-Atlanta Hawks Vice President, and 2006 NBA Hall of Fame Inductee Dominique Wilkins was both in the press room and on the court before tonight’s game, and I was unable to get an interview. He was surrounded by fans trying to get an autograph, and when they weren’t around he was talking to the current Hawks’ players. Dominique’s poster hung on my wall when I was in high school, so I was extremely disappointed, but next time I will definitely lock that interview down.
-Usually when I meet with the opposing coaches prior to the game, there are a group of journalists around and it is done in the hallway outside the locker room. Today, when I spoke with Hawks’ head coach Mike Woodson, he called me into his office, and we had a one-on-one meeting. Apparently, he did not want to break away from Auburn/Alabama football game that was on the television.
-Woodson went out of his way to tell me that he thought Former Wizards head coach Eddie Jordan got a raw deal. He said Coach Jordan was a class act, and he hoped to see Jordan back in the league soon. He also said that having been the subject of many firing rumors last year and this year, he definitely sympathized with Jordan. When I asked Woodson if his highly contested series with Boston last year in the playoffs, and the new contract he signed over the summer made him feel more comfortable, he laughed and said, “Hell no.”
-I asked Woodson how he and his team would guard against overconfidence going against a 2-11 team. He said that any overconfidence his team had, went out of the window once they went 3-6 after a 6-0 start. He said that injuries contributed to that drop off, but his team now knows that playing hard every night is a must.
-Coach Woodson said the goal for the Hawks tonight was to make someone besides Antawn Jamsion and Caron Butler beat them. He said that the Wizards had not consistenly proven that they had a third reliable scorer, so they planned on pressing those two extra hard. Although the Wizards’ Darius Songalia had 16 points, to compliment Jamison’s 26 and Butler’s 21, he scored 10 of those in the second quarter and he was not a factor down the stretch. On the Wizards’ final possession, the Hawks smothered Jamison and Butler, and forced DeShawn Stevenson into a bad shot, that effectively ended the Wizards’ chance of victory.
-Josh Smith worked out hard prior to the game, and according to Woodson, if this was a playoff game, he would play. But since there is a great deal of basketball to be played this season, and the Hawks will be heading back home to play Memphis after this game, Woodson said he would hold Smith out one more game as a precaution. He added that his presence is definitely missed on the offensive side of the ball, but more so on the defensive side
-Coach Tapscott had an interesting stat of Hawks guard Joe Johnson’s performance against the Wizards last year. He said that Johnson had a 10-to-1 assist to turnover ration against the Wizards dating back to last season. He said that while Johnson has the ability to be a lethal scorer, it’s his all around game that concerns him most. DeShawn Stevenson will open up against Johnson this evening.
-Coach Tapscott explained that he coaches using the 8+2 theory, which means that there is a set rotation of eight on any given night, and then two more players enter the rotation based on match-ups. For example, against the Magic, Darius Songalia and Juan Dixon were scheduled to be the odd men out. Songalia didn’t match-up well against Magic center Dwight Howard, and Juan Dixon did not match-up well against the Magic guards. But when JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche picked up fouls early, and Etan Thomas was just so-so against Howard, he put Songalia in the game for defensive purposes. Then Songalia got hot and scored 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Tapscott said that as a result of his play against the Magic, Songalia will now be the first player off the bench.
-Dee Brown struggled mightily in the first five minutes of the game. He lost the ball off his dribble, allowed Mike Bibby to score without any resistance and he did not do a good job of running the offense. At the 7:06 mark of the game, Coach Tapscott subbed him for Antonio Daniels. At the beginning of the third quarter, it was the same thing. The Hawks went on a 7-0 run, and Tapscott quickly took Dee Brown out of the game. Although Brown started, he only played seven minutes, finished with no points, an assist and one turnover. Brown, who is normally extremely gracious with his time before and after games, walked right by me when I tried to interview him and said, “Not today man, not today.” After the game, Coach Tapscott said that Daniels just had more energy tonight, and he liked how the offense was running with him in the game. Daniels played a season high 37 minutes and scored 10 points, handed out three assists and grabbed two steals.
-JaVale McGee also got the quick hook in the first and third quarters, and this was one of the first games that he was not in foul trouble at all. McGee looked lost on defense, was a non-factor on offense and Tapscott subbed in Blatche for him both times. To McGee’s credit, he did not mope or appear upset at all, but tonight he clearly played like a rookie. It will be interesting to see if this means less minutes for McGee next week when the Wizards play teams like the Trailblazers and the Lakers, who are strong in the frontcourt. There was one sequence in particular that I found to be interesting. Prior to the game, Wizards assistant coaches Phil Hubbard and Tony Massenberg were going over low post moves with McGee. They told him to make quick decisive moves in the post, as opposed to making three or four moves and over thinking things. The first time McGee got the ball in the post in the first quarter, he drop-stepped, pivoted, head-faked, then tried to shoot, and he pinned his own shot under the backboard.
-Darius Songalia continues to be a bright spot for Washington. He was not the first player off the bench as Coach Tapscott had mentioned he would be in pregame, but he still played 23 minutes tonight and scored 16 points, 10 of which came in the third quarter. Songalia scored on 18-foot jumpers, on lay-ups in traffic and from the free throw line. The veteran also did the little things that do not show up in the box score like set hard screens, box out his man and cut hard to the basket. In fact, after the game Coach Tapscott said that during the session on Monday, he was going to make each of the players watch Songalia cut to the basket, as an example of what should be done. He said that the Wizards coaches are constantly preaching to the players that they need to cut to the basket to clear some space for Butler and Jamison, but no one does it except Songalia. Just off the last two games alone, Songalia has worked himself in the “8” side of Tapscott’s 8+2 theory.
-The other bright spot for the Wizards continues to be Caron Butler. Although he only shot 8-for-22, and he had a team high four turnovers, he still found other ways to contribute and be of assistance to the team. He finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Butler is definitely making a strong bid to be an All-Star.
-On the flip side, DeShawn Stevenson continues to be a disappointment. The day before the game, Stevenson told the Washington Post his struggles could be traced to the fact that he was trying to create offense, instead of just spotting up and shooting. He hinted that the point guards on the Wizards did not seem to be capable of getting him the ball where he needed it to be. Tonight, Stevenson shot 1-for-9 from the field, and many of those misses came when he was wide open, without an Atlanta player running out at him. Stevenson also missed two free throws with 6.9 seconds left in the game, that could have pulled the Wizards within a point. Tapscott continues to be patient with Stevenson because of the defensive effort he gives on a nightly basis. Tonight, he helped hold Hawks’ guard Joe Johnson to 18 points(five under his average) on 7-for-18 shooting. Still, it would greatly help this team if Stevenson could get hot for a stretch.
– I was impressed with Mike Bibby’s game this evening. He came into the game averaging 15 points, four assists and he was shooting 43% from three point range. Tonight, he scored 21 points, handed out six assists and he was 3-for-6 from three-point range. In the first half, Bibby scored 17 points, and did not miss a shot from the field. He was 6-for-6 from the field, 3-for-3 from three-point range, and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. He repeatedly made sure players were in the right spot, he easily broke down all of the Wizards off the dribble, and although he was unselfish in his decisions, when he needed to score he did so with ease. If the Wizards want to know why they continue to struggle, they need to contrast their point guard play with Bibby’s.
-Al Horford is an absolute beast. I checked his stats for the season a couple of times, and I found it hard to believe that he was “only” averaging 10 points and seven rebounds. On offense, Horford was just as adept at shooting the 10-to-15 foot jumper as he was with scoring in the post. There were also a couple of times when Horford got extra physical with the Wizards players, who clearly did not appreciate it. He started at center this evening, because Hawks’ center Zaza Pachulia was injured with a sore shoulder, but the Hawks did not miss a beat. Horford finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals. You get the feeling that Horford is a 20/10 guy waiting to happen.
– It is easy to see why the Atlanta Hawks pushed the eventual NBA champion Boston Celtics to seven games last year. Their ball movement is crisp and lightning quick, and their spacing is perfect. There were numerous series, when Bibby would bring the ball down, and everyone would touch the ball twice, and the possession would end with someone having a wide open shot in the corner. The Wizards tried their best to keep up with the ball movement, but they were a step slow every time. The Hawks ended up shooting 50% from the field, 44% from three point range, and all five starters were in double figures. When they get Josh Smith, who is arguably their best all-around player, and who inexplicably got a technical foul tonight despite being in street clothes, this team will continue to surprise people.
-After the game, Coach Tapscott said that he was impressed with how his team played during the last 13 minutes of the game. He said the team seemed to feed off the defensive stops that were made, and that naturally led to more cohesion on the offensive side. Coach Tapscott was also disappointed that it took thee quarters for his team to play inspired basketball. He said so much energy was expended erasing the deficit, and none was left to complete the comeback. Antawn Jamison and Antonio Daniels mentioned the same thing in their post game interviews with the media.
-I had the pleasure of sitting next to ESPN Page 2 columnist LZ Granderson during the game. I asked Granderson if he was on assignment, and he said not really. Apparently ESPN sends him to numerous games, but he only has to write if the spirit moves him. He said this was his second time seeing the Wizards, and his first time seeing the Hawks play. I asked him what he thought of the Wizards and he said, “They are terrible, and they need to blow this team up.” He also said that this team would not improve much when Gilbert Arenas comes back. Ouch.
-Things do not get any easier for the Wizards next week. They play the Nets and the Trailblazers on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then they play the Lakers and the Bulls on Friday and Saturday. The week after that, the Pistons and the Celtics come to town.
– Final Score: Hawks 102, Wizards 98
Photo Credit: Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos