Since Tuesday's shocking win over Miami, Randy Wittman's emphasis to his team beyond X's and O's has been clear: win or lose against Atlanta Friday night, build on the progress made against the Heat. Avoid reverting to the previous dribble-heavy, turnover-laden form.
Well, depending on what part of the Wizards 104-95 loss to the Hawks the coach focuses on upon review will determine whether Washington's coach believes progress was made. From the middle of the third quarter until four minutes remained in the game, the Wizards offense had life with legitimate ball movement. Bradley Beal turned aggressive, Kevin Seraphin couldn't miss and Nene was Nene.
However, before that stretch and during the game’s final minutes, the Wizards played like a 2-14 team, which coincidently is the team's record following their 11th straight loss in Atlanta (11-5). Unable to slow down the Hawks’ backcourt on the drive or from distance, Washington trailed by 14 points in the first quarter. After a brief tightening before halftime the Hawks' lead ballooned to 70-52 midway through the third.
That's when the switch flipped and the Wizards executed as desired. After missing all three of his field goal attempts during a lifeless first half, Beal asserted himself on the offensive end in the third, scoring 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting. His 3-pointer closing the quarter cut the lead to 80-71 and Seraphin's jumper with 8:50 remaining had Washington down only 84-82.
Atlanta scored the next two baskets, both following offensive rebounds, but following a pair of Beal free throws with 4:07 remaining Washington trailed 91-89. After a Jeff Teague free throw and a Josh Smith 3-pointer put Atlanta up 95-89, Washington's offense reverted to its stagnant form. Following Jordan Crawford's layup with 4:42 left in the game, the Wizards did not make another basket until another Crawford layup with 34.5 seconds remained.
"We didn't trust again. We got down by six or eight and we quit, we quit running, moving the ball. Starting holding, dribbling, didn't trust what we were doing," Wittman told the media postgame.
On his 23rd birthday the newly-coiffed Seraphin led the Wizards with 19 points. Beal had 18, Crawford 14 and Nene added 12 in 24 minutes off the bench. Washington finished with 22 assists on 36 baskets, committed only 12 turnovers and shot 43.8 percent (7 of 16) from beyond the arc.
Smith paced the Hawks with 23 points and 15 rebounds while Al Horford tallied 14 and 14 as Atlanta hammered Washington 47-32 on the glass. Atlanta's guards set the tone as Jeff Teague blitzed the Wizards early with 15 of his 19 points coming in the first half. Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson each scored 15 points with all of Stevenson's coming on five 3-pointers.
"Their guards totally dominated us tonight too, "Wittman said." We didn't have answer for their backcourt, any of them that went in there and played. Kind of did what they wanted."
Washington's sixth different starting lineup on the young season included Martell Webster, the Wizards leading 3-point shooter, who replaced the injured Trevor Ariza. After averaging 12.3 points over his previous six games off the bench, Webster became the latest Wizards to struggle as starter. He did not attempt a field goal in the first half and finished with five points.
With injuries to Ariza, Trevor Booker and John Wall, the Wizards were one player short, yet Jan Vesely did not see action for the second straight game.
The Wizards host Golden State Saturday night with coverage on Comcast SportsNet beginning at 6:30 p.m.