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Well, you can't win 'em all. Last night's loss may have dampened some of the praise that the team had been receiving before the game, but I still like where this team is headed. Considering that the Wizards only lost by 11 on the road despite not having Jamison, not having Butler for most of the game, seven turnovers from Gilbert Arenas, an 0-8 shooting performance from Nick Young, a 3-12 shooting performance from Randy Foye, and no three point attempts from Mike Miller, I don't think you could ask for much more.
The defense continues to be solid, holding the Hawks to 41% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc, figures that might not lead to comparisons with the Bad Boys anytime soon, but they're far better than the numbers we've become accustomed to defensively over the last half-decade. Oddly enough, the area the team probably needs the most work in right now is offensive cohesion. Brendan Haywood shouldn't be taking the second-most shots for the team, Mike Miller should be shooting more than Nick Young, and Gilbert still isn't fully back in rhythm yet. All of these things will get better with time, so there's no need to panic at this point (unless you're worried about Caron's knee, which you have every right to be worried about). With some more time in system and a little bit of guidance, a lot of these quirks should work themselves out fairly quickly.
In other news, Dallas throttled the Lakers 94-80 last night in L.A., which makes Tuesday's performance look even better in hindsight.
The rough night was summed up during a fourth-quarter sequence. Smith extended himself to block a three-point attempt by Arenas. After Hawks point guard Mike Bibby corralled the ball, Smith sprinted down the court and pointed toward the roof. On cue, Bibby lobbed the ball toward the rim and the former slam dunk champion punished the rim with a dunk that gave the Hawks a 93-78 advantage. He screamed and shook his head, then bumped chests with Bibby, as Saunders called a timeout. The celebration started early for Atlanta, while the Wizards are again left to ponder another possible short-handed future.
Flip was pleased with what he got out of JaVale McGee tonight. The coach had hoped to use McGee in certain situations to spark his team with his energy and athleticism, and soon after he took the court, McGee was providing fireworks with a dunk here, a block there. In 10 minutes, he had seven points, two rebounds and two blocks. His performance will continue to earn him increased playing time, Saunders said. "JaVale played like he did in practice, so he'll continue to get more playing time," Flip said. "He played well. We played him until he couldn't get any more oxygen out of the arena, so we took him out of the game. But he did a nice job."
After falling down 4-0 early Gilbert Arenas led a charge in which the Wizards ran off 12 straight points. “It was almost too easy,” said Flip Saunders of the early advantage. That brief lead was indeed a mirage as the Hawks finished the first quarter on a 15-4 run of their own and they would never trail again. Sensing his team was in need of a spark, Arenas attempted to force the issue but it’s quite apparent he hasn’t shaken off the rust from missing most of the last two seasons. On several occasions he tried to split defenders only to have the ball taken away. Arenas finished with game high seven turnovers to only four assists. He did lead all scorers with 23 points but it came on only 9-of-22 shooting from the field.
In the first quarter, the Hawks played better than the Wizards. In the next three quarters, with Caron Butler our for most of it, the Hawks just were better. Outside of a well executed first six or so minutes by the Wizards and a bad offensive third quarter, the Hawks played a great overall game. Certainly, the Wizards were not at full strength and dealt with a bit of foul trouble, but the Hawks responded by playing like the better team. Throw it all together and mention that Joe Johnson only played 30 minutes and you have a very satisfying win.
Arenas turned the ball over four times and Mike Miller, Fabricio Oberto and DeShawn Stevenson all got into foul trouble. "When I got four quick turnovers, I stopped being aggressive, worrying about how many turnovers I get," said Arenas, who scored 23 points on 9-for-22 shooting and had seven turnovers to four assists. "You just can't play the game like that."
If Tim Duncan is the ‘Big Fundamental’, then Mike Miller is the ‘Blond Fundamental’ (7 points, 2 steals, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 10 rebounds). The more I watch Miller, the more I’m impressed. Sure, building upon the stigma he gained last year in Minnesota, we all want him to be more assertive on offense. But with everything else he does so well (pass, communicate, play defense, rebound with extended arms and two hands, etc.), and with him being on an offensively potent team, perhaps the Wizards don’t always need him to be looking for a shot. Rather, he can be the glue guy for a team that’s really looking to come together with so many new pieces.
Whatever Mike Miller needs to bring to the Wizards, that wasn’t it. When the broadcasters can’t gush enough over the fact that Miller is a career 40 percent shooter from three, it’s shocking that he can finish the night without a single attempt from behind the arc. With seven points, 10 rebounds and five assists, sure, he was busy. But when no one could get it going for Washington, the one guy whose scouting report says he’s a lights-out shooter needs to take it upon himself to shoulder some of the offensive burden.
Friday night's balanced scoring effort was an added bonus to a sterling defensive effort against a Wizards team that won in Dallas on Tuesday night and has been predicted by some to overtake the Hawks in the Southeast Division. The Hawks outrebounded the much larger Wizards 47-40, scored 18 points off of turnovers and piled up seven blocked shots -- five from Horford and two from Smith, who became the youngest player in league history to reach 900 blocks and 23 and 329 days. Horford finished with a game-high 12 rebounds while Smith led the Hawks in scoring with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting from the floor.
The Hawks didn't wait four quarters to step up defensively tonight. They didn't even wait four minutes. Gilbert Arenas had 5 points and an assist in the first 3:35 to guide Washington to a quick 12-4 lead. Mike Woodson called timeout and from that point forward the Hawks allowed 12 points on Washington's 17 subsequent first quarter possessions, scored 25 points on their 17 remaining first quarter possessions and built a five-point lead they would never relinquish.
We previewed the game tonight by noting the abundance of prognosticators that see the Wizards at least as the Hawks equal. We also stated that, while this game was a good litmus test for both teams, it's shouldn't be a "told you so" game either way.
Afterwards we have to say it was a let down in that regard. With Jamison out, Butler getting hurt, and Flip Saunders obviously still getting to know his personnel, the Hawks could see a much different team the next time they host Washington on January 13th, rendering this game just another notch on the win or loss column, and little else.
Best of Twitterville
Twitter / Michael Lee
I've got a new nickname for JaVale McGee. JaValevation. Either that, or JaValevator.
Twitter / Truth_About_It
Dunk you very much .. the first EPIC VALE moment of the year!!! Wizards only down 8.
Twitter / Mike Jones
Wiz back down by 11 points (89-78) with 4:40 left. ATL fan just yelled "Put in Cassell!"
Twitter / Fire Dan Snyder
The Wizards started looking s***ty the second Mike Miller came off. He is the cataylst
Twitter / calloni
#wizards played like last year... lots of injuries... turnovers... simple like that
Twitter / Andrew Sharp
And the wheels come off... 1-1. In the interest of fairness, that alley oop deserved a DAGGER! call from Buckhantz. Oh well
Twitter / Eddie Ray
Mike Miller looks like he would fit right in on the Washington Mystics. Might even start.
Twitter / Sujal
Oh my god... Mike Miller's hair is enough to make me want to change the game...
Twitter / wizznutzz
CONSUMPTION JUNCTION!!!! Throw Strindberg's TB Slanket over this one!!! #tuberculousisthenewDAGGER