Twenty-four hours after a complete and utter drubbing at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards seem like they've gotten back on track. They beat the very solid Atlanta Hawks, 108-101, tonight in a game that they led almost all the way through. Things got a little bit interesting in the fourth quarter, but for the most part, the outcome was rarely in doubt tonight.
All of the starters played fairly well tonight, but John Wall was the engine that powered the team yet again. Wall got anywhere he wanted to on the court tonight and his drive and kick was on full display. Almost every quality shot that Martell Webster or Trevor Ariza got was a direct or indirect result of Wall's ability to penetrate and draw in the defense, then kick it out to the perimeter. Even when he didn't get an assist, these passes usually led to either a good shot or an assist for one of his teammates. He finished with 26 points and 12 assists but at least half of Washington's points were a result of how well he played.
The bench wasn't awful on offense tonight, but their defense was abysmal. Eric Maynor repeatedly let Shelvin Mack -- yes, Shelvin Mack, the guy who couldn't even get the ball past halfcourt in multiple Summer League games two years ago -- blow by him. Jan Vesely also committed a couple of bad fouls and Kevin Seraphin didn't do much of note in his limited playing time.
Washington will have a day to rest up before they play the Magic in D.C. on Monday. Here are a few notes on the game.
- Washington went super-long to end the first quarter, with Vesely, Singleton, Ariza, Gortat and Maynor on the floor together. It actually worked out, even if Singleton hit a lucky shot or two. It'd be great if the reserves could get to the point where the team could experiment with different types of lineups like this on a regular basis. Especially against a jump shooting team like Atlanta, having all of that length on the floor can be really valuable.
- I don't know if it was just playing a worse defense than the Pacers' or the return of Nene, but the Wizards' offense looked a lot better tonight. Wall got to his spots and a lot of the open or lightly contested three pointers that they couldn't buy against the Pacers were there again. Gortat got a lot more shots at the rim than he seemed to have yesterday, too, despite Horford and Millsap being fairly good defensive players.
- One of the tricky things about playing a team like Atlanta is that they excel at hitting long twos. Horford and Millsap usually make 45%+ of these shots and most NBA defenses are designed to encourage opposing teams to take them at the expense of more efficient shots at the rim and threes. A lot of Atlanta's points came as a result of these and it's hard to fault Washington for it.
- Wall gambled a lot and the Hawks never really made him pay. He's been playing almost a free safety role of late, running all over the court for steals and deflections, especially when opposing bigs are posting up, and the results have been good. Teague, like a lot of point guards, seems to be a lot more comfortable shooting off the dribble than off the catch, which probably helped Washington's cause tonight.
- Chris Singleton played a bit more tonight. He seems physically capable of making good plays and his defense was fine, but he's got to stop taking midrange shots. This isn't Summer League and that's not his game. For that matter, and I don't know if this is his fault or something the coaches are having him do, he needs to stay away from the top of the key. He doesn't have enough range to hit the three from there, can't handle the ball in traffic and just isn't coordinated enough to to score in the lane. A player with his limited offensive skills needs to keep things as simple as possible - stay in the corner, shoot the three, and occasionally cut to the rim. Nothing more, nothing less. He'd be fine if that's all he did, he just hasn't played like this since his rookie season.
- Nene came back tonight and struggled to score. He seems a step slower than normal and isn't exploding off the court the way he did as recently as last week against the Lakers when he had at least three or four dunks. Millsap and Horford are both smart defenders who don't give up a lot of easy shots so hopefully this was simply a result of some unfavorable match ups.
- Washington led comfortably for most of the game. The Hawks came back to get it within three in the fourth quarter, other than that, the Wizards were up by around 10 points for most of the game. The pattern went a little like this: Washington's starters build up a lead, the bench comes in, Atlanta makes a run, Wall comes back, and Washington plays like a clearly superior team for a few minutes, getting the lead back up to something a bit more comfortable. Rinse and repeat. Get ready for a lot of that until this team acquires a good sixth man and/or Harrington gets healthy and turns back the clock. If Seraphin playd with more energy and rebounded more, you could almost live with his poor passing and low percentage shooting.
- Ariza and Webster both continued to play very well tonight. They're both crushing it of late, raining down threes from the corner, making the extra pass and attacking the rim off of close outs. Don't get me wrong, Bradley Beal is the man and needs to start as soon as he gets back, but these guys fit together very well with Wall, Nene and Gortat. Then again, Beal can do everything they can, plus he can run the occasional pick and roll.
- Jeff Teague has been getting a bit of buzz as far as making the All-Star team this year, but Wall completely outplayed him on both ends of the court.. Teague finished with 15 and 5 assists to Wall's 26 and 12. Not too shabby.