The best players have done their part for the Wizards in a first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks, with John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way, but the second units of both teams have yet to break out.
It's that second unit for the Hawks that is supposed to be so lethal with frontline shooters Mike Dunleavy, Ersan Ilyasova and Mike Muscala spreading the floor to the three-point arc.
All three have been non-entities with their combined Games 1 and 2 totals: Muscala (3-for-11, 10 points); Dunleavy (1-for-2, four points); and Ilyasova (4-for-9, 11 points).
“They're doing a better job of guarding us. Simple as that. I mean they're taking away our three-point shooters," said Paul Millsap, Atlanta's best player and only current All-Star. "They're not helping as much but I think that's why me and Dennis (Schroder) were able to get to the basket a lot but eventually, we're going to need that. Eventually, we're going to need to loosen that up. Continue to attack them and make them come out of whatever defense they're in.”
The key to shutting down the motion offense of the Hawks is to pressure the ball, jump the screens and anticipate the curls before they happen. The Wizards have been a step ahead of the curve and have done well to trail the shooters to keep them off the arc.
Beal, for instance, has come off screens cleanly and just missed. The Hawks have shot a combined 11-for-45, or 24.4%, from three-point range. Their inside game with Dwight Howard has been neutralized (because of Marcin Gortat with Otto Porter helping rebound) and the ball pressure has created 37 turnovers.
The Wizards are 10-1 in first-round playoff games with Wall and Beal, and the only defeat came in a heated Game 3 with the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center.
The player that hurt them wasn't Jimmy Butler who was the best player on the team. It was Dunleavy, who notched 35 points by making 8 of 10 three-point shots.
In the NBA, second-unit players have a tendency to play better at home than on the road. Game 3 is at Phillips Arena on Saturday.
Wall and Beal will have to continue their high level of play, but the Wizards might need even more defense to get them a 3-0 lead.