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Atlanta Hawks 91, Washington Wizards 87

Box Score
Game Flow
Post Recap
Times Recap
Wizards Insider makes an economy analogy
Peachtree Hoops (which should be a daily read for you guys if it isn't already)
BDL: Behind the boxscore (see item #2)
ESPN Daily Dime (see #2)
Atlanta Journal Constitution
AJC columnist continues to drink the kool-aid

Highest Plus/Minus: Etan Thomas (+4 in 16:16)
Lowest Plus/Minus:
Darius Songaila (-5 in 6:10)
Best Five Man Unit: DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Etan Thomas (+4 for 3:20 in 2nd quarter)
Worst Five Man Unit: Dee Brown, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Darius Songaila (-3 for 3:32 in third quarter)

Four Factors:

Team Pace Off Eff eFG% FT/FG OREB% TO%
Washington 88.7 98.9 45.9 10.6 21.7 13.6
Atlanta 103.4 44 20.2 42.3 (wow!) 19.3

As some of you may know, I was the sports editor for my college newspaper last year and am a higher-up editor this year (see my bylines if you're so inclined).  After our men's basketball team lost two home heartbreakers to two of its biggest rivals, the second loss of which happened in a very similar way to the Wizards' loss last night, I wrote a column that began with the following words.

A team never outright loses a game on one possession, yet one possession can be emblematic of its structural flaws.

It's kind of been my philosophy on analyzing games.  You can never point to one single possession and say "That cost us the game!," but you can look at it and say "That's the best illustration of our problems."

Let's apply this concept to last night's loss.  The problems the Wizards have are numerous.  They don't have great talent without Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood.  They are not being coached well.  They don't move the ball offensively and get the ball into the right people's hands.  They have no inside presence.  They have veterans who stink and young guys who are talented, but erratic.  They can't rebound or defend.  On and on.

With all these issues, one cannot say the Wizards did not lose this game exclusively because of their late-game execution problems.  Truth be told, if there was a stretch that cost us the game, it was when we decided to go to a third-quarter lineup with Darius Songaila in at center, particularly when Atlanta was destroying us on the glass.  But the one possession at the end, after Atlanta took the lead, was where all our limitations came into play.

From what I gather, the play had two options.  The first was for Caron Butler to get the ball from Juan Dixon and make a play, after Caron ran around a bit to keep the defense honest.  The second option was for Dixon to then dribble and find Antawn Jamison in the post, who had set a screen for Nick Young to run to the weakside corner.  The idea was to get Flip Murray switched onto Jamison, and that worked.

As we all know, the play did not work.  Let's go through this problem by problem.

PROBLEM: The Wizards don't have great talent with their injuries.
SPECIFICALLY: The Wizards don't have Gilbert Arenas to close games.
ILLUSTRATION: Caron Butler doesn't do enough to get the ball and Juan Dixon doesn't try to get it to him at all costs.

PROBLEM: Eddie Jordan is not coaching well.
SPECIFICALLY: Eddie Jordan is not setting up good plays and Jordan's players are not executing what he wants well. Eddie Jordan isn't playing the right players
ILLUSTRATION: Dixon picks up his dribble too early without knowing what he wanted to do.  Butler doesn't get the ball.  Jamison doesn't fight for position well enough.  Nick Young takes too long to clear out the side. Dee Brown, a better passer, is out while gunner Dixon is in.

PROBLEM: The Wizards are not passing the ball well and getting it to the right people in the right place.
SPECIFICALLY: Caron Butler isn't getting the ball enough at the end of games and Juan Dixon/Nick Young are using too many late possessions.
ILLUSTRATION: Dixon can't get Butler the ball.  Dixon can't get Jamison the ball, despite Jamison having six inches on Flip Murray.  Failing that, Dixon shoots it like he always does instead of resetting and getting Young or Stevenson open on the weakside. Young grabs the rebound and immediately flings a wild putback when he could have kicked out to Stevenson for a wide open three.

PROBLEM: The Wizards have no inside presence.
SPECIFICALLY: Antawn Jamison doesn't have as much space as usual.  Brendan Haywood is out.  Nobody is a threat rolling to the rim.
ILLUSTRATION: Jamison struggles for position against Murray, making it more difficult for Dixon to get him the ball as usual.  Nobody gives Butler a screen because nobody can set a good screen.  The only shots we can get are contested long jumpers.

PROBLEM: The Wizards have veterans who stink and youngsters who are erratic.
SPECIFICALLY: Eddie Jordan can't rely on either group.
ILLUSTRATION: Dixon can't get his stars the ball.  Young shoots a wild shot on the rebound. Stevenson doesn't space the floor well enough, drifting too close to the top of the key instead of the weakside.

PROBLEM: The Wizards can't defend or rebound.
SPECIFICALLY: This needs no elaboration.
ILLUSTRATION: Every Hawks score down the stretch before this possession.

Basically, every problem we have as a team was illustrated in some way on that last possession.  If you were asked to boil our entire season down to one possession, that last one would be it. 

No, that one possession was not the difference in the game.  Our inability to rebound really, really hurt.  Atlanta is a good offensive rebounding team, but they should not be able to grab over 40 percent of their missed shots.  Going small during a key stretch of the game certainly didn't help matters either.  Our offensive execution was bad even before that final possession as well. 

But man, that one possession just sums everything up.  You can tell just by watching that possession occur that the problem with this team isn't their effort level.  It's their talent, execution and on-court smart that are killing them. 

Other notes:

  • Putting JaVale McGee in the starting lineup probably benefits Etan Thomas as much as it benefits JaVale.  You saw how reasonably effective Etan can be coming off the bench.  No, he'll never be totally serviceable, but he plays better when he doesn't start. 
  • Liked the decision to start Dee Brown.  It's pretty sad that we have to get to that point though.
  • Anyone remember Juan Dixon 2.0?  The Juan Dixon we saw in the first three games?  Clearly, that Juan Dixon is gone and the Juan Dixon from his earlier stint here is back.  In the last two games, Juan is 5 for 19 from the floor and is shooting so many long twos its crazy.
  • I don't understand why Andray Blatche keeps trying to make things happen with the ball.  He's a very good screener and slipper, why doesn't he use those skills more often? 
  • Caron is an absolute beast.  He deserves much better.  Antawn's also defending better than he was earlier in the season.
  • JaVale needed more than 22 minutes.  I also want to see Eddie run some more plays for him.  He's our only guy with a somewhat decent post game.
  • It's annoying to hear Atlanta's broadcasters wax about how Joe Johnson is their "superstar."  Johnson wasn't defended all that well and he still had a terrible shooting night.  He's a third option masquerading as a first option on a team with two key guys hurt.
  • I was impressed by Marvin Williams.  He looks much improved from last year
  • Other than playing Songaila at center, no real complaints about Eddie's playing rotation.  JaVale should have played a little more and DeShawn a little less, but it's only minor quibbles