Wizards stumble on larger platform
ATLANTA - Andray Blatche pulled his jersey over his face and dropped to his knees. He leaned over, with both hands covering his eyes, after Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith poked him in both eyes after he grabbed an offensive rebound and went up for a shot, and didn't get up until play stopped on a Hawks turnover.
"I don't remember what happened," Blatche said, "I couldn't open my eyes."
Blatche was unable to watch the game as Washington Wizards head athletic trainer Eric Waters tended to him a few minutes on the sideline. But he really didn't miss anything: His eyes were sore and his team was giving an eyesore of a performance.
The Wizards lost their 11th consecutive game to the Hawks, 116-96, at Philips Arena on Thursday and they remain the only Eastern Conference team without a road victory this season - even wearing their home white uniforms couldn't help the Wizards put an end to the slide.
"We didn't compete," Blatche said after scoring 12 points with just four rebounds. He didn't return after his encounter with Smith's fingers with 8 minutes 9 seconds left in the third period. "We tend to make our same mistakes on the road. That's why we're the only team in the [East] that doesn't have a road game win. We're young and we're still not learning. It shows."
The Wizards (5-9) arrived in Atlanta with some confidence after an incredible 116-114 overtime victory over Philadelphia two days before, when JaVale McGee established a new career high in rebounds and John Wall came off the bench for the first time in his career and willed the team back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. But the only player who seemed to have any carryover from that performance was Nick Young, who followed up his game-winning three-pointer against the 76ers by scoring 20 points off the bench. Young has scored at least 18 points in five of the past six games.
Coach Flip Saunders said Young "continues to be one of our most consistent players, one of our better players" but he was disappointed with the effort of his team, which has yet to beat a team with a winning record. "We have not competed against a good team yet."
Gilbert Arenas scored a game-high 21 points with a team-leading eight assists, but he missed 11 of his 18 shots. McGee extended to five his string of consecutive games with at least 10 rebounds, but the Hawks focused on keeping him off the glass and he appeared overmatched against all-star center Al Horford, who had 15 points - including an authoritative dunk over McGee - and 13 rebounds and didn't have to play in the fourth quarter.
With Al Thornton unavailable because of sprained left ankle suffered against Philadelphia, Saunders went to a starting lineup that featured three points guards - Arenas, Wall and Kirk Hinrich - with McGee and Blatche. Saunders understood that going small may have affected the Wizards in rebounding, but the Hawks exploited them by dominating on the boards and pounding the ball inside.
The Hawks outrebounded the Wizards, 49-38, and outscored them with points in the paint, 32-15. Smith had 20 points and 14 rebounds and caught the Wizards sleepwalking twice in the third period. Wall made the second of two free throws in the third quarter, and Smith sprinted down the court. Rookie Trevor Booker chased him Smith to halfcourt, then slowed down, allowing Smith to catch a pass under the basket from veteran Mike Bibby and make an uncontested layup. Smith later sneaked behind their zone and caught a lob from Joe Johnson (game-high 21 points) for an easy alley-oop dunk.
The Wizards were also hampered with Wall not showing his usual burst, as he dealt with a bruise under his left knee, an injury that he said occurred after absorbing a hard foul against Philadelphia. Wall missed his first seven shots and didn't make his first shot until he had a driving layup with 6:09 remaining in the third period. He finished with a season-low 10 points, on 3 of 12 shooting, with seven assists.
"It's still not a big reason why we played that bad," Wall said. "We have to change some things and just start playing hard. We get paid for this. This is our job, this is our dream. This is what we want to do. We got to start acting like it and taking it more serious."
The Wizards had a Thanksgiving dinner at the team hotel on Wednesday, but they appeared unusually sluggish for most of the night. Saunders joked on TNT that the team may have had "too much turkey."
The Hawks (9-7) were desperately in need of a win after losing seven of their past nine games. But they didn't have to worry about much when Jamal Crawford had a wicked behind-the-back crossover that threw Wall off balance and then buried a jumper that gave the Hawks an 89-63 lead entering the fourth quarter. The lead got to 27, but the embarrassment continued until the end, as Hawks reserve center Jason Collins made a rare three-pointer late in the game, forcing his teammates to get up out of their seats to celebrate.
"The scary part was, they wasn't even playing all that well," Arenas said. "I don't understand it. When you go against the elite, you're supposed to be ready, you're supposed to have the fire in your eye. You play against the better teams and you're just falling back and letting them punch on us.