- The Washington Times - Monday, January 12, 2015

Wound-licking has a time statute in the NBA thanks to the manic schedule. For the Washington Wizards, that window of woe is less than 48 hours since the world champion San Antonio Spurs will be in town Tuesday night.

The Wizards dealt with layers of carnage Sunday afternoon in Atlanta when the Hawks treated the Wizards as if they were the Washington Generals during a 31-point win. From the start, Atlanta pulled apart the Wizards with superior defense, passing and shooting. At one point, Washington reduced the Atlanta lead to two points from 20. That just prompted another run from the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Atlanta finished with staggering statistics using a formula that will oppose the Wizards again when the Spurs arrive. Defensively, the Hawks employed a strongside overload to make it appear difficult for the Wizards to reverse the ball. That was part of the reason they had eight turnovers — as many as Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Offensively, Atlanta was a swarm of player and ball movement. The Hawks finished the game with 16 3-pointers, more than the 15 fouls they committed. The Wizards could have skipped the hotel and arena, and just headed straight behind the woodshed.

“They just beat us,” Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “That’s pretty plain and simple, man. You lose by [31] points, there’s really no explanation besides they just smothered us last night.”

On the way to winning the NBA title last season, San Antonio played offense with a level of crispness rarely obtained. The Spurs shot 55.4 percent in the four Finals games they won. They also averaged 25.3 assists per game during their dispatch of the Miami Heat.

This season, the Spurs, Hawks and Wizards are variances of the same principles. Their offensive movement produces teams that are near the top in assists. The Hawks are second, the Wizards are fourth and the Spurs are sixth in the league, despite point guard Tony Parker and forward Kawhi Leonard missing significant playing time.

Leonard has missed 10 consecutive games because of a torn ligament in his shooting hand. He will not play Tuesday. Parker had missed 13 games since Dec. 5 because of a left hamstring strain. He’s played three consecutive games since returning Jan. 6 and is expected to play against Washington.

Washington’s direct link to the Spurs, assistant coach Don Newman, is charged with diffusing San Antonio’s ability to move the ball. Newman joined the Wizards in 2012 after spending 2004-12 as an assistant in San Antonio.

“He gets riled up whenever we play them,” Beal said. “He takes it to heart.”

The Wizards are aware San Antonio wants to move the ball six to eight times per possession. Their offense is is the Norman Dale approach on steroids. Keeping the ball out of the paint — which the Wizards did not do against Atlanta — is an initial step to slowing the movement. Attempting to cut the court in half, as other teams do to them, is another aspect.

“They are very good at moving the basketball,” Rasual Butler said. “So, when they do that, we need to contain the basketball one-on-one and keep the ball out of the paint so we don’t have to force other guys to help too much. That’s when it’s really difficult to guard them.”

Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Sunday’s loss was “not indicative of who we are.” He also felt facing the Spurs in the next game could be good or bad, considering they are a “mirror image” of the Hawks in approach. It’s no surprise: Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer spent 19 years with the Spurs before taking over the Hawks in 2013.

One other point Wittman made Monday was that the Wizards‘ ball movement against the Hawks was “terrible.” Atlanta was able to steer Wall, whose eight turnovers were a season high, to the wing of one side of the floor. It then sagged and walled off entry to to the opposite side. That stifled the Wizards‘ ability to swing the ball, which produced turnovers and bad shots and left Wittman’s concern with execution and not ambition.

“I’d be really nervous if I felt we were a selfish team,” Wittman said. “You can’t be fourth in the league in assists per game … we can’t be that high in the league standings and be a selfish team. And, we’re not.

“We sometimes try to do it all in one play. Sometimes against teams, they’re going to take that first, second option. You got to get to your third, fourth, fifth option and move the ball from one side to the other. That’s what you have to do to beat good teams. And, we’ve done it. We’ve done it throughout the year. [Sunday] we didn’t.”

That’s precisely the Spurs model. One that has pervaded the Hawks. And, one the Wizards will attempt to stop again when the original brand enters Verizon Center.

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