The Wizards (12-25) are back home Friday night to take on the Atlanta Hawks (8-30). Both Washington and Atlanta lost on Wednesday night and will look to bounce back in this match-up of Southeast Division foes. This is the first of four meetings between these squads this season.
Atlanta has been a massive disappointment this season. This team looked great after the All-Star break last season and many picked them as a potential playoff team heading into this year. I’ll put my hand up: I thought they were a definite playoff team, and had a chance to win the lowly Southeast Division. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
An early-season suspension for John Collins sent the Hawks into a tailslide after a respectable 3-3 start, winning only five games in the last two months. Collins has been back since late December, and they’ve won two of their last five. Perhaps his return will push them into better form.
Despite this, Trae Young has looked like a bonafide superstar. He is averaging 29.2 points per game, fourth-best in the league. He’s also averaging 8.5 assists, which is extremely impressive when you consider the pieces he’s had around him most of the year. He also ranks 11th in the NBA in PER, putting him in the same range as Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard. He will surely make his first All-Star Game this season and is also putting together a compelling case for an All-NBA team.
And the Wizards. The Jekyll and Hyde Wizards.
They never let you get too high or too low. After an impressive six-game home-stand that included wins over the Heat, Nuggets, and Celtics, Washington traveled to Orlando and laid an egg against a Magic team that is not far from them in the standings, losing by 34 points. They failed to score 100 points for only the third time this season.
The big story for Washington is the return of the Latvian Laser, Davis Bertans. Bertans hasn’t played since December 21. Because the Wizards are an unpredictable anomaly, they’ve actually fared pretty well over the 9 games he’s missed, going 4-5. His return will bring some more firepower off the bench, something the team has been missing without Garrison Mathews.
At this point, it’s really hard to know what to make of this team. I think some nights we’re going to see a world-beater, and some nights they just won’t have the steam. And that’s okay, especially with such a depleted roster. Guys like Troy Brown Jr. and Jordan McRae are getting plenty of run, which should have fans excited.
Key Match-up: Trae Young vs Wizards entire defense
The Wizards will have their hands full trying to slow down Trae Young. Teams with knockdown shooters, such as the Blazers, have had success against Washington this season. However, teams heavy with wing players, such as the Celtics, have had trouble breaking the Wizards’ zone defense.
Trae Young, of course, falls into the former category. He’s in range as soon as he sets foot in the arena. But, he can also penetrate the lane and collapse the defense. I expect the Wizards to throw him a few different looks, depending on who they have in the game. If Isaiah Thomas is starting as expected, expect Washington to begin in a zone.
When Young is in and Thomas is on the bench, I’d like to see the Wizards play man-to-man or a box-and-one. We haven’t seen much box-and-one this season, as it’s not commonly utilized in the NBA. However, the Wizards only need to neutralize one scoring threat, so it might be worth giving it a try. Throwing someone like Troy Brown Jr. on Young could be a favorable match-up.
- Atlanta and Washington are both bottom three in the NBA in defensive rating. The Wizards, of course, are dead last, while Atlanta is ranked 28th. This should be a high scoring affair.
- The Wizards’ best “Beal-less” lineup this season according to Net Rating (15.2 in 25 total minutes) has been Smith, McRae, Pasecniks, Brown Jr., and Mathews. With Mathews missing some more time, I’d be interested to see how this lineup fares with Bertans in his place. He is a more deadly shooter and provides more length.
- It’s time we start following Tankathon to see how the Wizards’ draft lottery odds are looking. Currently, they have the fifth-best odds. The fifth-ranked player on their big board is Cole Anthony, though I’m not sure the Wizards will be looking to draft a point guard with this pick. My personal favorite for this roster is James Wiseman, but he will likely be gone within the first three picks.
- Bertans trade rumors continue to circulate. With less than a month until the trade deadline, those talks will only get louder and louder. The Wizards have stated they have no plans to trade Bertans, and Bertans has commented that he’d like to resign in Washington this summer. That’s all nice to say, but it’ll be interesting to see what the incoming packages look like over the coming weeks. A team like Philadelphia could become increasingly desperate and put together a very enticing offer.
Washington: Thomas Bryant, Garrison Mathews, Rui Hachimura, C.J. Miles, Moe Wagner, John Wall OUT; Bradley Beal DAY-TO-DAY; Davis Bertans ACTIVE
Atlanta: Jabari Parker OUT; Bruno Fernando DAY-TO-DAY
Points spread: Washington -1.5
Money lines: Washington -125; Atlanta +105
Total: O/U 236