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Familiar issues haunt Wizards in disappointing loss to Hawks

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Very little has remained constant for the Wizards through this up and down season, except their propensity to lose to teams with bad records. Washington’s first loss of the season came in an overtime loss to the rebuilding Lakers in which they gave up a ten-point lead with under eight minutes to play in regulation. Their most recent loss came on Friday against the Hawks, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, in a game where the Wizards had a six-point lead with 5:28 to play and lost by six.

Washington now has 14 losses to teams with losing records this season, tied with the Miami Heat for the most among teams still in the playoff hunt. The Wizards are just as baffled as to why that is as everyone else.

“I don’t know. I’m telling you, if I knew, we would figure it out,” Tomas Satoransky said after the game. While he couldn’t pinpoint why the Wizards keep making the same mistakes, he provided a thorough breakdown of what the mistakes are and how they’re hurting the team.

“The ball just stopped moving,” he said. “We are not cutting, we are waiting on what someone with the ball will do. That’s not the way, that’s not the way how we won the games, how we were playing for each other. It’s still a week before the playoffs. We have to do something and we have to do it quickly because this was real bad. It’s a bad image for the whole team.”

Bradley Beal dominated the offense on Friday with John Wall out, as the team opted to rest him on the second night of a back-to-back. Although Beal scored 32 points, he launched 24 shots, nearly three times as many as Otto Porter, the starter with the next highest total. Only four of Beal’s field goals were assisted.

As a team, the Wizards only had 18 assists, their fewest in a game since January 22. It was well off their season average of 25.3 per game, the fourth-best mark in the league. Marcin Gortat wound up leading the team with four assists. The night before in Cleveland, John Wall posted 14 assists alone.

“The ball has been sticking,” Porter said after the game. “We’ve got to do a better job of moving the ball. Looking for the extra pass, looking for the right pass. Saving the home run passes. Turnovers [are] putting us in a bad position.”

Scott Brooks also pointed to the lack of passing as an issue in the loss. “Nobody wanted to share the basketball tonight,” he said. “When you do that you end up taking bad shots. And when you take bad shots, you end up missing. [...] If you don’t pass to your teammates, you’re not going to end up getting good shots. One-on-one players, there aren’t many in this league, and we don’t have one on our team.”

Beal’s ISO-heavy attack was far from the only issue, however. Markieff Morris’ inconsistent play reared its ugly head in Friday’s game. A night after playing 30 minutes of efficient, foul-free basketball, Morris hoisted six shots in the first eight minutes of the game against Atlanta, only making one, then promptly got ejected from the game after mouthing off to the refs.

“You can’t get frustrated enough to get thrown out of a game, especially when we’re shorthanded,” Brooks said. “We talked after; he apologized. He feels bad but we can’t put ourselves in that position. He knows that. He’s been in this league long enough and we cannot continue to put ourselves in those positions.”

Even with all those issues, the Wizards probably could have survived if not for yet another disappointing defensive effort. Six Hawks scored in double-figures, including Tyler Dorsey (22 points) and Damion Lee (11 points) off the bench. There was no communication, no help defense, no aggressiveness, and countless mental mistakes.

They appeared discombobulated in transition:

Lost on pick-and-roll coverage:

And generally just a step behind on every key possession:

“Defensively, we made the same mistakes,’ Brooks said. “[We] get beat backdoor, we get beat on offensive rebounds. We don’t help the helper. When you don’t do that, you hope that they miss, and you’re playing with fire. How we play when we’re at our best, we make them miss, and then we make the extra pass. It’s fun to coach, it’s fun to play and it’s fun to watch. Right now, we’re not doing any of the above.”

At the end of the day, it comes down to being disciplined enough to play whoever the opponent is. Washington needs to understand that even the NBA’s bottom feeders can beat them on any given night.

“You have to respect everyone who plays in the NBA,” Satoransky said. “Guys who did not play in the season for those teams, they are fighting, they are hustling. They want to have a place in this league. You have to respect that. It’s not like they want to lose. Everyone in the NBA is good and we have to respect that. I feel like we didn’t do that today and it’s really bad from all of us. We just have to blame all of us because it’s a team sport and we really have to do better.”

The good news for Washington is they won’t have to face any teams with losing records once the playoffs start. But when a series gets tight and goes to a deciding Game 7, they may wish they had taken these losses a little more seriously.