midway through the second half they led by 23 points.

Wall talked after the game about how the Hawks were in attack mode all night. At times he seemed like the only Wizard willing to return the favor. He lamented the team’s ability to translate the chemistry they had in practice to game situations. But, for the second game in a row, Washington did not get an opportunity to integrate a key piece of their lineup—Jan Vesely, who was out with the flu.

Saying the team is in flux would be an understatement.

Atlanta followed up its dismantling of the New Jersey Nets with another impressive performance, and appear to be at least in the second tier of competitors in the East. But the lack of development has to be troubling for the Wizards.

The Wiz are back on the road Friday in Milwaukee where they hope to end their two-game losing streak against the Bucks, a team who scraped by the rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves for their first win of the season Tuesday night.

***Quotes for this story were taken from publsihed sources.

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