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Takeaways from Wizards' close out of Hawks in Game 6

Takeaways from Wizards' close out of Hawks in Game 6

ATLANTA – The closeout game on the road is supposed to be the toughest, and though the Wizards made it look easy most of the way Friday they found out just how tough it can be vs. the Atlanta Hawks.

They almost blew most of a 22-point lead and had to weather a furious comeback that trimmed their lead to as little as 93-90 in the fourth quarter before pulling away to take the series with a 115-99 victory at Phillips Arena. It was their first road win of the first-round series won by Washington 4-2.

Bradley Beal (31 points) and John Wall (playoff career-high 42 points, eight assists) dominated from the outset and had enough of their role players show up with them. They went into halftime leading 65-46 only to lose their edge until Wall shut down the Hawks' momentum single-handedly.

After Beal’s turnover, he chased down Dennis Schroder (26 points, 10 assists) to block him at the rim to prevent the lead being trimmed to one. Wall then broke down the defense, got into the paint and made an incredible bank shot in traffic and a mid-range pull up to push the Wizards ahead 97-90 with 7:33 left. 

Wall and Beal got them out to front in a game they never trailed but allowed Atlanta back into hit after scoring 36 third-quarter points. Coach Mike Budenholzer went to a smaller lineup and spread the floor to get clutch threes from Kent Bazemore (nine points) and Jose Calderon (six points) off the bench.

The Hawks only trailed 46-42 on a shot from Taurean Prince (four points) in the second quarter but the Wizards ended the half on a 19-4 run behind tenacious defense that created easy buckets. 

Markieff Morris (17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) had his best outing since Game 1, Bojan Bogdanovic (10 points) was a spark off the bench and Otto Porter (eight points, eight rebounds) had a workmanlike effort on both ends as he hit 2 of 4 threes and created problems for Atlanta withh his defensive pressure.

Paul Millsap (31 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) and Schroder led Atlanta but didn’t get much from anyone other than Tim Hardaway (13 points) and Dwight Howard (nine points, seven rebounds) as he had most of his production in the first quarter. 

Wall had 19 points in the fourth. He combined with Beal to shoot 27-for-42 overall, or 64.2%.

– Coach Scott Brooks opted to go with a small lineup in the fourth quarter, using Bogdanovic instead of Marcin Gortat as Howard stayed parked on the bench. 

– Calderon cut the deficit to 93-90 for Atlanta but that’s when the fun began. Wall had the chasedown and a series of jumpers. Beal also made a jumper off a curl and Wall drained another for a 106-97 lead and made sure anyone in earshot knew about it.

– Kelly Oubre had five steals by halftime. He was put on Schroder along with Porter and their length bothered him. As a team, the Wizards had 11 steals in the first 24 minutes. Oubre gave Schroder fits in their last regular-season game. Porter also had a key strip of Millsap on a post-up of Morris that negated a possession. In all, the Hawks had 22 turnovers that led to 27 points for Washington.

– Morris made a concerted effort to keep his hands to himself and allowed Millsap to have some shots that he was contesting in the previous games. Morris went to the locker room with no fouls and even though Millsap had 14 points he countered with 13 of his own on 5-for-7 shooting.

– The Hawks have been loading the paint at every turn, even in transition, if it means keeping Wall from the rim. It has allowed shooters to walk into spot ups that they’ve missed all series but the Wizards made them pay for it. Porter, Morris, Beal, Bogdanovic and Oubre combined to go 6-for-10 in the first half alone. Bazemore and Schroder ran at Wall to slow him down on a push. He threw it ahead to Beal on a corner spot up for an 84-65 lead. 

– For the first time, the Hawks tried to play through Howard in the post and even though he got off to a good start by making 3 of 4 shots it’s a recipe for failure. No one else on the floor is a threat because he’s not a creator. Howard had five turnovers in just 22 minutes played. Bazemore, an unreliable ballhandler to shocked the Wizards with seven assists in a Game 4 win for Atlanta, had seven turnovers himself. Millsap was forced into six. 

– Gortat made his first shot, his second attempt of the game, at 6:42 of the third quarter. The Hawks continued to take away his dives to the basket and he was content to do the dirty work to make the offense run such as sealing Howard to prevent him from contesting shots in the paint and getting tap outs for extra possessions. Howard had the better stats again. Gortat, who only played 18 minutes because of the small ball, had the more effective game.

– Jason Smith only played 11 minutes after he left Game 5 with a hyperextended knee. He was a game-time decision and didn’t appear any worse for wear but the Wizards didn’t rely on him to log too many minutes. Morris didn’t pick up a first-half foul made it more likely that he’d play extended time to protect Smith longer term. Smith was 0-for-1. Morris played 40 minutes.  

MORE WIZARDS: Foul on Beal sparks confrontation between Wizards and Hawks

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5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

The Wizards' 29-point loss to the Raptors on Friday night was the 41st game of the year, meaning Washington's 2019-20 regular season is officially halfway through.

With that in mind, here are five observations from the season so far; some expected and some unexpected...

They are who we thought they were

In some ways, this season has gone exactly how most thought it would. Bradley Beal has been an All-Star level player, but poor defense and an inexperienced roster around him has led to a team headed safely towards the lottery. They are 13-28 after 41 games, meaning they are on pace to win 26 on the season.

That's about what Vegas predicted, as evidenced by over/under win totals that stayed around 28.5. And that's what most reasonable forecasts had them being; a team with intriguing talent that was probably a year away from contending for the playoffs again.

Sheppard has found some guys

The early returns on the Tommy Sheppard era are good and that should be seen as one of the most important positives of this season so far. Just look at the gems he has acquired in a relatively short period of time as general manager. He drafted Rui Hachimura, a plug-and-play guy, with the ninth overall pick. He got Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga in trades basically for nothing. 

He got Garrison Mathews out of nowhere. He signed Ish Smith instead of giving more money to Tomas Satoransky. And even his minor deals with guys like Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have impressed to a degree.

It is very early in his tenure, but Sheppard is showing he has the ability to find diamonds in the rough, a skill that is one of the biggest separators between GMs.

It has also become evident on social media that Sheppard is gaining some clout among fans. Given the previous distrust in the front office, that is definitely worth noting.

The injuries have been ridiculous

Though injuries happen to every team and they are ultimately no excuse, the health of the Wizards has undoubtedly been a major part of their season to this point. They have had as many as eight players missing at times due to injury, or in other words more than half of their roster.

That has included two hardship exceptions and the players acquired as a result were even starting at times. Their best players have been hurt, even Beal who had previously played 194 straight games. Lately, they have been getting healthy, but the rash of injuries was enough to leave its mark on their 2019-20 campaign as a whole.

Beal may or may not be sold on the future

Though this season has mostly gone as expected, it has been fair to wonder how Beal has handled it all, given he is far and away their best player. He signed a contract extension to be part of this, but he's used to winning more games and it's only natural for him to be frustrated with how things have gone.

Beal backed up those theories with his comments this week about the team's culture, and the whole situation is going to be worth watching closely moving forward. The Wizards' best player appears to be a bit anxious about the franchise's future. Whether they can match their timeline to contend with his remains to be seen.

The Wall thing is going to get interesting

This was also pretty easy to call going into this season. Now over 11 months into his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, John Wall is making steady progress towards a return and the debates of whether he should come back this season or not are coming into focus. 

The discourse was taken up a notch recently with NBC Sports Washington's report about him playing in three-on-three scrimmages, and then again days after with video of those games. Though he isn't quite ready to come back, he is looking good and there are still three months remaining in the Wizards' season. 

Will he be ready one month from now, or two? Even if he is, will the Wizards bring him back or wait until next season? Those are major questions with no easy answers.

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Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

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