Wizards hit the road and are handed a 94-82 loss to Atlanta

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010

ATLANTA -- There may not have been a happier group of players to board a plane to leave home on Tuesday night than the Washington Wizards. With the week that many of the players have had to endure -- taking turns speaking with law enforcement officials and NBA investigators in the Gilbert Arenas gun probe, having to deal with heavy media scrutiny that revolved little around basketball -- the flight to Atlanta represented an opportunity for a reprieve from the distractions to focus on what they get paid to do.

"These guys haven't had a chance to catch their breath since this thing started," Coach Flip Saunders said. "I think everyone was happy to get on the plane last night, to get away, to know that they weren't going to be summoned to a principal's office or anything else, to go talk to somebody about something."

But the Wizards started Wednesday night's game against the Hawks looking like a beleaguered bunch, weighed down by the nonstop string of negative publicity that has overshadowed the fact that the team has struggled all season to win games.

The Wizards fell behind by 22 points in the first half and 14 in the second half, but scrambled back within two to start the fourth quarter. But with the team getting little from a depleted bench, and starters logging heavy minutes, they had little left to contend with the Hawks as they lost, 94-82, at a half-empty Philips Arena.

Antawn Jamison led four Wizards in double figures with 25 points and added 19 rebounds, but his team lost to the Hawks for the seventh consecutive time. The Wizards (12-25) have lost three in a row overall and now are just 2-5 against Southeast Division opponents this season.

After Jamison made a layup to bring the Wizards within 66-64 at the start of the fourth period, the Hawks responded with back-to-back three-pointers from reserve guard Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson and never looked back. Crawford scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and after he drove down the lane for a fast-break layup, Saunders put his hands on his head and shouted, "Wow!"

Randy Foye had 18 points and eight assists, Caron Butler had 15 points and 11 rebounds and Brendan Haywood had 13 points and 10 rebounds, but the other five players who played Wednesday totaled just 11 points. Andray Blatche, back after missing the previous game because of a suspension, had six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes.

Johnson led the Hawks with 24.

Under normal circumstances, Saunders would be elated that the Wizards held an opponent to 17 points in the first quarter. But that effort was nullified because the Wizards scored just 13 points and missed 15 of 21 shots in the period. Their shooting woes carried over to the start of the second quarter, as they missed11 of their first 12 shots in that period, including their first nine.

"The first half, I'm missing shots that I can hit with my eyes closed," said Jamison, who shot 3 of 10 in the first half.

And, considering the way the Wizards were shooting, eyes closed may have been a better option. When Hawks reserve guard Jeff Teague stole the ball from Nick Young with 3 minutes 46 seconds left in the second quarter, the Wizards had more turnovers (nine) than field goals (eight). Center Al Horford hit two free throws to give the Hawks a 40-18 lead shortly thereafter, but the Wizards went on a 23-7 run over the next six minutes, getting within 47-41 when Foye buried a long jumper. The Hawks again pounced on the Wizards though, scoring eight consecutive points.

Jamison then led another charge for the Wizards, scoring 10 points during a 15-5 run over the next five minutes. Jamison made a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 61-56 and shouted to someone on the Hawks: "You pumped me up! Keep talking!"

But the run, and Jamison, both fell silent.

The Wizards are 1-4 since Arenas was suspended indefinitely. And, after the game, the Wizards were looking forward to something more important -- a day off in Chicago.

"The last week, I can't even put it into the words," Butler said. "Mentally and physically, it's been draining. I hope we can all move past it now. The whole team has suffered through this incident."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company