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The Teams: Washington Wizards (2-13) vs. Atlanta Hawks (10-5)

The Time: 7:30 PM

The Place: Philips Arena (Atlanta, GA)

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet, 106.7 The Fan DC

Tonight the Wizards make a return trip to the arena known as the “Highlight factory” to take on their divisional foe the Atlanta Hawks. This marks the second trip by the Wizards to Atlanta on the year as their first visit ended with a crushing last tenth of a second defeat. Thankfully, the Wizards have been playing pretty decent basketball as of late winning two of their last three games. Hopefully this road trip goes a bit better than the last trip the Wizards took away from home when they were blown out by the New York Knicks.

If you read the preview for the game against the Heat on Tuesday night you noticed that I stressed the effort level that the Wizards needed to exude to have a chance to win. The Wizards outworked the Heat on Tuesday night and that is why they were as successful as they were against the defending champions. Any loose ball or rebound was aggressively gone after by Washington and it helped propel them to victory. Randy Wittman stressed that the Wizards needed a “Statement game” against Miami and that is exactly what he got out of his team.

The Hawks come into tonight’s matchup having won seven of their last eight games with a two point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers being their only blemish on the current run they are on. Al Horford, who had 25 and 12 in a win over the Nuggets on Wednesday night, will be the Hawk to keep an eye on as he has posted a double-double in three straight games. Emeka Okafor, Kevin Seraphin and Nene will have their hands full with the Dominican center by way of the University of Florida this evening. If Horford is allowed to go off and have a big game a la the likes of David West, Roy Hibbert and every other opposing big man that has given it to Washington this season the Wiz Kids will have a steep hill to climb to win their second game in a row.

As has been the theme of the season so far, the Wizards will need a big game out of Jordan Crawford in order to remain competitive. With John Wall still out of the lineup without any indication of when he may return from his knee issues Crawford’s importance to this team has increased significantly. Despite coming off the bench and averaging only 30 minutes per game Crawford has proven to be the Wizards most reliable scoring option. Tuesday, Crawford led the team in points and assists coming off the bench. If he were to have a similar performance tonight in Atlanta I like the Wizards chances at winning back to back games for the first time this season.

Prediction:

Washington Wizards: 94

Atlanta Hawks: 90

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The Teams: Washington Wizards (0-9) vs Atlanta Hawks (5-4)

The Time: 7:30 PM

The Location: Phillips Arena. Atlanta, Georgia

The Coaches: Randy Wittman (18-40 with Wizards) and Larry Drew (89-68 with Hawks)

The History: In 274 games, the Wizards have lost to the Hawks more than they’ve won, being down 141-133 all time. They’ve played a lot over the years and this is one of their closer series all time, so it’s typically a good ball game every time these two teams step onto the court.

Why you should watch: Nene is coming back!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halleeeeeelujaaaaah! With reports coming out that Nene is expected to be in action for the first time Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, Wizards fans breathe a collective sigh of relief. Well, what’s left of the fan base that has been bludgeoned nine times to the face this year through loss after loss. But now, Nene is back to bolster a frontcourt that has been shredded game after game in the paint and has been unable to score too much there either.

Nene brings both, and a bit of rebounding prowess that might offset the inability of a certain French forward, and with them he also brings the promise of shattering that unsightly goose egg in the win column. Last season when the Wizards traded for Nene, they got considerably better as a direct result. They weren’t blowing teams out, of course, but they were actually winning. If he can provide similar results, Wizards fans will embrace him with open arms.
Key Points and Storylines

1.) What impact will Nene have?

Look, who knows what version of Nene we’re going to be getting. That has to be said, because he has yet to play a single game of basketball during this short NBA season, and it may take him awhile to get the hang of things again. He’s a fantastic player, but it might take time for him to get back into the swing of things. If he can make a quick recovery, then this team will be all the better for it. Conversely, if he looks slow and rushed back onto the court, then it will show and the Wizards may still be better served waiting more time for him to come back.

Nene is going to be asked to rebound and defend a lot since Okafor is in the dog house (really, the entire team is in the dog house). I’m just not sure he can do that right away…

2.) Can the Wizards shoot better?

Shooting under 40% as a team for the entire season (dead last in the NBA) is a recipe for an 0-9 season. The Wizards have followed that recipe to a T, and if they were wise, would do their best to deviate a bit from that course. Without better shooting, Washington will continue to pile up losses. Having one of the most efficient shooters/scorers in the NBA today in Nene will be a huge boon for getting that number above 40%, but that won’t change the fact that the Wizards take bad shots.

Early in the shot clock three pointers by A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford don’t help a lot, and Bradley Beal going 4-12 (as he did last game) has to change. Taking good shots is directly correlated to how many points this team has been scoring, which at 89 per game is last in the NBA as well. Changing that number, given the somewhat passable defense they’ve been playing, might secure a victory for Washington.

Prediction: Wizards win a close one against their divisional rival Atlanta Hawks ON THE ROAD in Nene’s return.

99-98 Wizards

 

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By: Bohlin

The ongoing saga surrounding Dwight Howard has come to a close. Last night the all-star and former defensive player of the year was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four team deal.

With all the rumored offers on the table from teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets, the Magic decided to send Howard to Hollywood in return for Aaron Afflalo and a bevy of protected first round picks from teams that will almost assuredly be outside of the lottery. While the reasoning behind Orlando pulling the trigger on this deal at this time is perplexing to me, as I believe Brooklyn and Houston’s offers were better, it signifies that the Magic are entering “rebuilding mode”– which is great for the Wizards.

This marks the second time this offseason where a playoff team from the Southeast division has shipped their best player out of town (Joe Johnson to Brooklyn being the other instance). In each case the argument can be made that the Hawks and Magic took a step back (in Orlando’s case a few hops, skips and jumps back) in order to rid themselves of massive headaches inside their organizations.

How does all of this movement effect our Washington Wizards? In short, it brings them closer to the top of the division. While the Miami Heat are still the cream of the crop in the division, that race for number two in the Southeast is up for grabs.

Atlanta should still be competitive with Josh Smith and Al Horford in their lineup but the loss of arguably their best perimeter scoring threat in Joe Johnson will hurt. The thing about the Hawks is they are a much better team when Josh Smith isn’t continuously falling back in love with his jump shot. With Joe Johnson now gone, all I can see is J-Smoove thinking it’s his time to become “The Guy” on the perimeter for Atlanta. Keep pulling up from 18 feet and beyond and you’ll make a lot of Wizards fans happy, Josh.

Orlando has taken a massive step back and will more than likely be challenging the Bobcats for the Cellar Dweller award in the division. Without Dwight Howard in the fold first year head coach Jacque Vaughn has his hands full figuring out how to make this team competitive. They did pick up some nice young pieces in this deal in Afflalo and Mo Harkless, but to think that those two, in addition to Jameer Nelson and Hedo, will be enough to vault Orlando to the playoffs again is a bit extreme.

Charlotte, fresh off becoming statistically the worst team in NBA history, hasn’t done much to shake up their roster this offseason. In are Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions and out is D.J. Augustin. I think in time MKG will be an impact player for Charlotte but to think he’ll be able to really help carry the load on offense as a rookie is extreme. The fact of the matter is the Bobcats still aren’t much of a threat to do anything in the division with the roster they have assembled. Quite frankly I’m not sure why I dedicated this much space to a team that is coming off a 7 win season.

The Wizards are set up nicely to make a move towards the top of the division. With perennial playoff teams Orlando and Atlanta taking steps back it is possible to think that a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the division isn’t out of the question. The Southeast has been at least a three playoff team division for the past five seasons. There is little doubt in my mind that this trend will continue going forward.

Should the Wizards make the type of jump that we believe they are capable of making this season with the additions of Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal they should absolutely contend for one of the eight playoff spots in the East. John Wall said he wanted to be the “savior” of the Washington Wizards…here is your chance John, lead us back to the playoffs where the Wizards belong.

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By: Bohlin & Willis

What are your thoughts on the move?

MB: While I don’t believe it was the right move, I can understand why it was made. Ted Leonsis wanted Grunfeld to overhaul the roster and build through the draft, in effect hit the reset button on the Washington Wizards franchise. Grunfeld has done exactly what his boss wanted him to do and that in it of itself would explain why Leonsis felt comfortable extending his contract. While that is all well and good, it doesn’t take into account the lack of major success in building a winner in D.C. in the seven years prior to Leonsis taking over the team. As fans we better hope our front office is making the right decision in retaining Grunfeld as our General Manager as his track record is far from earth shattering (Grunfeld History).

MW: I feel like I just got Grunfelted, again. It’s a rarity that this sort of thing happens twice in one season, but alas here it is again. I’m a big fan of Ted Leonsis and “The Plan,” as I’ve seen the success proper rebuilds have had with the Capitals, but this was his first slip up. I just don’t understand what constitutes a fireable offense at this point during Ernie’s tenure. Was it the league’s worst record last year? Nope. Was it the league’s second worst record this year? Nope. Was it putting together some “youth (Nick Young, JaVale McGee),” and then summarily trading all of those pieces because they were “toxic” and shutting down the last one (Andray Blatche) because he was unplayably bad? Nope: This is the problem with Washington, D.C.; when will we learn from our mistakes and move in another direction? As it stands, we’re treading water.

What are your thoughts on Ernie?

MB: The numbers speak for themselves. Since taking over in June of 2003, Grunfeld is 155 games under .500 as General Manager. One second round playoff run, and three other first round exits courtesy of LeBron are his postseason accomplishments. He also gave Gilbert Arenas just short of a max contract coming off of major knee surgery. His draft record is questionable and we all are aware of his affinity for the European player. For the last nine years we have seen the same thing from Grunfeld and I have no reason to believe that will change with the youth movement in the Nations Capital.

MW: Ibid. He might be a nice guy off the court, but Ernie Grunfeld is a bad GM. How many of his drat choices have been hits? That Mike Miller and Randy Foye trade for Ricky Rubio (the draft pick we traded for those two players) turned out awesome. In fact, of all the players that Ernie has drafted, only five of them are even on the roster at this point. That’s 5 out of 16 players drafted that remain on the roster, and three of those five are from one draft class (Vesely, Mack, and Singleton). Neither one of those players are starters in the NBA at this point, and only John Wall can be even remotely in consideration for a franchise player (or a non-tradeable asset). That’s not a rebuild, that’s a joke. Grunfeld has fumbled through countless picks, and it doesn’t seem like he has the ability to lead the Wizards to the promised land. Even if, at some point, these lottery picks in Vesely, Wall, and whoever we get this year turn the Wizards into a good team, that’s not a testament to Ernie Grunfeld’s ability to form a unit; it’s a testament to what happens when tons and tons of talent plays on the same team. We may not even get that talent if Ernie decides to trade it away anyhow, since he’s already gotten rid of two Top 5 picks during his tenure.

Was this the best Washington could do?

MB: If we have plans on becoming a contender for the playoffs in the next two years then no, we did not. If “The Plan” entails another couple of seasons similar to what we’ve been watching in order to get high lottery picks to continue to build around, then we could have done worse. Let’s face it, D.C. loves a winner and while the Skins may be the biggest draw, the district is a basketball city. When this team was competitive, the Verizon Center was a great place to watch a game. This move to keep Grunfeld is going to leave a sour taste in the mouths of many Wizards fans. Personally, I believe this summers NBA Draft is the most important pick the Wizards will make in quite some time and I cannot say I have confidence that Ernie won’t screw it up if we don’t land the #1 pick.

MW: Stability is an important thing for every franchise, and in a weird way, I get the message that Ted Leonsis is trying to send with this one. Ernie doesn’t have to make any desperate moves in trying to save his hide, which could potentially have cripple the franchise in the long term. And since every single one of the players on the roster are Ernie’s, if he does have some type of plan for the Wizards to be successful, it’s best he holds the reigns. Another GM might want to take over, clean house (again), and install some of his players. I’m not sure how much more power and control we want to give to Overlord Grunfeld, though, since we’re the laughingstock of the NBA. There were much better GM options out there, however, in Billy Knight (former GM of the Atlanta Hawks), Donnie Walsh, and Mark Warkentien.

It’s only 2 years, what’s the worst that could that happen?

MB: Remaining stagnant and losing more of a fan base that has already lost interest in the product on the floor. That’s exactly what will happen if the backlash from this wildly unpopular decision is as bad as it could potentially be. People were outraged when it came out that Grunfeld allegedly turned down an extension offer we made to him a month ago. The fact that he is officially signed up for the next couple of seasons is not going to sit well with many fans, including this one.

MW: Again, ibid. There’s a good chance that next season, the Wizards could find themselves treading water at the bottom cellar of the NBA again. Look no further than the Sacramento Kings if you want an example of how stockpiling youth with a bad GM doesn’t work at all. Because for all the young players we have, not one of them has been capable of changing the game up for us. In two years, Ernie could easily trade away talented players, draft bad ones, and saddle the Wizards with another big contract to a so-so player. Believe me, in two years Ernie Grunfeld could leave this franchise in a world of hurt and a prime candidate for contraction.

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By: Willis

Thursday, March 29
@ 7:00 pm Washington Wizards (11-38) vs Indiana Pacers (29-20)

Starting Lineup

PG: John Wall vs Darren Collison

SG: Jordan Crawford vs Paul George

SF: Chris Singleton vs Danny Granger

PF: Kevin Seraphin vs David West

C: Nene vs Roy Hibbert

Why you should watch: The Pacers are a beatable team

Anyone who saw the last game against the Pacers can agree with me that the 85-83 loss was a load of malarkey. The game featured the Wizards losing a 22 point advantage in the fourth, and essentially doing an Undertaker Choke Slam on themselves. The entire game was a testament to how much length can kill in the NBA. The Pacers two forwards, Danny Granger and David West, each went for 16 and 13 points, respectively. Roy Hibbert, their 7’2 centerpiece, managed to stay on the court and drop 19 and 9 rebounds on the Wizards. They clogged the paint up in the fourth quarter, and since jump shooting isn’t the Wizards forte, the lead was gone.

I don’t expect that to happen again, and it’s because I like to look at the positives. The Wizards held Indiana to 41% shooting overall, and 22% from beyond the arc. Anytime the Wizards play that staunch of defense, it’s clear that they have a chance to win the game. If Washington can remain feisty on defense as they have shown the past 4 games (despite all losses), this game is going to be decided in the final possessions. As long as Jordan Crawford can manage to keep his hotness going, and not get frustrated by Paul George’s length, I look for him to carry the backcourt. Wall hasn’t been playing well lately, and he isn’t going to get much room to drive to the rack. If he can force Hibbert into early foul trouble, the Wizards may have a much better success rate.

Underlying Storyline: Finishing the Game

If you think Miami and LeBron James struggle during last second situations, you should see the charade the Wizards have put on the last few games. It’s incredibly how sloppy things become during the final possessions of the game. First it was against Indiana where Wall managed to dribble out the clock en route to making a game winning bucket, then it was a 3-point loss to Atlanta, and don’t get me started on the Detroit Pistons loss. Washington, by all accounts, should be 3 wins richer right now. Instead, a series of miscues has led the Wizards into a 4 game losing streak and likely down in spirit. It’s inexcusable, and tonight would be a lovely night to start a different trend instead of late faltering.

Someone has to step up and make the stop, or a play needs to be drawn to ensure that the Wizards don’t get DAGGERRRRRED. The last seconds shots have to be made; it’s what players dream of making their entire lives but when the chance arises, they flounder. The onus falls on the superstar in Wall, and Randy Wittman for his lack of design. It’s as simple as that.

Prediction: It’s a home game for the Wizards, coming off of 3 days rest. Washington is exactly one game better at home than away, which isn’t something to be proud of, honestly. But it also means they can lose or win anywhere regardless of venue. The Pacers will still be reeling off a loss against a blowout loss to New Jersey last night 100-84. Wizards pick up a close win 99-97

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By: Willis

Tim Mahoney/AP

Saturday, March 24
@ 7:00 pm Washington Wizards (11-35) vs Atlanta Hawks (28-20)

Starting Lineup

PG: John Wall vs Jeff Teague

SG: Jordan Crawford vs Kirk Hinrich

SF: Chris Singleton vs Joe Johnson

PF: Trevor Booker vs Josh Smith

C: Nene vs Jason Collins

Why you should watch: Nene faces the Hawks again

The last time I wrote a preview for this game, I assumed Nene would be playing. He didn’t, and that fact (much to my chagrin) rendered my entire piece moot. That being said, this time around Nene will definitely play, and I’m absolutely confident that he’s going to play well.

Against the Pacers front line of big men, Nene faced a bit of a regression. Roy Hibbert and David West caused him some serious trouble, and he finished the game with 6 points, five rebounds, and three turnovers. Whether it was their height or just an off night, Nene was unable to save the Wizards from giving up a 20 point lead they had at halftime. The Hawks front has two guys, Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia, who aren’t nearly as talented. Josh Smith is a freak athlete who has a propensity to shoot one too many jumpers that never go in, and Zaza is a chippy Georgian (the country, not the state) that relies on craftiness and gritty play to disrupt his opponent.

For his career, Nene has played the Hawks 10 times and averages 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest. That’s not exactly All-Star caliber play, but hear me out. Most of those games Nene was playing against Al Horford, Atlanta’s currently injured star center. Zaza is, to be blunt, not even remotely close to the same caliber of defender as Horford. Nene is going to chew him up down low, as he happens to have a significant athletic advantage over him. One thing to look out for, however, is if the Hawks decide to try Josh Smith out in defending Nene. If that’s the case, it’s not going to be good for the Wizards; a knock on Nene is his unwillingness to establish his presence in the post, and Josh Smith is powerful enough to deny him quality position altogether.

Underlying Storyline: John Wall and the Wizards Redemption

We all saw John Wall dribble out the clock against the Pacers, and effectively lose the game for the Wizards. He probably grimaced over that for the past two days and is brewing a stew of aggression. I’m assuming Wall is going to be absolutely en fuego against Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich, who aren’t much more than traffic cones for him to weave in and out of. Despite averaging about 18 points and 8 assists against the Hawks in six previous meetings, all those meetings have ended in one thing: a loss. In fact, in 14 of the last 15 meetings, the end result has been a loss. I think Wall is going to change that trend tonight, and break through the barrier.

Prediction: Atlanta is pretty darn good, but the Wizards have been playing better and there is no way they lose 14 straight against the Hawks. The bench is going to play a key role in helping the Wizards to a big victory 100-97

Update: Want to thank one of our readers for bringing to our attention that Zaza Pachulia is out of tonight’s game. Jason Collins will presumably be starting in his place. Certainly helps the Wiz Kids chances at a victory against a division foe tonight.

Second Update: Zaza Pachulia is playing but the Wiz Kids are still primed for a victory in this bloggers opinion. Bohlin’s prediction; Wizards: 103 Hawks: 95.

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By: Willis

Tim Mahoney/AP

Friday, March 16
@ 7:30 pm Washington Wizards (8-29) vs Los Angeles Lakers (23-15)

Starting Lineup

PG: John Wall vs Jeff Teague

SG: Jordan Crawford vs Joe Johnson

SF: Chris Singleton vs Marvin Williams

PF: Trevor Booker vs Josh Smith

C: Kevin Seraphin vs Zaza Pachulia

Why you should watch: Nene vs. The Hawks Part II, Different Team.

While I have been critical of the deadline acquisition of Nene, I am not without hope that he can help the Wizards grow into a better team right now. Having only been with the squad for a day, it’s unlikely that he is going to see heavy minutes. Nonetheless, Nene against Pachulia is going to be a great matchup. Why? Because Pachulia just missed a game winner in overtime against Denver three days ago! Nene’s abilities were on full display against Pachulia during that matchup, as he finished with 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. If there is one thing Nene trounces JaVale in, it’s his ability to dish the rock; he may already be the second best passer on our team after John Wall. In Denver, he did a solid job of kicking the ball out to open shooters, and it’s likely that Roger Mason and Jordan Crawford may benefit from this addition the most.

Nene is an absolute hulk, and the short term benefits are going to be seen immediately. His pick-and-roll game with John Wall could become the staple of this team’s offensive game. He managed it well with Ty Lawson in Denver, and it’s likely that we’re going to see a lot of that tonight. One thing to look out for is his rebounding. In his last game against Atlanta, Zaza out rebounded him 13-6, and the Wizards aren’t good enough to afford that.

Underlying Storyline: Two road wins in a row!

While it’s rare that the Wizards win a game, it’s even more rare that the Wizards win on the road. Even rarer still, is when the Wiz kids win a game, on the road, for the second consecutive time. It’s the white rhino of occurrences, and it’s entirely possible tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. The Wizards could work some magic tonight, as the Hawks have dropped 4 of their last 5 games including a drubbing at the hands of the Clippers 96-82. Atlanta is notorious for playing down to their competition, and though they’re more talented than the Wizards on paper, will likely do that again. I say this despite the Hawks having annihilated the Wizards way back in December 101-83. That was then, and this is now. The Hawks are without their starting center in Al Horford, and John Wall has been very good for the Wizards (as opposed to his rough start to the season) lately. Nene is also going to be an added boost to the front court offense.

Prediction: The Wizards pull of a rare win against the Hawks to go on a two-game winning streak, ushering in the Wall-Nene era. The Hawks are struggling, and Washington has played very well lately. 101-98 Washington

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