Trae Young Guides Balanced Hawks Past Bradley Beal, Wizards

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2018

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 18: Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards on December 18, 2018 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Washington Wizards' struggles continued Tuesday in a 118-110 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in an Eastern Conference showdown at State Farm Arena.

Washington has made the playoffs in four of the last five years but looks nothing like a postseason team at 12-19 overall and 1-5 in its last six. Trae Young and the Hawks are going nowhere fast either at 7-23, although Tuesday's win snapped a 1-7 stretch in their previous eight.

Seven Hawks scored in double figures, including all five starters. Young tallied 19 points and four assists, while John Collins added a double-double of 20 points and 13 boards.

Bradley Beal spearheaded the effort for the Wizards with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but backcourt mate John Wall struggled at 6-of-18 from the field for 15 points.

           

Trevor Ariza Can't Fix Wizards' Problems

The Wizards fell behind 12-0 out of the gates, and one thing was clear—it is going to take more than Trevor Ariza to change the narrative of this season even though he finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and six steals in an impressive showing.

Washington acquired Ariza via trade from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers. Tuesday was his first game with his new team, and he is a notable addition who helped lead the Houston Rockets to the Western Conference Finals last season while connecting on 36.8 percent of his three-pointers.

He also held opponents to 7.9 percent worse shooting than their normal averages from deep, per NBA.com, and can use his length at 6'8" to anchor the wing defense.

Ariza can play that defense while hitting three-pointers when defenders collapse on Wall and Beal—much like he did alongside James Harden and Chris Paul—but Washington needs more than a glue guy at this point.

Drama has been the currency instead of wins in the nation's capital, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported in November the team fined Wall for "unloading a verbal barrage at coach Scott Brooks."

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Beal told team officials, "I've been dealing with this for seven years" following a "volatile practice," and Candace Buckner of the Washington Post detailed altercations between Beal and Rivers, Wall and Jeff Green, and Oubre and Brooks in a string of tweets.

Markieff Morris told reporters: "The comments that's coming from the locker room is f--ked up. That don't happen in sports."

Rivers and Oubre are gone, but it isn't just off-court issues holding the Wizards back. They entered Tuesday's game an ugly 28th in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com, and have failed to stop anyone at a consistent rate.

Young wasted little time darting through that lackluster defense and hitting his perimeter shot, scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone while not missing a shot from the field.

Washington's core hasn't made it past the second round of the playoffs and has a clear ceiling, especially in an Eastern Conference featuring the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers.

Wojnarowski referenced that ceiling when he said, "This is a group that doesn't like each other very much, hasn't played for each other, and the organization is realizing that they have gone as far as they may be able to go with them."

The Wizards haven't advanced deep in the playoffs during seasons that didn't feature enough drama for a soap opera and five legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference. There is nothing to suggest they will in 2018-19.

Ariza is the type of veteran presence who can improve a locker room while playing well on the court, but this team is going to need far more than an effective role player to become a serious contender.

            

What's Next? 

Both teams are on the road in their next game, with the Wizards at the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and the Hawks at the New York Knicks on Friday.

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