ATLANTA — The situation at Philips Arena Monday night was strikingly similar to the previous time the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks had met in the building, way back on Nov. 7: The Wizards were clinging onto a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
Washington crumbled in the first iteration, committing eight of their season-high 25 turnovers as the Hawks pulverized them over the final 12 minutes en route to a 114-99 victory. The sequel went differently. On Monday, the Wizards treasured the basketball and a collapse was avoided. Instead, the Wizards outscored Atlanta 28-16 over the final minutes to extend their winning streak to a season-long five games and finished with just nine turnovers to 27 assists in their 117-102 triumph.
Turnovers “were a big factor tonight,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “To have nine was fantastic. The movement of the ball was really good. We made simple plays. As I like to call them, we made a lot of hockey assists tonight — a pass that leads to the assist.”
Point guard John Wall efficiently orchestrated the Wizards’ operation and recorded 14 assists to four giveaways. After accumulating 17 turnovers in wins against the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers (to go with consecutive triple-doubles), he has committed just five in the last two games.
The difference, according to Wall and his coach, is not making unnecessary risks and avoiding the home run plays.
“When we don’t turn the ball over we let our half-court defense get set,” said Wall, who also scored a game-high 27 points Monday. “Coach came up with a great gameplan of how we wanted to guard the pick-and-roll. In the past they killed us with it.”
Morris a key again
On Saturday, Markieff Morris stepped up and was the catalyst in shutting down Carmelo Anthony in the second half of Washington’s win over the New York Knicks. He again was assigned to defend an all-star player Monday in Hawks power forward Paul Millsap and again was effective, helping hold Millsap to 13 points and two rebounds.
“Keef made a big difference for us in being able to guard Millsap on his own without having to double team as much,” Wall said.
Morris also added 14 points, including a pair of three-pointers, and seven rebounds in 27 minutes, again displaying the versatility at power forward the Wizards were coveting when they acquired him from the Phoenix Suns last month.
“That’s the stretch-four we needed,” Wall said. “Somebody who can post up, Somebody that can go at other big men. He does a great job in the pick-and-roll, of talking. He’s able to make plays when teams are trapping. I can throw it to him and he makes the right reads. He just does a great job. He’s really impressed me with the way he’s played defense. He’s done a heck of job the last couple games.”
The Wizards return home to Washington where they will conclude a home-and-home set with the Hawks Wednesday at Verizon Center. The teams will also play to complete the regular season in the District on April 13.