Missing key players, Wizards deliver near-flawless basketball in win over Hawks

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Wizards deliver near-flawless basketball in win over Hawks originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards beat the Atlanta Hawks 122-111 on Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down…

Coached them up

There are several ways to measure a good NBA coach and one of them is how their team plays when key players are missing. The Wizards were missing more than just a few and they delivered a beatdown to the Atlanta Hawks, a team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last season and looks even better so far this year and was essentially fully healthy.

Give it up for Wes Unseld Jr. because, yes, this win could be cited as another example of their newfound depth, but depth alone doesn’t lead to what we saw on Thursday night. Unseld Jr. helped close the gap with how he prepared them and, keep in mind, this was only his fifth career game as a head coach.

The Wizards played near-flawless basketball with only six turnovers. One of those came when they were running out the shot clock in the final minute to seal the win.

The Wizards are playing smart and with structure. They aren’t beating themselves and, on this particular night, the Hawks didn’t know how to answer that. It also helped Washington hit 13 threes, shooting 38.2% from deep. 

All of this happened with the Wizards missing three starters; Spencer Dinwiddie, Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford. The Wizards are now 4-1, their best start since 2014-15. The only time they have ever started better than that was 1974-75.

What the heck did we just watch? Who is this team?

Beal is back

It was only a matter of time before Bradley Beal broke out of his early-season scoring slump. Apparently, all he needed was for Bogdan Bogdanovic to guard him. Okay, it wasn’t that simple, and Bogdanovic wasn’t the only Hawks player who looked helpless against him on defense. Beal was back to his usual ways, darting in and out of traffic in the midrange, keeping opponents off-balance and getting buckets at all three levels. He even put John Collins on a poster.

Maybe it was because his longtime trainer, Drew Hanlen, was in town and sitting courtside. We’ve seen that cause-and-effect before with Beal. Whatever the reason, he was brilliant. After scoring just 17 points in the win over Boston on Wednesday night, he had 17 points by halftime against Atlanta. Beal ended up with 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He’s not broken, folks.

Rebounding margin

Gafford’s absence left the Wizards thin at center, to the point guys like Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija and Davis Bertans had to guard out of position. This all happened to come against a team with two very good big men; Clint Capela and Collins. And the Hawks entered this game second in the NBA in rebounding.

Yet, the Wizards outrebounded the Hawks 57-to-45. Montrezl Harrell led the way with 13 boards (along with 25 points), but many others got involved. Four different players had at least eight rebounds. It was a team effort.

Avdija at the rim

Either Avdija is experiencing some very bad luck, or he needs to make an adjustment on plays around the rim. It has been an early season trend for him to miss the easy ones. On Thursday against Atlanta, he missed a layup and got stuffed by the rim on a dunk attempt. Perhaps on some of these plays he’s been surprised at how open he got, but certainly he will want to make those count moving forward.

Avdija, though, had another impactful game despite a modest stat-line of five points and four rebounds. His defense stood out, as it has for the most part to begin this year. He knocked down a three and had a great offensive rebound in the first half off a Davis Bertans missed three, which he threw right to Kuzma who got a three to fall down.

Injury updates

The Wizards were dealing with so many missing players, we can’t just gloss over them. There was also some pregame news to get to, as Gafford’s MRI came back with no structural damage. He’s considered day-to-day, which had to have been a major sigh of relief for the team considering how bad it looked at first when he went down in Boston.

The Wizards also remain without Hachimura (personal reasons), Thomas Bryant (ACL rehab), Anthony Gill (calf strain) and Cassius Winston (hamstring). Dinwiddie sat to rest on the second night of a back-to-back, as the Wizards continue to take precaution with him coming off ACL surgery in January. It’s unclear how long they will do that with him, but their next back-to-back isn’t until Nov. 17 and 18.

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