Wizards looking to start playoff push against Hawks
Not much was expected of the young Atlanta Hawks and their first-year coach this season. The hopes were higher for the Washington Wizards, who entered the season with four playoff appearances in five years, led by a veteran coach and veteran roster.
But as the two teams meet Monday night in Washington, they find themselves in the same spot: on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Wizards are closer to reaching the playoff goal than the Hawks. Washington is 2 1/2 games out the final playoff spot in the conference but has lost three of the past four games, including a 131-115 decision to Milwaukee at home on Saturday night. They started the season 1-7 and haven't hit .500 at any point this season.
With the Hawks in town, they have a chance to start that playoff push. Atlanta is in 12th place in the conference, five games behind the Wizards.
The Wizards travel to conference-leading Milwaukee on Wednesday but follow that contest with games against two woeful opponents -- Cleveland and Chicago -- and follow those with a crucial game at Detroit, sitting immediately above them in the conference standings.
Washington is hoping to move up to the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference to snatch a playoff berth, but if they do, the Wizards could be forced to meet the Bucks in the first round.
The Wizards got a good look at what the Bucks can do. Giannis Antetokounmpo's 37 points and 10 rebounds paced the winners while Brook Lopez added 21 points. The Bucks had too much of an inside game for Washington, and that's a problem for the Wizards.
Guard Bradley Beal led the Bucks with 24 points.
"Giannis is a pretty good player," Washington coach Scott Brooks said. "The way he's playing right now ... it's hard to stop. It's tough to stop. When he was out of the game, I thought we were pretty good."
Defense has been a problem for the Wizards this season, and they gave up 73 points in the first half of this contest. Milwaukee made all 24 shots from the foul line - 17 of them coming from Antetokounmpo.
The Bucks are second in the league in scoring, but the improving Hawks also have some shooters the Wizards will need to contend with.
Second-year forward John Collins is averaging 19.7 points per game and rookie point guard Trae Young 16.9 points to go along with 7.4 assists. Young's fellow first-round draft pick, Kevin Huerter, is shooting 38.2 percent from three-point range. The three youngsters are growing into their roles on the team.
The Hawks have been on an extended road trip because of the Super Bowl being played in Atlanta and will return home after Monday's game. There are 3-3 on this road trip.
Atlanta beat Phoenix 118-112 on Saturday night behind Collins' double-double performance. He tied a career high with 35 points and added 16 rebounds. Young added 27, including 17 in the fourth quarter.
"Me as a floor general, me as a lead guard on this team, I've gotta do what it takes to help our team win, whether it's getting my teammates involved of scoring when I need to," Young said in a postgame interview on the court.
"Gotta be tough to come down and take some of the shots he took," Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said after the game of Young, who won the NBA's Rookie of the Month award for the second time this season in January. He added: "He doesn't mind the big moment, he doesn't mind taking the shots or making the plays down the stretch."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 3, 2019