ATLANTA — The Washington Wizards encountered several delays before their game on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks. They still didn’t have the players they acquired at the trade deadline the day before, as Nene and Brian Cook both had to take physicals in Washington for the deal to be finalized.
The Wizards’ team bus was delayed by traffic problems caused by a fundraiser for President Obama’s re-election campaign hosted by Tyler Perry and arrived at Philips Arena about an hour before tip-off, giving Coach Randy Wittman little time for his usual pregame preparations.
They even found a way to delay their seemingly inevitable 102-88 loss in a building where haven’t won in more than three years. After a promising start that featured team play, ball movement and execution on the both ends, the Wizards unraveled in the second half, as they were outscored, 52-34, and lost for the eighth straight time at Philips Arena.
“We were two totally different teams that first and second half,” Wittman said. “We played together in the first half. Second half, we over-dribbled the ball for whatever reason. We threw the ball all over the place. After dribbling it, 10, 15 times before we even looked to pass. Dribble, dribble, dribble. We all took turns just dribbling the ball.”
John Wall soared high above the rim for a putback dunk that gave the Wizards a 60-56 lead with 4 minutes 36 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Hawks responded with a 24-8 run and took an 80-68 lead when former Wizard Kirk Hinrich drove down the lane for an easy layup. Andray Blatche made a fallaway jumper and driving layup, then Roger Mason Jr. added a pull-up jumper to bring the Wizards within six, but the Hawks scored the next 11 points to put the game out of reach.
“Being a young team, trying to handle prosperity is one of the biggest challenges,” Maurice Evans said. “You start having a lot of success, people are making shots, you get it to 10, the ball stops, you start trying to make more plays as an individual instead of a team.”
The Wizards (10-33) had 13 second-half turnovers, which resulted in 22 points for the Hawks. The Hawks also turned the Wizards’ missed field goals into fast-break opportunities. As Jordan Crawford elevated for a jumper during the Hawks’ decisive run, Hawks forward Josh Smith (23 points, eight assists) took off running down the floor. When Hawks all-star guard Joe Johnson rebounded the ball, Smith was already waiting on the other end, taking the outlet pass and turning it into a beautiful, double-pump reverse dunk.
Coming off an impressive performance the night before in New Orleans, the Wizards dropped to 1-3 on this season-long six-game road trip and 4-17 on the road overall. They haven’t won in Atlanta since a 102-98 overtime victory on Jan. 11, 2008. It is their longest road-losing streak against an Eastern Conference opponent.
“We played a good team,” said Kevin Seraphin (10 points, seven rebounds). “So, if we make a mistake, we will pay. This is different” than the against Hornets, whom Washington defeated on Thursday.
Trevor Booker led Washington with 18 points and nine rebounds and Wall had 14 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and a career-high-tying nine turnovers.
“We gave the game away,” Wall said. “I think second half, they surprised us. . . . They just stacked the lane and didn’t want me to get going and find my teammates and we started playing one-on-one basketball. You see our team, if guys are on, we have to really be on.”
The Wizards unraveled completely in the third quarter, as they were outscored 21-10 and had seven turnovers while shooting just 5 for 21 (23.8 percent) from the floor. The offense was stagnant, negating an otherwise solid defensive performance.
Johnson scored a game-high 34 points for the Hawks (25-19), camping out in the corners to take advantage of the Wizards’ late rotations to drain six three-pointers. After finding his rhythm, Johnson found himself matched up against Seraphin. He dribbled a few times, got Seraphin off-balance, then buried a 20-foot fadeaway jumper to give the Hawks a 93-76 lead.
“He’s an all-star-caliber player,” Mason said of Johnson. The Hawks “have the luxury of having one of those. With us, we don’t have an all-star player yet. So, our biggest strength is being able to play with each other and helping each other get shots and moving the ball. And when we play isolation ball, we get in trouble.”
Wittman said he expects to possibly have Cook in uniform for the team’s game in Memphis on Sunday. Nene will likely make his Wizards debut on Wednesday against New Jersey, when the Wizards conclude the road trip.
The Wizards only had 10 players available, but Wittman wouldn’t use fatigue or being short-handed as an excuse — especially when the Hawks used just nine players and were returning from a six-game road trip that ended two days before in Los Angeles.
“We’ve got guys in there that are NBA players. We don’t need to wait on anybody,” he said.