WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Atlanta Hawks 122-120 on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down...
Defense tends to be the key separator in big games and the Wizards did not have enough of it to beat the Hawks on Wednesday night. Atlanta kept finding ways to score down the stretch, as they took the first meeting of a two-game mini-series in Washington.
There were plenty of postseason stakes on the line. The Wizards came into the game as the No. 10 seed in the East, holding the final play-in tournament spot. The Hawks, meanwhile, were the eight-seed, just one game ahead of Washington.
The Wizards had enough to build a 15-point lead in the third quarter, but the Hawks battled back to cut the deficit to four entering the fourth quarter. They then outscored the Wizards 32-to-26 in the final frame. Bradley Beal was called for traveling with 16.5 seconds left and that pretty much sealed it.
The loss dropped the Wizards to 31-35 on the season overall. They will face this same Hawks team again on Friday, also at home.
The Wizards were fully healthy once again for Wednesday's game, as Monte Morris came back from a three-game absence due to lower back soreness. Morris received an epidural shot on March 1, meaning a pain injection in his back, and was able to return just one week later. Though the Wizards gave him a week-to-week timeline when the procedure was announced, it still seemed like a very quick turnaround.
Morris, though, did not assume his usual spot in the starting lineup. He came off the bench with Delon Wright staying as the starter after filling in while Morris was out. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said it was a combination of things, but mainly because they thought they had a good thing going with Wright in the starting lineup. The Wizards had lost two of their three games while Morris was out, but Wright does bring a different element with his defense. They have now lost three of their last four.
Porzingis got hot
The Wizards got off to a good start offensively and once again Kristaps Porzingis led the charge. He has been lethal in the first half this season, especially in the first quarter. In this one he had 10 points in the first, then 12 in the second quarter to accrue 22 points by halftime on 9-for-11 shooting.
Porzingis ended up with a career-high 43 points, plus five rebounds and five assists. He shot 17-for-22 overall and 7-for-10 from three. The Hawks had a lot of trouble matching up with him in the midrange. Porzingis also had to navigate some foul trouble, as he teetered on the edge of fouling out with five fouls.
You could tell Unseld Jr. viewed this as an important game just by looking at the box score. That's because he rolled with a shortened rotation of eight players, even on the second game of a back-to-back. Beyond his starters (with Wright in there), he turned to Morris, Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert. That's it. Guys like Jordan Goodwin and Kendrick Nunn were not in the mix, neither was Anthony Gill.
Taj Gibson saw the floor for four minutes as Porzingis and Avdija got into foul trouble. But basically Unseld Jr. widdled it down to the players he could trust most in a game the Wizards really wanted to win. Things can change and injuries can of course get in the way of well-laid plans, but this was our first glimpse of the season at the players Unseld Jr. views as his core, big-game rotation. We'll probably see more of it moving forward.
There was some symmetry between this game and one the Wizards lost over the weekend against the Raptors. That's because they shot very well - 56.6% from the field and 41.6% from three, yet shot themselves in the foot with too many turnovers. The Wizards had 19 turnovers in this one, which the Hawks converted into 20 points on the other end.
Beal led the way with five turnovers, while Kuzma had four and Avdija had three. Those guys accounted for the majority of the turnovers, but all in all it was far too many mistakes in a game with so much on the line. The Wizards have 16 games left and are right in the middle of the postseason race. Surely, they will hope to play a sharper brand of basketball moving forward.