Even though the Wizards must grab every win they can get, they're not going to win them all. But it's when they have moments like this, squandering a 10-point lead in the first quarter and a smaller one in the third to the Atlanta Hawks, that makes them so unpredictable and difficult to count on.
They'd just beaten up the Hawks on Monday, playing nearly perfect on the defensive end by disrupting their movement and action, then allowed them to have their way. It produced a 122-101 loss for the Wizards (35-36) at Verizon Center, ending their five-game winning streak and equaling their loss total for 2014-15 season. To match that mark, the Wizards would have to go 11-0 the rest of the way which is very unlikely with games remaining at the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers.
"I wouldn't call it a setback," said John Wall, who had 13 points and 10 assists but seven of the Wizards' 18 turnovers. "Just the other game, we made the threes and they didn't make them. They got the good looks. They made them."
It was a bit more complicated than that. The Hawks were 17 of 42 (40.5%) on three-pointers. The Wizards shot 12 of 30 (40%).
But they weren't the more physical team. They were shot 10 fewer free throws (22-12) and were beaten in transition points (20-7). They also didn't stick to Kyle Korver who went from three points in 19 minutes on Monday to 15 points in 32 minutes. He made 5 of his 10 long-range shots as he had more then enough space to launch.
"We didn't cover the three-point line like we did on Monday," coach Randy Wittman said. "You can't get outscored by 21 points on points-off-turnovers."
The Wizards had the mental lapses that bad teams tend to repeat. They began the third quarter down 81-75 and Jared Dudley immediately turned the ball over on the inbound to start play. They had two more in a row, from Ramon Sessions and Wall, and the Hawks flipped those into eight points (two threes). The deficit was 89-75 just 58 seconds in and the game was effectively over.
Then came three consecutive turnovers in the middle of the fourth from Dudley, Wall and Marcin Gortat. The Hawks scored 41 points in the fourth with mostly reserves, similar to what the Denver Nuggets did in a comeback win on March 12. Mike Scottt scored 10, Tim Hardaway six, Kris Humphries five and Dennis Schroder four. The Hawks made 14 of 21 shots, 66.7%
There is no shame in losing to a good team such as Atlanta (42-30). But the Wizards' bigs bit every pump fake from Al Horford and Paul Millsap on the arc to open up the paint and ignite the ball movement that ignites them. Garrett Temple picked up four fouls in just five minutes and couldn't keep Schroder in front of him. Markieff Morris reverted to early foul trouble that ruined a good start for him and led to his eventual disqualification.
Next up are two very winnable games, vs. the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday and at the L.A. Lakers on Sunday. Win both and that's seven in eight games which isn't bad.
They still can finish above .500, where they haven't been since they were 6-5. Increasingly, however, the Wizards are going to need help -- meaning more losses from the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls -- to make the postseason. Only a perfect finish would save them to match last season's 46-36 record, and it's evident this group is far from perfect.