- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2017

After Bradley Beal’s wing 3-pointer went in with 38 seconds to play, he turned and exulted. The made shot was a relief and seal in Game 2 that capped Beal’s 16-point fourth quarter resurrection.

He knew afterward that how he has shot the ball during the first two games of the Washington Wizards series with the Atlanta Hawks is not up to his standard. Washington coach Scott Brooks knew that Washington had taken a 2-0 series lead despite Markieff Morris and Otto Porter rarely playing in the second game because of foul problems. As a group, the Wizards know they can play better, and, despite that, are halfway to winning their first-round series with the Hawks as it shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 on Saturday.

“We know that they are going to play a lot better basketball and we feel like we haven’t played our best basketball yet,” John Wall said.

Twice, the Hawks have outscored Washington by a substantial chunk at the free-throw line, by 16 and nine, respectively, and twice they have lost. If the amount of made free throws was simply even, Washington would have two blowout wins in two home games.

Also, Beal is shooting just 43.8 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from behind the 3-point line, yet has produced 26.5 points per game.

“I feel like my flow is good, but my shot sucks,” Beal said. “I’ve got to put the two together.”

The large reason Washington has been able to deal with foul trouble, the free-throw disparity and Beal’s subpar shooting is Atlanta’s inability to control the ball. It has 37 turnovers in the first two games, undermining its core want in this series. Atlanta came to the District knowing nothing helped Wall and the Wizards more than turnovers, especially on their home floor. In two games, Atlanta’s starters have repeatedly turned the ball over.

“Turnovers killed us,” Atlanta forward Paul Millsap said. “Didn’t execute well. We let them play their style of game and when we do that they obviously hurt us getting up and down the court, so we got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially in the fourth quarter.”

It has been a curious series for Millsap, the Hawks lone All-Star holdover from the starting five that won 60 games two seasons ago. Atlanta disbanded that group, which included Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Millsap and Al Horford. Its rebooted unit moved Dennis Schroder to be the point guard instead of Teague, brought in the mercurial Dwight Howard at center and has been trying to figure out the rest.

Which leaves Millsap as the best player and voice of the team. He’s 32. Game 2 was his 83rd career playoff game. Afterward, he deemed the series even since Washington had held home court, as it was expected to by virtue of being the higher seed.

“I think they got home-court advantage, they played off of that but to us I mean it’s 0-0 to us,” Millsap said. “We’re going back to Atlanta. We feel like we’re still confident so to us, it’s 0-0.”

What, precisely, Atlanta can do to turn the series around is unclear. Millsap contended that the Hawks‘ small-ball lineup is better than Washington‘s. But, he came to that conclusion on a night when Porter and Morris missed roughly 20 minutes of playing time combined. So, Millsap may be correct against Washington’s backup small-ball lineup. However, when Washington is at full strength, like it was in Game 1 and Morris personally handled Millsap, the situation changes.

A conundrum for Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer is how to get the Hawks into those lineups without fully jettisoning Howard from the rotation. Atlanta’s mammoth center has been outplayed twice by Marcin Gortat. After playing 29 minutes in Game 1, Howard played a shade less than 20 minutes in Game 2. He was subbed out late in the third quarter of Game 2 and did not return. Howard watched the final 15:38 of the game from the bench. When interviewed afterward, he answered questions only by saying, “I don’t know” over and over.

“You feel like we had a chance in both games,” Budenholzer said. “We gave ourselves a chance on the road, in the playoffs. Nobody likes the result. Nobody feels any better. The fact that you are there and you have an opportunity, you just have to keep building on it. You have to take what you did well and build on that and improve, knowing we had a chance in both games. Credit to them, they found a way to win them both. Now we have to go home and do the same.”

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