August 4, 2020

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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