Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wizards fall to Hawks; Butler bruises knee

After a strong team effort in the season-opening win against the Mavericks, the Wizards jumped out to a 15-5 lead about five minutes into the first quarter against the Hawks. Caron Butler hit a three, Brendan Haywood dunked, Gilbert Arenas made a jumper, Fabricio Oberto hit a short jumper, Arenas knocked down a three, Mike Miller made a free throw, and Haywood dunked again. Arenas and Miller each had two assists, the Wizards were scoring at will and moving the ball around, and the Hawks were forced into taking jumpers on offense -- and they were missing. Sure, it was early, but the Wizards again looked solid.

Then, things turned south. The Hawks outscored the Wizards 24-9 to finish out the first quarter and led 29-24, and Atlanta never really looked back. Washington tried to close the gap, cutting the Hawks' lead to seven with about eight minutes left and again after a Gilbert Arenas three-pointer with 2:35 left in the game, but the Hawks were able to answer and prevent a comeback.

Overall, the Wizards didn't play horribly. They shot a higher percentage from the field (44.3% to 41.0%) and out-assisted the Hawks 19-18. But Atlanta outrebounded Washington 47-40, committed fewer turnovers (14-12), and shot more free throws (34-22). The Hawks also hit 31 of those 34 free throws (91.2%), which is outstanding. (For the record, Atlanta shot 73.7% from the free-throw line as a team last season, third-worst in the NBA. Funny how that works sometimes.)

More or less, the Wizards couldn't stop fouling on defense and were unable to get any kind of consistent offensive rhythm going, especially since they were already playing without Antawn Jamison -- and then Caron Butler after he suffered a bruised knee and didn't return after halftime. After an inspiring first game showcasing his all-around play, Arenas scored a game-high 23 points but failed to show those same play-making skills, turning the ball over seven times while dishing out just four assists. After Arenas, Haywood had 19 points, Andray Blatche scored 13, Randy Foye had nine, and Miller and JaVale McGee each had seven.

So was this just one of those tough games where the Wizards couldn't get things together, or is this a sign of things to come? Probably the former more so than the latter -- but we'll get the chance to find out a little more when the Wizards face the Nets tonight in their home opener.

Other game notes:

- After Miller got in early foul trouble, DeShawn Stevenson entered the game and couldn't stay out of foul trouble either. He took one shot -- and made it -- but he only played 11 minutes and still doesn't look quite right. (And if you're curious, yes, he did the I-can't-feel-my-face thing after making that shot. At this point, it's not even annoying to me -- it's just hilarious.)

- After three quick fouls sent Stevenson to the bench, Nick Young got on the floor after not playing at all against Dallas. Unfortunately, Young played horribly, missing all eight of his shots (six jumpers and two layups) and failing to get to the free-throw line. In 13 minutes, Young failed to record an assist and grabbed just one rebound. It's definitely too early to write him off or suggest that he won't get a ton of playing time, especially with the injury to Butler, but it's hard to figure out exactly what Young's role on this team is going to be.

- Why doesn't Mike Miller shoot the ball more? In 33 minutes, he took only five shots, hitting three of them. He had a strong all-around game -- 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals -- but how does Young take three more shots in 20 fewer minutes played? Shoot the ball, Mike. You're good at it.

- Blatche had a decent game (13 points, 6 rebounds, one assist, one block) following his superb performance in Dallas. He shot efficiently (5-7) and got to the free-throw line five times. Oddly enough, he had a team-worst +/- of -17 in 34 minutes. Still, I like the new-and-improved Blatche who hustles and seems to have his head on straight. Hopefully he keeps it up.

- Foye regressed a bit, shooting just 3-12 from the field. Still, he hit a three-pointer, dished out a team-high six assists, and had two rebounds.

- McGee gave the Wizards a little spark in his 10 minutes in the second half. He threw down a couple of dunks and blocked two shots.

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