The Wizards need to burn the tape of this game immediately.
For all of the talk about protecting home court, the Wizards came in well-rested and fresh off their most impressive back-to-back performance in years, only to lay a stinker against the Atlanta Hawks, losing 106-102. They repeatedly made things harder on themselves by committing 25 turnovers (13 from Wall and Beal alone), and the absence of Nene loomed large as their defense looked like a turnstile against Jeff Teague.
This was an important measuring stick for the Wizards. Atlanta pressed like few teams have in the past against Washington, knowing Nene wasn't there to provide relief as a safety valve from the high post. Everything seemed a step slow offensively, and it seemed like every other possession ended with either a rushed shot or a careless turnover.
Any progress this offense appeared to have made in the past week came to a screeching halt tonight. And you have to wonder what exactly the game plan was. Without Nene, and with Randy Wittman's insistence on having Beal come off the bench, the Wiz dug themselves an early hole and had to claw their way back. It's one thing if Beal was on a minutes limit or if he was still on the mend, but he isn't, and the starters desperately needed that extra jolt of offense.
Instead, the floor shrunk for Wall, who regularly saw multiple defenders collapse on him as he made his way into the lane. Atlanta smartly took away his skip passes into the corner, leading to a few getting intercepted.
But this ties into what many of us feared heading into the year. Randy Wittman refuses to go small for long stretches, and when he finally relents, it's in a last-ditch attempt at the end of a game that's likely already out of reach.
Never-mind the defense, that would have been perfectly fine with Paul Pierce matching up against Paul Millsap at the four, it's the offense that needed a major lift, particularly in the first half. Instead, the Wizards continued to shoot themselves in the foot by pounding the ball into the post and hoping their bigs could create for themselves. The results? Kris Humphries and Marcin Gortat combining to shoot a paltry 6-15 from the field to go along with their seven turnovers.
To make matters worse, going big didn't even help on defense. The amount of useless switching on-ball left Jeff Teague licking his chops as he tossed in floater after floater in the lane en route to his 28-point night. There wasn't a significant gap in the rebounding battle (Wizards had 45, Hawks had 42), nor was there much of a discrepancy in points in the paint (Wizards had 43, Hawks had 42).
On the surface, it wasn't all bad. Other than the careless mistakes, John Wall had another huge night as he went for 21 and 13, torching the Hawks as they questionably tried to hedge against him in the pick and roll. Pro-tip to opposing defenses: John Wall is faster than your big man, and he's going to beat them into the lane 10 times out of 10. But again, its hard to look past the turnovers, which is what makes this game so frustrating. The Wizards as a whole let this one slip away despite some late-game heroics, here's hoping they don't make a habit of it.