By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 2011; 12:40 AM
Not too long ago, the Washington Wizards could find the cure for their road woes by coming home, where they seemed to be immune to extended lapses and found a way to execute down the stretch. But of late, Verizon Center is no longer a safe haven. Location doesn't matter anymore; the Wizards wind up with the same result no matter where they play.
After a 99-92 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the Wizards have lost eight in a row for the first time since last March, when they set a franchise record with 16 consecutive losses. They have lost 10 of their past 11 and the situation would appear more bleak had John Wall not been able to make a three-pointer off the glass to secure a win against the Boston Celtics two weeks ago.
"Yeah, it would," Wall said. "Luckily it went in for me. But we played smart" on that night. The Wizards certainly didn't play smart as they lost their 12th consecutive game against the Hawks, their longest active losing streak against any team in the league.
After Gilbert Arenas and the Orlando Magic got physical with him the night before, Nick Young came out determined to make up for a poor shooting night. He showed up with his hair blown out to his largest heights and led six Wizards in double figures with 21 points. But he lost his way in the fourth quarter, as he got wrapped up trying to put the team on his shoulders. He made a three-pointer, but missed two free throws that could've brought the Wizards within two. Then, out of frustration, he tried to go one-on-five, ignoring his teammates as he made an ill-advised drive into the lane, stumbling before eventually losing the ball out of bounds.
"As I told Nick a couple of times, it was like PlayStation," Coach Flip Saunders said. "You're going to get enough opportunities making quick decisions - that's usually when he's at his best, when me makes a quick decision, not trying to overhandle and do things because then what happens is the other guys, they stand and watch and they don't get involved."
Young was just 1 for 6 in the final period. "I see teams keying in on me," Young said. "I've got to find ways on how to get my other teammates involved, other ways of scoring because people are game-planning around me. That leaves players open. So I've got to watch more film."
Although the Wizards have won 13 games at home, the Hawks (33-18) have won 16 games on the road, second most in the Eastern Conference. Playing without all-star forward Al Horford, who sat with a back contusion suffered during a hard fall on the final play the night before, the Hawks were still able to continue their dominance over the Wizards as forward Josh Smith led all players with 29 points and 16 rebounds. Smith and Marvin Williams (15 points, 12 rebounds) nearly combined to have more rebounds than the Wizards, who had just 33.
JaVale McGee had 12 points and five rebounds, and Andray Blatche added 14 points and six rebounds, but aside from reserve Al Thornton viciously dunking on Horford's replacement, Zaza Pachulia, the Wizards never did much to take advantage.
"I was disappointed we didn't have more of a presence inside," Saunders said.
The Wizards had a bizarre shooting night, as they shot 50.6 percent from the floor and 50 percent from beyond the three-point line but 44.4 percent from the foul line.
"We didn't make our free throws, so that messed up," McGee said after the Wizards missed 10 of 18 free throw attempts.
Wall was just 2 for 7 from the foul line, and missed three in the fourth quarter. He finished 18 points and six assists, but had to take a physical pounding in the process. He got into a collision and bumped heads with Hawks point guard Mike Bibby. He was feeling the effects for several minutes afterward, as he grabbed at his teeth. Wall also provided a scare in the third quarter when Hawks center Jason Collins fell on his ankle while fighting for a loose ball.
"This is the type of game it is," Wall said. "If you're going to be the type of person to attack the basket and get things going for your team, you're going to take a couple of beatings and I think I did a good job of fighting."
Kirk Hinrich (13 points) hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 80-77 with 8 minutes 2 seconds remaining, but the Hawks scored the next six points, with reserve Damien Wilkins driving down the lane for an uncontested dunk and hanging on the rim, effectively putting the Wizards at bay.
Blatche later fouled Smith on layup. Before Smith converted the three-point play, Blatche grabbed the ball and slammed it to the ground several times in frustation.
"There's frustration," Saunders said. "As I tell them, we're close but yet we're far away. I say that because sometimes, in the heat of the battle, you usually revert back to what you're most comfortable doing."
"I would hope it bothers us," Hinrich said. "Not being here in past years, but having a season go the way it is and looking the way it's going, losing games that I feel are winnable games a lot of times, not showing that consistent improvement is frustrating."