ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards wore a familiar look of frustration Wednesday night, just two days after a dazzling Christmas Day performance before a national audience.
If the Wizards peaked in their win at Boston, then this 113-99 loss in Atlanta showed them in a deep regression.
The energy Washington displayed in Boston did not travel to Philips Arena. Although the Wizards opened a 10-point lead in the first quarter, players unraveled into poor defensive habits and solitary scoring efforts. By the final quarter, Atlanta surged ahead, turning a tied game into a blowout and outscoring the Wizards over the final 12 minutes by a 35-23 margin.
"At the end of the third and the start of the fourth, we struggled," Washington Coach Scott Brooks said. "Couldn't get any stops. We were taking bad shots, and then we gave them hope. And once that happened, we couldn't turn it off."
In the closing minutes, Hawks faithful chanted, "This is our house!" to celebrate just their team's ninth win in 34 games. Wizards starters heard the serenade from the bench as they all finished with negative plus/minus numbers, another broken-record moment in the team's 19-16 season.
"It's frustrating because it's just the inconsistencies that's killing us," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "It's really killing us. We've got to figure it out. Teams that are [under] .500, we have a terrible record [against]."
Beal needed 19 shots for a team-high 20 points and John Wall scored 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting with 11 assists while the bench accounted for 34 points. However, once the game grew competitive, Washington's offense looked stagnant and resulted in 38.9 percent shooting in the second half.
"We get away from moving the ball," Wall said. "And when guys aren't making shots or we're not playing well offensively, we let it affect what we do defensively. That's what hurt us."
Although Beal and Wall shared these opinions Wednesday night, their quotes could have been recycled from any one of the Wizards' lifeless losses against some of the worst teams in the NBA. Washington now has a 9-10 mark against opponents with losing records.
Before the game, Brooks was asked whether that win over the Celtics might have helped his team turn a corner.
"We'll find out tonight, right?" Brooks replied.
The answer wasn't long in coming. Washington remains excruciatingly inconsistent and fell to a Hawks team that won back-to-back games for the first time this season.
The Wizards didn't account for point guard Dennis Schroder and his knack for tossing lob passes at the rim for athletic teammates.
They lost Marco Belinelli whenever he checked into the game, and the reserve sharpshooter made six of his first seven shots.
And Washington struggled to match the energy of rookie John Collins, who dunked every chance he got and was active on the boards.
Through much of the first half, Washington clicked offensively and shot at least 50 percent — the play of Markieff Morris and Otto Porter Jr. provided a clear front-line edge as the pair combined for 21 of the team's 55 points. And yet, the Wizards' defense marred the first half by allowing Atlanta to a 12-point advantage in the paint.
Atlanta wasn't as successful from the perimeter but made opportunistic threes. An alert defense would have noticed Kent Bazemore open beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, but instead Washington let him sink his third three-pointer of the game. And with nearly seven minutes remaining, the Hawks — a shell of the team that made the playoffs last season — had opened an 89-80 lead. The margin would grow to 18, and those same old disappointed expressions returned to the Wizards' sideline.
After the victorious Christmas, Wall said the win over the Celtics would amount to very little if the Wizards were unable to capitalize on momentum here.
"Anything I say, I stand on it. So, yeah. I stick with it," Wall said. "It's like you play well in Boston. You play as a team, you move the ball very well. We're playing team defense. We're doing the little things to help us win. . . . Tonight, we didn't do that, and that's the reason why we lost."