Wizards vs. Hawks preview: Can Washington right the ship in Hotlanta?

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Wizards have lost two in a row since reaching .500. Now they get to play their Southeast Division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks, a team that, if the season ended today, the Wizards would play in the first round of the playoffs.

Have the Washington Wizards reached the highpoint of their season? After finally making it to .500, Washington lost two home games in a row and are now 9-11. Now they head to Atlanta to face the Hawks, the best team in the East that didn't play in last year's conference finals.

Where and when? Tip off is at 7 p.m. in Atlanta.

Are they good? Atlanta's actually pretty solid. They're 11-11 with the NBA's 18th most efficient offense and 13th most efficient defense. They've played a relatively weak schedule and have gotten most of their wins by beating up on Eastern Conference teams like Orlando and Charlotte, with their only victory over a particularly notable team occurring last week when they beat the Clippers. They'll probably win 45 games, which would normally make them a sixth seed, but could give them home court advantage in at least one round of the playoffs this year.

Who's out? Gustavo Ayon is questionable for tonight's game for Atlanta, while the rest of the team is good to go. Washington's going to be missing Bradley Beal and Al Harrington for sure, Nene is questionable, and Martell Webster will play assuming nothing goes wrong with his ankle.

What are they good at? Atlanta has four three point guards who could play 20 minutes a night for any team in the league. Jeff Teague is a fringe All-Star, Shelvin Mack is one of the better backups in the NBA, Lou Williams is still rounding into shape, and Dennis Schroeder is an athletic freak who has drawn comparisons to Rajon Rondo. All can get into the paint time and time again due to their quickness with the ball and/or ability to run the pick and roll at a high level, and Teague and Schroeder have the potential to become very solid defensive players. Editor's Note: Schroeder is in the D-League. We apologize for the oversight.

What are they bad at? Defending big wings. Per 82Games, opposing shooting guards are posting a 14.8 PER and opposing small forwards are posting a 15.5 PER. DeMarre Carroll is the only wing over 6'3 who can defend at even a league-average rate and his offensive game is so poor that he'd be almost unplayable if he wasn't getting minutes next to so many guys who can shoot and pass at a high level. Kyle Korver and Cartier Martin aren't as poor on the defensive end as advertised, but neither of them is going to do anything against elite scorers like Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Then again, Washington doesn't have anyone other than Wall who can create a lot of shots on the perimeter, so the Wizards probably won't be able to exploit this weakness.

Will the Wizards be able to turn it around? The offense looked like crap against Denver and a lot of that can be traced to the absence of Nene and Webster. With at least one of them back, the Wizards should look a lot better. It may not be the difference between winning and losing, but having Webster available, even if it's only for 20 minutes or so, should at least allow the team to crack the 90 point barrier.

How have they done since the last time they played the Wizards? After falling to Washington on November 30th, Atlanta has gone 2-2 with losses to the Spurs and Thunder to go along with wins over the Clippers and Cavaliers.

What's the best scene in ATL? The one where TI punches Big Boi. Honorable mention goes to any of the roller skating montages.

Who's going to win? Washington had to work hard to get the W two weeks ago and that was at home with Nene playing. Now, going to Atlanta and with Lou Williams getting a little bit better every day, the odds have to be in the Hawks' favor, especially since relatively equally matched teams rarely seem to be each other in consecutive games. I'll still go out on a limb and pick the Wizards, though, for one reason: John Wall is playing on another level right now and Washington needs to make a statement after that loss to the Nuggets.

What do you think? Vote in our poll and sound off in the comments with your predictions for tonight.

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