For the first time since April of 2011, the Atlanta Hawks have lost 6 consecutive games, and the picture isn't exactly glowing toward the prospects of snapping that lengthy string. The Hawks suffered a 10-point defeat in Indiana on Tuesday night, and in the process, saw yet another player (Gustavo Ayon) go down with an injury that places him in select company alongside Al Horford, Pero Antic, and DeMarre Carroll.
That said, the Wizards aren't in the same stratosphere as the Pacers, and the venue for the game is much friendlier in the cozy atmosphere of Philips Arena. Earlier in the season, the Hawks split a pair of games against the Wizards, and for the most part, the teams have been virtually identical this season, as Atlanta possesses a half-game lead over Washington despite the recent skid.
Because fatigue shouldn't be a major issue (on the surface, at least) after a week-long break, the major concern in this one for Atlanta is injuries. The status of the aforementioned Ayon is up in the air with little data on his shoulder injury at this stage, and there are indications from Tuesday's post-game that DeMarre Carroll will likely be unavailable for Wednesday night. If both players are absent, the Hawks would be left with exactly 9 healthy players, only one of whom is a legitimate option at the center position in Elton Brand.
Size issues were already at the forefront of this match-up, but without Ayon, Washington's front line becomes abjectly terrifying. The Wizards are currently deploying a full compliment of Marcin Gortat, Nene Hilario, and Trevor Booker (with some Kevin Seraphin sprinkled in) and Mike Budenholzer will be asking a lot from Elton Brand, Paul Millsap, and Mike Scott in order to contain them on the interior. "Small ball" lineups have been a wrinkle that Coach Bud has been willing to utilize this season, but with Brand's age and a back-to-back situation, it would be bold to assume he could play more than 30-35 minutes at the high end, that leaves him with no choice.
If there is a bright spot to this situation, it is that Washington isn't exactly playing lights-out basketball right now. The Wizards have lost 5 out of 6 games (including 3 in a row), and they have a negative point differential this season (-1.0 points per 100 possessions) thanks to a bottom-10 offense in the league. From a match-up perspective, the big focus will be on the interior, but for the Hawks to have a positive outcome, they need yeoman's work from Jeff Teague and Shelvin Mack against Washington's All-Star point guard, John Wall. Earlier in the year, it was a legitimate conversation between Teague and Wall for an All-Star bid, but since then, Atlanta's point guard has fallen off considerably, and Wall's physicality and athleticism present all kinds of challenges.
The Hawks will be looking to avoid their first 7-game losing streak since 2007, and frankly, the odds are stacked against them a bit. Still, this a much better team when they play in their home building, and with the way Washington is playing, this is an exceedingly winnable game even with the injury and back-to-back circumstances.
Game Date/Time: Wednesday, February 19, 7:30 p.m.
Location: Philips Arena, Atlanta Georgia
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM