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This was basically a carbon copy of the previous game against the Hawks. In both cases, the Wizards were really struggling, and after building a nice lead, they nearly blew the game before holding on.
There was one major difference in the two games, however. Free throws.
In the last Hawks-Wizards game, the Wizards were +11 at the free throw line, and that essentially won them the game. Atlanta held an advantage in most other parts of the game, but because the Wizards did everything they could to get free points, they won the game.
Tonight, the opposite basically happened. The Wizards defense played pretty well, forcing Atlanta into 40 percent shooting and winning the rebounding battle. But the Hawks shot 10 more free throws and made 14 more, keeping them in the game. The lack of aggression offensively was particularly evident with the Wizards' stars. Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, normally the two Wizards that consistently get to the stripe, shot a combined 6 free throws. For an offense predicated so much on putting pressure on the defense and getting to the free throw line, that simply isn't going to cut it.
In addition, what close win is complete without a smallball bitchfest. The Wizards won this game thanks to an 11-2 run early in the second quarter. The lineup on the floor was Gilbert Arenas, Antonio Daniels, Darius Songaila, Andray Blatche, and Calvin Booth. Granted, the run was against Atlanta reserves, but it kind of tells you something. Jarvis Hayes didn't even enter the game until the third quarter.
But what lineup finished the game? Daniels, Arenas, Jarvis Hayes, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison. None of the big guys finished the game, and DeShawn Steveson, arguably the top perimeter defender on the team, only entered with less than 4 minutes to go. Naturally, Atlanta went on an 11-1 run and took a one-point lead. And you know who hit the game-winning free throws and made the key defensive play? Stevenson. Well done, Eddie, well done.
More concerning for the future is that Arenas didn't really break out of his slump, and that Caron looked really bad out there. I have a feeling Caron's back is a lot more serious of an injury than he's willing to admit, but I don't buy Arenas' shoulder excuse. I think defenders are figuring out how to guard him more effectively. At the same time, Arenas did shoot pretty well from the field (7 for 15). He just didn't get to the line.
Luckily, Golden State, the league's worst road team, comes to town Sunday. Even better is that not only is Antawn back, but he didn't seem to miss a beat out there. Still, the lack of aggression is concerning, and Eddie still is playing the small lineup at the wrong times. And if Arenas and Butler can't get it together, there will be lots of problems.