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Wizards vs. Hawks preview: Can Washington bounce back?

After last night's trouncing at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards return home to square off against the Atlanta Hawks. Here's what you need to know.


Do you remember that commercial from the 90s where the guy walked around the super market in a crouched position in order to only see the cereals on the bottom shelf? It might be beneficial for all of us to take a similar approach to any site that's covering the NBA -- just hit page down on your keyboard a few times before the site loads. The stuff that happened last night -- Nene missing time with a sore foot (whodathunk it after almost matching his career high for minutes per game, at least through the first month of the season), the offense completely falling apart against the Pacers, the franchise point guard who'd been on a run of 30+ point games scoring only 8, and losing by 20 to a team that that the Wizards would likely see in the first or second round of the playoffs - was so bad that it's only going to make you angry and sad (sangry?) to dwell on it.

Tonight is at least in theory a chance for a fresh start. Yes, they're playing in the second game of a back to back, but at least this game is at home and against a team that the Wiz Kids should match up reasonably well against. As long as John Wall can stay in front of Jeff Teague, the Wizards should perform respectably tonight, and that's a lot more than can be said about last night's monstrosity.

Where and when? Tip off is at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center.

Are they good? Despite "tearing it down" by letting Josh Smith walk in free agency, the 9-8 Hawks are playing well and have a very good shot at making the playoffs. While Smith and the also recently departed (to Milwaukee, not the afterlife, and you can make your own joke here) Zaza Pachulia helped the team a lot, they were replaced with some very underrated players. Despite having almost the exact same game, Elton Brand and plus/minus darling Paul Millsap have been effective in Hotlanta, while point guard Jeff Teague has been one of the three or four best point guards int he East, averaging 17 and 8 in only 33 minutes a night. In short, Atlanta in 2014 is about as good as they've been for the last five or six years - a 40-50 win team that is a good bet to make the playoffs and is unlikely to make it past the second round.

Who's out? Kyle Korver is battling bruised ribs and missed last night's game against Dallas. Washington's missing Otto Porter, Bradley Beal and Al Harrington, ie their last two lottery picks and arguably the most important player they acquired in free agency last year. No word yet on Nene, but I guess it's at least conceivable he was held out of last night's game to avoid playing in back to backs.

What are they good at? Pick and pops. Teague is one of the quickest point guards in the league and can get anywhere on the floor. When you mix that with three big men - Al Horford, Brand and Millsap - who are elite midrange shooters, the results can be deadly. Brand has struggled this year and Atlanta's only 15th in the NBA, but that should improve as the season progresses.

In the meantime, the Hawks' defense has been solid enough to make up for the mild lack of chemistry on offense. Atlanta is 11th in the NBA in defensive rating in spite of their lack of a true center, largely due to the mobility of the big men. It's just very difficult to get all the way to the rim against this team, something that could make or break the game for the Wizards.

What are they bad at? Atlanta could really use someone who can guard big wings. Korver's not as bad a defender as he's occasionally described as, but he's nowhere close to being a stopper. The rest of the wing rotation is limited to small guys who can score like Lou Williams and 12th man types like Cartier Martin and DeMarre Carroll. A player like Trevor Ariza or former Hawk Marvin Williams might be worth bringing in, although it's very possible they wait unitl the draft to solve this problem.

How's Shelvin Mack doing? Pretty well, believe it or not (for the record, I was always a fan). Through his first 11 games, he's playing 14.4 minutes per game and posting an almost-league average Player Efficiency Rating of 14.2. No, he's not a starter, but he can shoot, tries on defense and can distribute the ball. He's averaging 12.5 points, 6.4 assists and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes this year and shooting almost 44% from deep. No, he's not the second coming of CP3, but he costs less than half of what Eric Maynor does and the Wizards could have kept him locked up at a miniscule salary for another two years if they'd kept him.

Who's going to win? Even though Washington's at home, I don't see them beating Atlanta unless Nene plays. Teague's defense on Wall is going to be what decides this one. A lot of what kept Washington's offense from getting going against the Pacers last night was Wall's inability to get into the paint due to a combination of George Hill's lateral quickness and the Pacers' length. Atlanta's a completely different team, but Teague is quick enough to stay in front of him and what the Hawks lack in size, they make up for in speed. If Wall can't break down the defense or at least run a lot of pick and rolls with Gortat, Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are going to struggle to get the open three point shots that have made them so effective this year.