The Washington Wizards lost to the Hawks 118-103 in Atlanta on Wednesday night. Here are five observations from what went down...
The East is deep
As the Wizards are playing out the string of their season, eliminated from postseason play, they got a glimpse on Wednesday night of one of the last teams to qualify for the play-in tournament in the East, the Atlanta Hawks. It was a reminder of how strong and unusually deep the conference has become.
The Wizards made the playoffs as the eighth seed last year with a record of four games under .500 in a 72-game season. The Hawks, meanwhile, entered Wednesday night holding onto the ninth seed with a winning record. The 10-seed Hornets are also above .500.
Atlanta may be having a disappointing season after making the conference finals last year, but they are still loaded with talent. They have star guard Trae Young, who had 30 points and 11 assists, plus impact veterans and young players on the rise. For instance, second-year forward Onyeka Okongwu is starting to look like he's going to be very good and he's just scratching the surface of his potential.
The Wizards have been playing much better lately and have some things to look forward to next season. But this game was a reminder of what could be the new reality in the East, where nothing will come easy in the next few years.
Porzingis was on one
Lately, the Wizards have experienced why the question for Kristaps Porzingis has never been his talent. It has always been whether he can stay healthy because when he is on the court and feeling good, he's very difficult to stop. Porzingis is in midseason form and came through with another big performance against Atlanta. He had 26 points with 18 rebounds, the latter tying a career-high while shooting 8-for-16 overall and 4-for-8 from three. The threes weren't right on the line, either. He hit a series of shots from way downtown.
It would be one thing if Porzingis was putting up numbers like this and the Wizards were still losing a bunch of games, which was the case in the beginning once he returned from injury. But now it's translating to wins and competitive games like the one we saw on Wednesday, which seems to be a good sign for the future. The tough part is, it's hard to trust a small sample size after their 10-3 start. It would be great to see more, but the Wizards only have two games left on their schedule.
The Wizards have a good thing going on offense right with a trio of playmakers. Tomas Satoransky sets the tone in the starting lineup, while Ish Smith and Deni Avdija run the show for the bench. All three are playing well at the moment and keeping the Wizards' offense humming along with an unselfish style of play. Wednesday was another example, as they had 18 assists as a team in the first half alone. That slowed down in the second half, as they finished with 24.
Satoransky had five assists, while Smith accounted for six. And Avdija also had six assists along with seven rebounds. Avdija's confidence is at an all-time high right now. He added a dash of style with a behind-the-back pass on a drive to set up Daniel Gafford and for the second straight game taunted an opponent with a 'too small' gesture after scoring in the lane. This time, it was directed to Danilo Gallinari.
The Wizards gave up 40 points in the first quarter and never fully recovered. They dug that early hole because of turnovers. Washington had eight turnovers in the first quarter, which is a lot for a single quarter, and the Hawks cashed those in for 14 points on the other end. Porzingis, Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had two apiece in the first.
The Wizards would finish the game with 14 turnovers in total, which the Hawks converted into 16 points. Atlanta, meanwhile, did a great job protecting the ball. They only had six turnovers, which led to eight Wizards points. It's hard to win when the turnover margin is that lopsided and the sloppiness was uncharacteristic for the Wizards. They allow the eighth-fewest turnovers in the league this season at 13.0 per game.
This was another game that saw the Wizards have difficulty locking down the perimeter, which has been a strength of theirs for much of this season. The Hawks went off from downtown, shooting 16-for-39 from three. It was the third straight game the Wizards have allowed at least 14 threes. It wasn't as bad as Sunday's loss when they gave up 23 to the Celtics, but still it was enough to make it a tough game to win. Atlanta shot 41% from long range.
Bogdan Bogdanovic led the way with six threes. The Wizards did not do a good job of picking up in transition. Gallinari added four threes and Young had three threes, all of them in the second half. Still, 3-point defense is going to go down as an overall positive for the Wizards this season. At least they have something on the defensive end to hang their hat on, as for the most part it's been a rough year in that area.