With their script of inconsistency well developed, the Washington Wizards faltered on cue against the Atlanta Hawks in their follow-up to a dazzling victory over the Indiana Pacers Friday night.
The Wizards fell behind early, got within a basket of taking a lead, then allowed themselves to be left behind by yet another sub-.500 opponent in a 111-93 loss tonight before 15,998 at Philips Arena.
Atlanta, loser of 10 of its last 12 games, got 28 points from Isaiah Rider, 20 from Jim Jackson and 19 rebounds from Dikembe Mutombo as Washington once again proved the remedy for a struggling team.
"We've been doing it all year," said reserve power forward Aaron Williams, who played 32 minutes after starter Michael Smith aggravated a strained right elbow. "I don't know what the problem is. They had more energy than us. When they went on spurts, we couldn't stop them."
Since Michael Jordan took over as the team's president of basketball operations, the Wizards have lost badly to Dallas and Atlanta, both of which have losing records. In between those blowout losses, they managed to defeat the Pacers, one of the league's best teams.
"If we play like we did [Friday] night, we can beat anybody," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "If we play like we did tonight, we're not going to beat anybody. . . . We can't enjoy wins for so long."
It was a typical meltdown by the Wizards (13-29), who have not won back-to-back games since posting their only three-game winning streak of the season Dec. 16-21. With the opportunity to ride the momentum of an impressive victory, they broke down against a similarly meager opponent.
Atlanta (14-25) outscored the Wizards 24-6 in a span bridging the third and fourth quarters after the Wizards pulled to 70-68 on a three-point play by Williams. The blitz left Washington down 94-74 with 10 minutes to go. The Hawks' 7-2 run shortly thereafter sealed everything but the final score.
"They had a stretch where they made shots and we didn't," said Wizards point guard Rod Strickland, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half. "I think we played hard, we just might have hit a wall."
Said Rider: "This is a game of swings. A lot of times we lose our focus or we go down a couple points and we tend to fall in a shell. Tonight we just kept playing and things worked out for us."
The Hawks held Strickland in check in the second half by keeping him from penetrating the lane. While throttling Strickland, the Hawks also smothered Juwan Howard in the second half, double- and triple-teaming him as soon as he caught the ball. Though Howard scored 18 points--half his total against the Pacers--Atlanta made sure he scored sporadically.
Without guard Mitch Richmond, out with a broken right rib, the Wizards' scoring options were limited. Rookie guard Richard Hamilton, Richmond's replacement, scored a career-high 19 points but Washington got little else at crucial times.
"Fast-break points [and] turnovers at critical times really hurt us," Heard said. "Our defense broke down, especially in the third quarter."
Like other teams that have beaten Washington, the Hawks dominated the Wizards 26-8 in fast-break points. Rider and forward Alan Henderson (19 points) had 11 points each in the third quarter. Jackson scored 11 points in the second quarter, leading the Hawks to a 58-51 halftime edge.
The Wizards pulled to 34-33 on a layup by Williams early in the second period, but Atlanta stretched its lead to 10. Strickland kept his team in the game, scoring nine of his 17 points in the final stretch of the second. With the Hawks up 48-41 after Jackson made one of two free throws, Strickland scored nine of Washington's next 10 points--five on free throws.
The Wizards got to 49-46 after a free throw by Hamilton but Jackson ripped off seven unanswered points to give the Hawks their biggest lead at 56-46.
Jackson kept getting open jump shots when the Wizards double-teamed Rider, making 6 of 11 shots in the first half.
The Hawks used a 20-6 run over a five-minute stretch at the end of the first period to overcome a seven-point deficit and take a 32-29 lead into the second quarter.
Ike Austin and Howard hit back-to-back jump shots at the end of the quarter to pull the Wizards within three.
"We have no choice but to keep fighting through this thing," Heard said.