Bullets Fever

A blog and community website for the Washington Wizards and their fans.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A follow up to yesterday

A day has passed since yesterday's entry, and Gilbert Arenas has somewhat addressed the issue of his inconsistent start in his blog. The entry still gave me the feeling that he's overthinking a little too much, but he does bring up a couple interesting moments that lead me to think that he's going to be okay.

The first was his meeting with Ernie Grunfeld. Grunfeld correctly mentioned to Arenas that he's improved in many other facets of his game.
He felt I was down because he asked me, “How do you think you’re playing this year?” And I told him, “Oh, I’m not playing very well.” And he was like, “Numbers don’t lie.” So he showed me the numbers, he said besides the shooting percentage, everything is up. Steals is up, rebounds up, assists up…
The other was this seemingly offhand statement.
You know what’s funny? As much as I’m complaining about not getting to the free throw line, I’m having more free throws than I did last year.
I sometimes wonder whether Arenas is self-aware, but I've started to realize that he is more aware of his actions than it seems. His brain seems to function in a way where he understands that his complaints are sometimes unnecessary, but also truely believes that he's right. It's a subconscious inner conflict that can cloud his mind at times when it should be more open.

Again, this is mostly my personal theory. I'm no psychologist, but as a college student trying to involve himself in many causes, I get the same struggles to concentrate as Arenas seems to get.

A few bloggers have also responded to the situation. True Hoop had this to say.
This season everyone, especially Gilbert Arenas, had the idea that Arenas was going to be an MVP candidate. In years past he was seen as a good player, even a great player (especially for a second-round pick). Now he's supposed to be outdueling the likes of Dwyane, LeBron, and Kobe every night.

And that changes everything. Because it used to be that if he had an OK game, that was OK. Now if he has an OK game, everyone--especially Gilbert Arenas--needs someone to blame.

It also means that on nights when he's just not scoring effectively--which hasn't been all that rare--well, the system, driven by the expectation that he's this team's savior, still seems to be in place for him to keep firing away. Just in the month of November he has had games of 2-12, 6-20, 6-23, 5-19, 7-20, 9-25, 8-26, and 1-12. Ouch.

Brett Edwards of The Association and NBA Fanhouse takes Arenas' side and agrees that the officials, particularly Steve Javie, are giving Arenas a raw deal.
The real problem here isn't Arenas, or his alleged need to adjust to the officiating. It's the refereeing of one Steve Javie. Now unless you've been a close follower of the top teams in the league, you may not recognize this official as being any better or worse than the rest. But after sitting in person at several playoffs and Finals games where Javie was involved, I can assure you that this guy has it in for star players, especially in their home building.
DC Sports Bogger Dan Steinberg feels like this will all boil over and Arenas will be back to his sniping ways.
Seriously, you usually think of guys popping off about the officiating when they're still in the heat of the moment, but I see this more as Gil's very straight-faced ruminations on the changing whims of referees, which is why he's saying the same thing in the same words on his blog. I wouldn't worry, all you people worrying about his well-being and focus and distractions and all that. He'll go for 40 or 45 within the next week.
I realize that people probably got the wrong idea from the last line of yesterday's post. Looking back on it, I realize I came off a little too strongly against Arenas at the end. I don't necessarily believe he should explicitly stop blogging or stop sponsering his HALO as I seemed to suggest. I'm really just saying that I think Arenas has to prioritize more effectively. This is not to say that he believes outside endeavors are almost as important as basketball, but it does mean that he needs to realize the limits of his own mind and try to scale down to casues he truely believes are important.

As much as I love Gilbert Arenas the person, at the end of the day, he's paid to play basketball first. If he's playing below his potential, it's a problem. I believe he'll turn it around, but if Arenas continues this inconsistent act, the Wizards are going to continue to struggle.

How much of an issue is this latest controversy? Is it even an issue at all?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ivan Carter on Gilbert Arenas: "I have no idea what he's talking about half the time."

In terms of pure numbers, the Wizards rank right around where they did last year. They're shooting a lot of free throws, taking good care of the ball, giving up too many open shots, and allowing too many points. Yet they still sit at 5-9 on the season only a year after finishing 42-40 with an pythagorean won-loss record of 46-36.

What's the difference so far? Ivan Carter says there's something very wrong with Gilbert Arenas.
Gilbert's problems remain a mystery to me. With each passing game it seems that he's getting more and more caught up in the referees than actually playing. After the game, he talked at length about how the refs are calling the game different from last season, about how he can't "figure out" how a particular game is being called and how he can't wait until January when the refs find some consistency. This is disturbing on many levels but especially so because he's the franchise player and controls the ball most of the time. Basically, I have no idea what he's talking about half the time.

Gil's in his sixth season, he's a two-time all star and this franchise has deeply invested in him so perhaps it's time for him to focus on what's important and forget about the zebras. It's affecting his play and that in turn, is affecting this team.
Of all members of mainstream and independent media, Carter is probably the closest to the Wizards. If he has no idea what's going on with Gilbert Arenas, then I don't know who does.

There are a couple interesting theories in the comments section of Carter's blog entry. One commenter speculates that Arenas' scouting of officials' tendencies in the offseason has caused a phenomenon where "every time he drives to the basket he appears to be trying to get a 3 point play." Another speculates that "Gil usually uses the 'everyone is against me' thing as motivation, but lately, I think he's just getting too wrapped up in it. He's so focused on trying to be a super-star, and getting noticed for this and that."

I personally think that the major problem with Arenas right now is that he's stretched himself too far into other causes. There's no doubt that his antics (including promoting his Halo team and his blog, among others) allows Arenas to feel loved by a city who's been betrayed far too often, but Arenas is starting to get to the point where he can't concentrate mentally.

It seems wierd to say this, but Gilbert Arenas' plight reminds me of college students who succeed in high school, but struggle with grades in college. One would think that the students struggle due to increased academic difficulty, but the element that kills many college students (including me, to some degree) is the tendency to thrust yourself into so many clubs and extracurricular responsibility that you simply don't have time or mental capacity to work dilligently on anything. Eventually, the pressures of so many different activities crash together in one's head, making it difficult to completely focus on each individual one. Eventually, simple prioritizing is not enough to prevent your brain from overloading, and the only way out is to drop one of the activities.

Considering some of Arenas' past actions, he doesn't seem to have a brain that prioritizes well. Arenas tends to do what he feels without thinking the action through. You can only go back and look at his denial of the claim "quirky" to understand his self-awareness. This is not a knock on Arenas at all: in many ways, it is a blessing. He's an extremely kind soul who wants to pour himself into many causes, and he gives off a sense of genuiness that is so rare among professional athletes.

However, Arenas is facing the classic college student dilema. He knows he wants to be involved with many things, and he knows he wants to show genuine devotion to all of his causes. But just like the college student's sagging academic performance, Arenas is struggling to perform his best consistently in what matters most: on the court. His facade with the referees is an expression of personal confusionhe's stronger and faster than ever, so he believes it can't be his fault that he's been so inconsistent. The reality is that Arenas is often too subconsciously preoccupied in his head to perform as consistently as before.

So, even though we've seen Arenas antics produce some incredible material for the blogosphere, as a Wizards fan, I sincerely hope he takes down his blog, stops sponsering the Halo team, and try to focus on what's important.

Agree? Disagree? What's Agent Zero's problem this year?

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Wizards 97, Hawks 96: Offensive aggression allows Wizards to win an ugly one

It's one of the strangest lines you'll ever see, but in a game where both teams struggled to hold onto the basketball, Caron Butler's 21 point, 15 free throw performance in the win tonight is something that needs to be explored more extensively.

In their last two losses, the Wizards have suffered from a lack of aggressivness in taking the ball to the basket. The Wizards shot significantly more free throws than their opponents last season, but in losses to Memphis and Detroit, the Wizards did very little to debunk the popular idea that they are a soft jump-shooting team. As soon as shots stopped going in, the Wizards offense stopped working. Even the best teams can't win too many games scoring 80 points every game.

This backdrop is why Butler's performance tonight is particularly important to understand. He made more free throws tonight (15) than field goals (10). Instead of hoisting jumper after jumper in hopes of heating up, Butler made sure to attack the rim and get easy points at the free throw line. This in turn allowed the Wizards to win the game despite turning the ball over 21 times (this will be a subject of a future post) and getting outrebounded 44-38.

In terms of quantitative analysis, the Wizards +11 in points at the free throw line won them this game. The Hawks shot only 42 percent, but they still were +10 in points on field goals because they attempted 20 more shots. Combine that with a 15-6 advantage on the offensive glass, and it's safe to say that Atlanta's offense was working better than Washington's. Still, the Wizards were able to win this game because of their renewed offensive aggression. The Wizards' offense struggled with turnovers and a lack of flow, but because they attacked the basket with a renewed vigor, they were able to get enough to win.

Also, I can't recap this game without giving props to Jarvis Hayes. I've been hard on the guy, but he had a superb game tonight, pnroviding 9 points on 3-3 from three point range as well as superb defense on Joe Johnson when it mattered most. If Hayes could simply focus on playing his role and improving his shot selection, he could provide the type of bench spark this team desperately needs. When he's shooting 10 times in only 18-2o minutes, it's a problem. Tonight, he picked his spots well and made three huge treys.

Overall, there were lots of encouraging signs. The turnovers are a huge problem--one big enough to tackle in a future post--and the inability to score in the halfcourt at the end of the game is troubling, but the Hawks are a tricky team to play because they have a real star and a number of athletic surrounding pieces. The Wizards did not play their best game at all tonight, but because of a renewed focus on aggression (led by Butler), the Wizards found a way to win an ugly one.

Postgame thoughts? What do you guys think went well and what do you think still needs work?

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Open Thread: Game 14

Regular Season Game 14
Hawks (5-6) vs. Wizards (4-9)
Verizon Center
7 PM
CSN and NBA League Pass

The Hawks haven't won at MCI/Verizon Center since 2003, and if that changes tonight, there will be serious problems. The Wizards desperately need wins this week against Atlanta and Charlotte at home to stop the bleeding. The Hawks started off 4-1, but have since lost 5 of 6, including a dreadful 98-79 loss to the Magic last Saturday that included an 11 point second quarter. Both teams are struggling right now and both could use wins tonight.

Hawks blogs: Impending Firestorm

The Hawks pose a lot of interesting problems on the defensive end of the court for the Wizards with Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Johnson's the type of guard that is difficult for any team to stop, and the Wizards are going to have to stick DeShawn Stevenson on him and take their chances. Smith is a demon on the offensive glass, meaning the big guys really need to make an effort to clean up the glass.

In a lot of ways, the Hawks are Wizards-lite. The difference is that the Wizards have more reliable second and third options alongside their alpha dogs. Other than Joe Johnson, the Hawks are full of inconsistent performers. Guys like Smith, Lue, Josh Childress, and Zaza Pachulia are even more inconsistent than Wizards guys, if that's even possible.

On the other end, keep an eye on Jamison tonight. Without Marvin Williams, the Hawks have been going small with Smith at power forward. Smith is a great shot blocker, but I'm not sure he's such a great man defender. Jamison should have a ton of open shots tonight, so we'll see whether he can knock them down.

In the end, it should be a Wiz win, but it'll be pretty close.

Prediction: Wizards 107, Hawks 100

If you're online during the game, give a shout!

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Quick Hits

SLAM is giving Wizards center Etan Thomas an opportunity to write a regular column for the online section of their website. In his first article, Thomas discusses an interaction he had with a referee and his reactions to the referee's surprise that Thomas writes poetry.

We were playing a home game against Cleveland, and after a timeout a referee with dark, slicked-back hair (who shall remain nameless) approached me. He said that he had heard that I write poetry, have a book, speak at universities, am into politics, etcetera, and he asked me if this was true.

I replied, Yes.

To my surprise, he responded: “You’re not as dumb as you look.”

I turned toward my teammate Antawn Jamison, who also heard the exchange, and we both looked back at this ref with eyes of bewilderment, as if to say that we couldn’t have possibly heard him right.

He saw that I was in no way amused, without even the slightest hint of a smile, and attempted to clean up his statement, saying, “Well I think it’s great, I could never do anything like that…” I simply nodded my head and returned to the game.

Sometimes someone can make a statement that is so unbelievably blatant that it renders you speechless, left without a response or reaction, until you think about it at a later date. This was one of those times for me.

The rest of the article is very interesting and it ends with one of Thomas' trademark poems. Thomas is incredibly articulate and I recommend this column to any NBA fan.

Also, on the latest "Daily Fix" podcast from The Basketball Jones, they address the Wizards' disappointing 4-9 start. Skeets and Tas mostly attribute the struggles of the team to defense. Tas brings up the loss of Jared Jeffries, while Skeets discussed the overall team mindset and the lack of rebounding. They also touch on the loss of Darius Songaila and wonder whether Gilbert Arenas and his antics are a distraction.

Speaking of TBJ, Lowpost's Jason Gurney interviewed Skeets in the latest of his "Meet the Blogger" series.

Personally, I don't think a lack of defense can explain why the Wizards seem worse than last year. It can explain why they aren't any better, but defense was a problem last year and the Wizards still were a 42 win team with a point differential of a 47 win one. The problem to me really seems to be the complete inability to put together a complete game. The defense has played well in some games, the offense has played well in some games, but neither have come at the same time much this year. This is a team that could really use a shot in the arm off the bench to put the pressure off their starters.

Also, let's wait to see how the Wizards perform with this easier stretch coming up. If they can't get back close to .500 by the turn of the calendar year, then we can honestly say that the problems are substantial. Right now, it's much more difficult to tell.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Forget Offense and Defense: The Bench is the Problem!

It seems wierd to say this, but let me be the first to do it.

Darius Songaila's injury and the effect it has had on the Wizards bench is the primary reason why the Wizards are 4-9.

Okay, maybe Songaila himself isn't the only culprit. Gilbert Arenas has been hot and cold all year. Antawn Jamison's shot has deserted him. The two have been inconsistent all year, and the overall defensive effort still needs some work.

Still, the injury to Songaila, while not playing a major role on its own, has exposed the Wizards absolute lack of a bench. It is my firm belief that this problem has caused all the other problems and needs to be fixed.

Commenter Mel Turpin had this to say.
One of the biggest problems with this team is a total lack of any fire power off the bench. Good teams in the NBA get thirty or forty points per game from their bench. The Wizards are lucky to get ten points.
I'd agree with the sentiment of the statement, but I'd slightly amend the meat of it. A bench doesn't necessarily need to provide scoring, and between Antonio Daniels and Jarvis Hayes, they usually get 10 points most games. What is necessary from a bench is a spark; a player who can play 20-25 minutes and potentially provide the necessary offense, defense, rebounding, or playmaking necessary to win a game. In lieu of one player, many teams like Dallas and San Antonio rely on a lot of bench guys to be successful.

Either way, you have to have one or the other to be a successful team. San Antonio makes up for the lack of star power with a ton of options, including Brent Barry, Michael Finley, Fabricio Oberto, Francisco Elson, and Beno Udrih. Dallas is very much the same way, but they also have a potential impact player in Jerry Stackhouse. Phoenix relies on the offensive spark of Leandro Barbosa off the bench to win games for them. The Lakers are at least two deep at every position, and Orlando often gets more production out of bench players like Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling than their starters. Even Utah gets a lot of intangible qualities out of guys like Matt Harpring, Ronnie Brewer, and Paul Millsap, and this change has arguably been one of the catalysts to their sudden improvement. Good teams therefore either need to have one of their best players come off the bench (like Barbosa, Harpring, and Mike Miller on Memphis last year ) or have a multitute of options so that someone invariably emerges every night (the Dallas-San Antonio-LA Lakers strategy).

This is ultimately where the Wizards have failed this year. The offense and defense have struggled, but I think it's all tied back to the bench. Only 7 players on the Wizards have a PER (player efficiency rating) over 10. The Hawks, Nets, Heat, Bobcats, and Sonics are the only teams that have a similar lack of efficiency from their bench.

The Wizards bench can basically be summed up as follows.
  • Antonio Daniels: Nice player, a personal favorite, but best suited to being a 7th man. Probably isn't good enough to start on a playoff team. If there were 3 players as good as Daniels on this bench, it would be a solid unit, but there isn't.
  • Brendan Haywood: Pretty solid backup center, but way too inconsistent to provide a spark every night.
  • Jarvis Hayes: Has been really bad this year, with a PER under 9. He takes too many shots and doesn't make enough of them.
  • Michael Ruffin: No offensive ability, pretty poor defensive ability, average rebounder, commits tons of fouls, and the team's +/- with him on the floor stinks.
  • Calvin Booth: Michael Ruffin, but with slightly more defensive skills and worse rebounding skills.
  • Roger Mason, Donnell Taylor, Andray Blatche: Unproven.
With this cast of characters, the Wizards' bench fulfills neither requirement presented above. There are no consistent impact players on the bench, and there isn't enough depth to ensure that the team will get something out of this unit no matter what. Daniels comes closest to being an impact player, but he doesn't really add a new dimension to the team game like Barbosa, Millsap, Ben Gordon, or Jerry Stackhouse do. Haywood is a decent backup center who would be a real asset if the bench was deeper. Hayes and Ruffin receive too many minutes, and nobody else really plays much.

Coming into the season, this wasn't expected to be a problem. At the end of last year, a lack of a bench really killed the Wizards, and Ernie Grunfeld went seeing a remedy to the problem. Songaila and Stevenson were brought in, and combined with the continued maturation of Blatche and the healthy return of Hayes and Etan Thomas, the Wizards were all set to be two-deep at every position. Songaila in particular was a particularly good pickup; he probably would have averaged a solid 10 points and 7 rebounds a game in this system. He would have been a versatile impact player off the bench for the Wizards all year and would have singlehandily significantly upgraded a sore weakness for the Wizards.

Then, Songaila got hurt and threw everything off. Injuries happen, and I'm not blaming the Wizards season on an unfortunate event. But the Wizards have dealt with this setback horribly thus far this season, as Eddie Jordan's shortening of the rotation have put too much strain on the starters all season, which has caused them to press and be prone to spells of inconsistency.

Entering the season, a great point of comparison for the Wizards in terms of their benches were the Sacramento Kings. The biggest knock on Sacramento entering the season was their lack of depth, made possible by a bench that seemed to only include Kenny Thomas and John Salmons. Any injury to their top seven would have potentially killed them. As John Hollinger said:
The Kings are so lacking off the bench, with their best reserve a year ago ([Kevin] Martin) now forced to start. The frontcourt has obvious weaknesses, but the backcourt is no picnic either -- just to have a decent seven-man rotation would require either [John] Salmons or [Francisco] Garcia to play much better than a year ago, or [Quincy] Douby to hit the ground running.
So far this season, the Kings have suffered a loss from one of their top 7 (Brad Miller) and survived okay. Instead of shortening his rotation, coach Eric Musselman lengthened it, giving extended looks to youngsters such as Salmons, Garcia, and Ronnie Price and old relics like Corloss Williamson. The end result is that Williamson has experienced a revival and Price has emerged as a solid backup guard, thereby giving Sacramento more sources for the spark they desperately need. What was once a putrid bench is now a solid one now that Miller has returned to the lineup.

For the Wizards to improve and snap out of their slump, they need to develop the same type of bench Sacramento did when they lost Miller. Eddie Jordan needs to play the young guys more so they can gain experience where they can be potential sparks off the bench for the rest of the season. Instead of playing Michael Ruffin 8 minutes, why not play Andray Blatche? The kid is still raw, but the only way he will significantly improve is if he gets more playing time. Instead of playing the Big 3 over 37 minutes a game each, why not cut their time down to the 35 minute range and give the remaining minutes to Roger Mason and Donnell Taylor? Mason impressed Jordan in camp, but he barely even gets a look now. If he's not going to play, I don't see any reason to have him on the team.

Here's the current average minutes breakdown of the team, rounding up the decimals.

Jamison: 39
Arenas: 38
Butler: 37
Stevenson: 27
Daniels: 27
Thomas: 22
Haywood: 18
Hayes: 16
Ruffin: 8
Blatche: 7
Booth: 6
Taylor: 5
Mason: 5

Here's what I would propose until Songaila comes back.

Arenas: 38
Butler: 36
Jamison: 33
Stevenson: 27
Daniels: 25
Thomas: 22
Haywood: 20
Hayes: 12
Blatche: 12
Mason: 10
Booth: 8
Taylor: 7
Ruffin: 5

In each situation, the total minutes are the same, but the three youngsters, along with Haywood and Booth, see a hike in their minutes. To compensate, Jamison sees his MPG drop by 6 and Ruffin and Hayes see much less of the court than before.

More minutes for the youngsters is the key to improving this team. The Big 3 are currently forced to do too much, and when they're having a bad game, the team suffers significantly. The Wizards need to develop a decent bench, or else their fortunes will continued to be tied to Gilbert Arenas' shooting. The only way to do this is to give Blatche, Mason, and Taylor more playing time in the hope that someone can emerge as a decent threat, a la Ronnie Price. Only then will the Wizards make that jump into the East's upper eschelon.

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More Julian Wright Love and a Preview of Tomorrow

I was planning on writing a long post today about the consequences of losing Darius Songaila early in the season and it's effects on the Wizards bench even before commenter "Mel Turpin" brought it up. That comment only makes the point even stronger, and as such, it will certainly be discussed.

Still, today was a really bad travel day for me, so I'm holding that off for tomorrow. Apologies to all, but be sure to stay tuned.

In the meantime, I need to give more love to Kansas' Julian Wright. That was an insane game last night between Florida and Kansas, and I'm convinced this Wright kid (along with Taurean Green...he really impresses me) will have long futures in the NBA. I follow a ton of college ball, and those two were the ones I came away most impressed with last night. Anyway, here's a clip of Wright's two huge dunks in the Big 12 title game last year. Enjoy!

Be back tomorrow with a real post.

Who watched the Florida-Kansas game on Saturday night? How good can Julian Wright be? How much better would the Wizards be if they had Wright (IMO, not that much better, but still)?

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pistons 115, Wizards 111: I'm Getting Nightmares of 2000

No doubt about it, this was a game they needed to have.

The Big 3 all had big games at the same time. Scoring, as a whole, wasn't really a problem. Gilbert Arenas had arguably his most complete game with 28 and 10 assists. Antawn Jamison had 22 and Caron Butler had exactly the type of game I know he can have with 25 points on 12 of 16 shooting. DeShawn Stevenson even chipped in with 15. Offense is solved, right? How could the Wizards lose?

Two uncharacteristic things killed the Wizards. The first was the huge free throw difference. Detroit is really more of a jump shooting team, yet they were able to get to the line 40 times! On the road! They were +18 at the free throw line, which is an insane difference. At some point, the Wizards need to be able to defend without committing too many fouls. Offensively, the Wizards only got to the line 23 times, which is a lot less than usual. Considering this also happened against Memphis, it may be the beginning of the trend.

The second uncharacteristic thing that killed the Wizards were the turnovers. The Wizards forced only 9 turnovers and had 17 of their own. This probably was the main reason why the Pistons were able to score at will on Washington last night. The Wizards were not able to get easy buckets in transition, which is something that has become a trend recently. However, the Wizards still usually take decent care of the ball, which makes the 17 turnovers tonight troubling.

This team is starting to remind me of the 29-53 team of 2000. I went to many home games that year, and after a while, each one started to mold together. The Wizards would fall behind early, be down like 8-10 at the half, and would see the lead baloon to 15 or so in the third quarter. Then, by the end of the quarter, the Wizards reserves would make a run and it would carry over to the fourth quarter. By the middle of the fourth, the lead would be down to 6 or so, and we'd honestly believe the comeback would continue. After a timeout by the opposition (this always happened after a Tracy Murray three...this was simply uncanny), the Wizards would miss a shot to cut it down further and the opponent would close them out eventually. I can't tell you how many games have followed that same pattern this year. It's just unbelievable.

I still think this ship can be rightened. The Wizards played pretty well tonight, to be honest. Detroit is just a super team playing really well right now. They could have beaten nearly any team tonight. There still is more that needs to be done, but the schedule calms down and the Wizards have a lot of home games coming up. A nice run is going to come sooner or later, just like it did last year.

I'd have more to say, but I need to keep watching this Kansas-Florida game. If only the Wizards had an athlete like Julian Wright on their team...

Postgame thoughts? What's your take on tonight?

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Open Thread: Game 13

Regular Season Game 13
Pistons (8-5) vs. Wizards (4-8)
Verizon Center
7 PM
CSN and NBA League Pass

Previous Matchup: Pistons 100, Wizards 91

Not much to say here...suffice to say this game is a must for the Wizards.

Pistons Blogs: Detroit Bad Boys, Need4Sheed, Motoring

I have honestly no idea what will happen with this team tonight. Part of me says they'll come out with a renewed passion at home and blow out Detroit like they blew out Cleveland last weekend. Another part of me says that they'll show up flat again and allow Detroit to grind away at them like last matchup. Being in a relatively optimistic mood, I'll take the former. I can't really explain why, but then again, very little is explainable right now with this team.

Prediction: Wizards 100, Pistons 95


If you're here during the game, give a shout!

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Grizzlies 95, Wizards 80: Shoot Me Now

By running this blog, I realize that I'm supposed to be some sort of quasi-expert on the Washington Wizards team. Granted, I'm not down there with the team, but I do what I can to stay on the beat from afar.

With that being said, I really don't have too many answers for tonight. It was like the anti-Wizards were out there. Instead of Washington driving and getting buckets at the free throw line to compensate for so-so shooting, it was Memphis sloppily driving to the rim and getting a majority of their points from the charity stripe. Looking at the game stats, the only one where Memphis had a clear advantage was in free throws (36 to 15), which is completely uncharacteristic of the Wizards. They were settling for too many midrange jumpers, and while it often seems like this happens every game, the reality is that the Wizards usually have a free throw advantage against their opponents.

Tonight, it simply wasn't happening. The Wizards are your classic rhythm team. If their jumpers are falling, then they can kick their offense into high gear. Teams have to acknowledge the jumper, which opens up the lane for easy buckets. The problem is that if you aren't hitting your jumpers, that lane never opens up.

Speaking of uncharacteristic, I have absolutely no answer as to what was wrong with Gilbert Arenas. All I can say is that he's a rhythm shooter, meaning he is prone to streaks where he's on and where he's off. Usually, however, Arenas can shoot himself out of them, but I guess he never got the chance to do it when he was on the bench in the third and fourth quarters.
That was probably the worst game Arenas has ever played, and he's given no indication that there was anything wrong with him, making it even wierder. He didn't admit that he was restless after sleeping three hours and bouncing around a basketball all night, so I don't know. Perhaps he was spending too much time worrying about blogs.

Ultimately, as much as I tend to advocate Arenas not shooting as much, the reality is that the Wizards need him to consistently score 25+ to win. That doesn't mean the Wizards should be over-reliant on Arenas--after all, Dallas has won 8 in a row and they need Dirk to score 25+ to win--but it just means that Arenas has to bring it every night. Nobody can really win against anyone if their star scores 3 points, and if there is a positive to take away from this, it's that the Wizards did hang around without Arenas and Antawn Jamison playing well. At least Caron Butler finally showed that he can be a monster.

Obviously, it looks bad now, and the Wizards are in big trouble. Judging from some of my comments in the game thread, I'm feeling the pain. Still, there are two good pieces of news. First, the Eastern Conference has been horrendous, which opens the door for a nice Wizards run once they play some Eastern Conference foes. Second, as Gilbert Arenas said to Marc Stein here, this isn't so different than last year.

Q: The last time we spoke, you said you thought the Wiz were about a year and a half away from challenging for the East title. But you guys haven't won a road game yet. How concerned are you with this start?

A: With this team, I'm never worried. I've been with this group for three years now and we've been through worse times. Last year, what did we start, 7-14?

(Editor's note II: It was actually 9-14 and 12-18, but you get his point.)

Hopefully, some home-cooking tomorrow should help heal the wounds. As crazy as it sounds, the Wizards don't need to do anything big to get better. All the parts have been there, just at different times and in different games. If they can simply put it all together, things can get better. I'm not saying they will, but as crazy as it sounds, the Wizards picked the right year to start 4-8 and score in the 80s in four road games.

Still, "The Takeover" needs to start tomorrow. Detroit has to be defeated. There is simply no alternative at this point.


Postgame thoughts? The floor is open to venting.

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Open Thread: Game 12

Regular Season Game 12
Wizards (4-7) at Grizzlies (2-9)
Fed-Ex Forum
8 PM
CSN and NBA League Pass

It's a must-win game tonight, as the struggling Wizards take on the even-worse Grizzlies tonight on the road. The Wizards have come close at Cleveland, Orlando, and Houston, but are still searching for their first road win. Tonight should be the best chance, as the Grizzlies are struggling and are among the worst teams in the league.

Grizzlies blogs: The Beale Street Beat

Memphis has really struggled this season after star Pau Gasol went down in the World Championships. Gasol is out until January, forcing the Grizzlies to rely on a lot of unproven youngsters, one of which, Kyle Lowry, is out for tonight and probably much longer.

That's not to say Memphis has not been competitive. They haven't been blown out of any game, with the 13 point loss to Charlotte being their largest margin of defeat. They have close losses to Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, and Sacramento, all of which are pretty good teams. Without Gasol, they've been forced to rely on youngsters like Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick, and Lawrence Roberts and aging veterans like Eddie Jones and Chucky Atkins.

Essentially, the Wizards should win, but I don't think it will be easy. Memphis will hang around long enough to make this a game, and the Wizards can easily be defeated if they let Memphis hang around. The key, once again, will be getting everyone going. Arenas and Butler should be able to explode for a ton of points, but Arenas can't be coming down and jacking up threes every time. On the other side of the ball, the Grizzlies run a disciplined slow-down offense, relying on perimeter shots to succeed. This means the Wizards need to continue to do a good job of fighting through screens and contesting every shot.

Ultimately, I expect a Wizards victory, but it will be closer than you think.

Prediction: Wizards 97, Grizzlies 89

If you're watching or listening, drop a comment with your thoughts.

[editor's note: The Basketball Jones apparently agrees with my prediction, as they've made this game their "Book it!" of the night.]

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Why I Love Antonio Daniels

There's a great article in the Washington Post today about Antonio Daniels and his offer to pay for the funeral of former University of Miami star defensive lineman Bryan Pata, who was shot earlier this year. Upon learning that Pata's family was having trouble financially, Daniels, spurred on by the memory of his brother Chris' sudden death in 1996 while playing for the Dayton Flyers, offered to lend a helping hand to the family.

"I was sitting there and all I could think about was his mother," Daniels said. "They were talking about how Miami was going to go ahead and play that next week, and all I thought was, 'What about her?' I thought about my own mother and what my family went through when my brother died. What happens is, life goes on and people forget about the family and the fact that the family is still struggling and life just goes on.

"The next day I'm sitting there getting dressed to leave for a game and I told my wife: 'This is crazy. People are going on with their lives and imagine how his mother must feel.' "

Daniels, who honors his late brother with three tattoos, decided to do something. The next day, through Wizards public relations director Zack Bolno, Daniels reached out to the Pata family and asked what he could do. When Daniels learned that the family has struggled financially, he offered $10,000 to help cover funeral expenses.

If you go to Daniels' website, there is a special page dedicated to the memory of Chris Daniels. I'd recommend reading both pieces, as they shed an incredible light on the persona of Antonio Daniels.

I'm not going to really add much about Antonio Daniels as a person. The article does a great job of painting a picture of AD, and Hoops Addict has more to say about that as well. I will take this time, however, to say why I love Daniels as a basketball player.

In my opinion, Daniels is the third most important player on the Wizards, behind Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. In the last two months of last season and the first month of this season, Antonio Daniels has arguably been the best sixth man in basketball. His stats may not be as good as Mike Miller's last year, and he probably won't win it this year if either Ben Gordon or Leandro Barbosa don't start for over half the year. But to me, it's a crime that Daniels has never won the sixth man award.

When you think of the ideal sixth man, there are a lot of things that come to mind. The late Red Auerbach was the first person to place an importance on a sixth man. On his Boston Celtics teams, the sixth man came in to provide energy and quick scoring ability. Many times, sixth men like Frank Ramsey and John Havlichek led the team in scoring and changed the tide of games. It's hard to argue that Ramsey or Havlichek was the best player on the team, but they still played a huge role on the team.

Nowadays, a sixth man's role is not so easily defined. You have your pure scorers like Barbosa and Gordon, but there are other ways a sixth man can help the team. Detroit's Antonio McDyess is an ace sixth man because of his ability to help out on the glass as well as score inside. Donyell Marshall and Brent Barry come in and simply hit perimeter shots, while Jazz rookie Paul Millsap provides rebounding and toughness. However, one thing that does bind every sixth man together is that they come in to provide a spark of energy, whether it be through scoring, shooting, rebounding, or defense/hustle.

What makes Daniels unique, however, is that he is able to provide a spark in multiple departments. He's instant offense off the bench, but he doesn't need the ball as much as Gordon to be successful. His tough drives and three point plays also provide the type of hustle and grit that can get the Wizards going. When the Wizards are stuck in jump-shooting mode, it is usually Daniels that brings them back (reference the Cleveland and Houston games). He also provides underrated perimeter defense and the type of veteran leadership that a team with an alpha dog like Arenas so desperately needs.

So why doesn't AD get more love? He's simply not as flashy as Gordon or as dynamic as Barbosa or Paul Millsap. He comes in there and simply does his thing night in and night out. As such, you're rarely going to see him on Sportscenter doing anything crazy. At the same time, however, it is a breathtaking drive to the basket that often ignites the Wizards. I routinely wonder how Daniels is able to finish the way he does. He's not slamming anything down, but he has spectacular body control, which allows him to finish around the rim without being called for charging fouls.

It doesn't seem possible that someone can not be flashy while still being an ace sixth man, but Daniels proves that the task can be done. Combine that with his veteran leadership and his incredible generosity off the court, and I'm proud to say that Antonio Daniels plays for my team.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Seeing as it is Thursday November 23, I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. I have so much to be thankful for, and I'm sure everyone else does too.

I'll be back with solutions to fix the Wizards tomorrow. Until then, I'm going to celebrate with the family and watch tons of football.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wizards 87, Wizards 82: The Real Problem is Clear

With 4:45 left in the third quarter, Tracy McGrady's three pointer gave Houston a 15 point lead. The Wizards then went on a 26-12 run to pull to within one point at 72-71 with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter. This was probably the best offensive stretch the Wizards have had on this road trip. But a second glance at the play-by-play of the stretch reveals the very problem the Wizards' offense has had.

During the stretch, here are the facts.

Number of Gilbert Arenas shots during the stretch: 3
Number of Gilbert Arenas points during the stretch: 4
Number of Gilbert Arenas shots the rest of the game: 23

In those 11 minutes, Arenas shot only 3 of the Wizards 15 field goals and scored only 4 of the team's 26 points. Yet during this two game road trip, Arenas has jacked up 51 of the team's 159 shots. Nearly one third of the Wizards shots on this road trip so far have come from the hands of Gilbert Arenas. This all despite the fact that the Wizards best offensive stretch on this road trip came when Arenas was shooting the least.

The problem, therefore, is clear. If the Wizards do much better when everyone is involved in the offense, why is Arenas shooting the ball so damn much? Where is that Princeton-style rhythm offense that was so good last season? How the hell are the Wizards supposed to win games scoring only 87 and 82 points?

When most basketball pundits analyzed the Wizards' potential problems this year, chief among them was the defense. Well guess what. The defense is doing quite well. The Wizards held Dallas to 40 percent shooting last night, and they held Houston to 41 percent shooting and only 86 points tonight. DeShawn Stevenson has been really solid on the wing, and Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood have given the Wizards some semblance of an inside presence. All should be good. But instead, all is bad.

The Wizards can't win on the road right now because Arenas is taking matters completely into his own hands. The Wizards are never going to win by going down the court and adopting the Arenas attitude, jacking up the first decent look they get. There are certainly times when Arenas' quick-scoring ability will be instrumental. Hell, he almost brought the Wizards back with that bank three in the final seconds. There is a reason why you can rarely count the Wizards out of any game.

But you can't do this for 48 minutes. If all you're doing is jacking up shots with 18 seconds left on the shot clock, no matter how good the shot is, you're incredibly easy to defend. Opponents have to expend very little energy on defense and can therefore focus on attacking a suspect Wizards offense. It's no wonder the Wizards have had three games in the 80s on the road this season.

Here's what needs to happen on offense. Antwan Jamison has his faults, for sure, but he is an extremely difficult matchup off the dribble and off the ball for any power forwards. Jamison is at his best hitting open threes or driving to the lane. Instead, Jamison is simply jacking up mid-range jumpers and missing them at an alarming rate. It's as if Arenas' disease is rubbing off on Jamison, who had previously been one of the league's most efficient scorers.

More importantly, the Wizards must get Caron Butler going. Butler is such a tough matchup off the dribble. He's strong enough to post up most threes, but has too good of a mid-range jumper to lay off him. If you get too close to him, he can take it to the hole and is among one of the best finishers in the game. Butler is also a monster on the offensive glass, and his rebounding has been awesome so far this year. There is no reason why he should not be getting 18 shots every game.

Finally, Antonio Daniels, when he's in the game, needs to be utalized offensively. He's among the best slashers and finishers out there and has become adept at the mid-range jumper. It seems like every time the Wizards make a comeback, it is a Daniels drive and three-point play that catalyzes it.

When Arenas shoots the ball 26 times a game, that means fewer shots for those 4 players. The Wizards offense functions best when Arenas is Option 1, Butler option 1A, and Jamison option 1B. When Daniels is in the game, he is usually option 3. The four of them played off each other
so well last year, so I really don't understand why suddenly it's become this bad. Arenas doesn't strike me as the kind of player who will suddenly become big-headed, making this all the more worse. Quite simply, this has baffled everyone, including me.

Oh, and one more thing. I don't think this is Eddie Jordan's fault. Sure, he's made a couple questionable substitution patterns, but it's not his fault if these guys have concentration lapses. Ivan Carter, in his latest Washington Post chat, said it best.
Didn't this guy just take this franchise, which hadn't pissed a drop in decades, to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons? Am I missing something here? Who do you want to hire? Sam Mitchell? Flip Saunders after he's fired in Detroit? Isiah Thomas? Larry Brown? Bill Fitch? Leonard Hamilton? Gene Shue? Kevin Loughery?
I agree 100 percent. There's nobody out there better at this point.

Anyway, I've aired my grievances, and I'm sure you have some, so I'll step aside for now and let you guys have the floor. Consider this an open forum for complaints thus far. I realize it's the time of year to be thankful, but I'm sure people have a lot to say.

[editor's note]: The title is actually the number of points the Wizards scored in the last two games, not the actual game score tonight. I realize it's pretty misleading, but I was trying to illustrate how bad the Wizards offense has been. It is pretty confusing though]

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Open Thread: Game 11

Regular Season Game 11
Wizards (4-6) vs. Rockets (7-4)
Toyota Center
8:30 PM
CSN and NBA League Pass

Not much time to post. Traveling was tough today and I have limited internet access until Sunday, so I'll post a full recap of Dallas and Houston in tandem tomorrow. Wizards are looking for their first road win, but coming off last night's performance, I don't like their chances. They're going to struggle to deal with Yao more than the Rockets guards are going to struggle with Arenas, even with Kirk Snyder out. Don't be surprised if Houston puts Shane Battier on Agent Zero to bother jump shots.

Rockets Blogs: Clutch Fans, Rockets Blast, Globetrotter

For the Wizards to win, Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler need to help Arenas with scoring. Both have been focusing on other things recently (defense for Jamison, rebounding for Butler), but Arenas needs help with scoring. They also have to stay close with Houston for three quarters, because the Rockets have struggled to finish games this year. Avoid the lapses and runs they've given up in previous road games, and the Wizards have a chance in the fourth quarter to pull this one out.

I still don't see it happening. Houston is rested and Yao is going to have a field day inside.

Prediction: Rockets 108, Wizards 95

If you're watching, feel free to post some thoughts.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

I'll have more tomorrow once I land in Florida for Thanksgiving vacation, but that just sucked in the second half tonight. You had to think that the Mavericks would heat up after shooting 35 percent in the first half, but that was ridiculous. When are the Big 3 finally going to all click in the same game?

Dallas, by the way, is the best coached team in basketball. Avery Johnson has inspired his team to a 7 game winning streak without arguably their second-best player in Josh Howard (I think Terry is a bit overrated). They have a superstar and a number of guys who fill their roles incredibly effectively. Thrashing any team that way in the fourth of a five game swing is remarkably impressive.

Again, more coming tomorrow.

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Open Thread: Game 10

Regular Season Game 10
Wizards (4-5) vs. Mavericks (6-4)
American Airlines Center
CSN and NBA League Pass

The Wizards embark on a crucial three game road trip against the Texas twosome of Dallas and Houston in the next two days and Memphis on Friday. Combined with the home game against Detroit on Saturday, and this 4-games-in-5-days stretch is potentially brutal. It seems odd to say it, but this may be the Wizards best chance to get a win, even if Dallas has won six games in a row.

Mavericks Blogs: Mavs Moneyball, who says the following on this game.
The Mavs will have to play a lot better than they did yesterday to beat the Wizards tonight. Not only is Washington significantly better than the Bobcats, they had the day off yesterday and Gilbert Arenas is coming off a 45 point game. If Devin Harris and Greg Buckner, who will probably have the job of guarding Agent Zero, look as tired as Anthony Johnson did last night the Mavs are in trouble. But if they win, it will be their 7th in a row and their fourth in five nights. They'll officially be back (they're back already, but I don't think it's official yet) with a win tonight.
I'm with Wes on this analysis. Dallas did not look good last night in their win over Charlotte, and now they have to travel halfway across the country to play a Wizards team that is coming off a big win and two full days of rest. The Mavericks guards looked hobbled last night with the exception of Devin Harris, and unless Dallas decides to put a big wing like Greg Bucker on Arenas, they should struggle to defend him. If there is any night that Arenas can break out of his road funk, it's tonight.

Of course, there are still two problems that remain. First, who do you put on Dirk Nowitzki. San Antonio had success a couple years ago with Bruce Bowen, but Dirk has learned to take that player down on the block and shoot over him. Antwan Jamison, as an anonymous commenter said, "could not guard a locked door," so he's probably not an option. That may leave the Wizards with no choice but to play Etan and Haywood together, which hurts the offense's output. The other option is to have Butler guard Dirk, but then Dirk will just shoot over him. It's a dilema, for sure.

The other is that Erick Dampier has been a monster recently. The Wizards pride themselves on attacking the rim, but with Dampier down there, it may be more difficult. If he has a big game, the Wizards are just going to be the same jump-shooting team they are always accused to being, and that's not going to bode well.

Still, I think Dallas will be tired and the Wizards will have enough to get a road win before getting spanked in Houston tomorrow night.

Prediction: Wizards 106, Mavericks 96

Sound off if you're watching!

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He Did What!

It's been posted all over the internet, but Nate Robinson's block on Yao last night was freaking insane.

Play of the year? When will Gilbert Arenas do something like that?

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Remember When MJ Was Supposed to Lead Us to the Promised Land?

It feels like most Wizards fans are happy with the team as it is now, but there was a time when Michael Jordan was supposed to be the savior of the franchise. I know this can be a depressing topic, and I have already posted about this before, but I stumbled across this 2001 ESPN the Magazine article, and it just made me laugh reading the type of stuff that was said.

I'm just going to let the excerpt speak for themselves.
In fact, us Bullets fans have just read the first media-contrived trade rumor -- San Antonio’s Tony Parker for MJ -- which is enough to make us keel over. Parker’s had a nice couple of months, and now he’s Jason Kidd? Stop it.
Tony Parker would be nice right about now. But don't worry, there's more.
The truth is, Michael’s helping us over the long and short run by staying exactly where he is. We don’t want to hear how his presence is retarding Courtney Alexander’s growth or how he’s nit-picking Kwame Brown to death. In two months, he has taught them more about winning than they knew their whole lives. He’s taught them about not moping when your shot is off. About actually playing defense when your shot is off (see that, Courtney?). About hitting the boards and boxing out when your shot is off (see that, Kwame?).
Yeah...okay...whatever. This next part is funny for current Wizards fans.
We’re not promising we can make the playoffs, but have you seen Brendan Haywood lately? Teams aren’t waltzing in for layups anymore because of the 7-footer, and, on offense, Haywood has shown incredibly efficient hands, Chris Webber hands. Had 17 points, 15 boards and four blocks in Memphis. Of course, all of those drooling GMs are coming after Haywood now, figuring they can dupe Wes into trading him (which they probably can). Alas, the Washington Post just reported that the Bullets consider Haywood an "untouchable." We’re hoping that’s a sign that Wes isn’t actually in charge, and we’ll leave it at that.
More Haywood stuff.
The other enigma everyone’s talking about is Brown, and we think you all need to leave him alone. He’s 19, for godsakes...The point is, Brown just needs to keep observing Haywood, and keep figuring this four-games-a-week thing out. Just a few games ago, he went for 10 points and 12 boards, and he’s got a nice touch. You can play him at the 3, even.
And finally, my favorite part.
Obviously, if [Richard] Hamilton could bring you a guy like Shawn Marion -- who, mind you, Wes passed on in the 1999 draft -- we’d do a trade, but the other team will have to give up an athletic future superstar to get us to part with Rip.
Or...you could trade him for an older version of the same player in Jerry Stackhouse. That makes perfect sense! Also, the Wizards took Rip Hamilton instead of Marion. I don't think you can really fault Wes Unseld for that pick.

"Bullets Fever" [ESPN the Magazine]

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Eddie Jordan Trying to Lose Weight

From the DC Sports Bog comes this video of Eddie Jordan running shirtless on a treadmill while talking to reporters.

Hillareous? Pointless? What's the reaction?

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Arenas Says Officials Bother Him on Road

Via Ivan Carter's Wizards Insider:
At home, where they are 4-1, the Wiz are averaging 112.3 and on the road they are averaging 92.5. One key is Gilbert Arenas. For whatever reason, he's gotten way too caught up in the reffing on the road and has allowed that to affect his overall game. He had that odd opening night in Cleveland where he dished out 11 assists but otherwise looked passive and he was ice cold in New York.
"I've just got to carry over how I was tonight on the road and not worry about the calls and that other stuff. Sometimes, when I'm getting those charges on me and those ticky tack foulsI let that get me out of my rhythm."
To me, this is an interesting way to think about it. Arenas has certainly not been himself on the road; that's unquestionable. He's only averaging 18.3 points per game, 28 percent field goal shooting, and 17 percent from three point range on the road this season. I also do agree that it semes like he's worrying too much about the officials. It's not that he's whining--he has no technical fouls this year--but it seems like he's broken down his moves in such a way that is designed to get officials to notice and call fouls. This is invariably leading to Arenas making moves that he isn't necessarily comfortable and good at making, which takes away a lot of his production.

The problem with this is that the Wizards have been a bad road team for some time even before this season. They were 15-26 on the road last season and 16-25 the year before, and Arenas wasn't worrying as much about the officials then. That means that there has to be something else that is holding Washington back. My guess is that the Wizards lack the defensive intensity to win tough road games, but road wins can often be flukish by nature. Sometimes, you end up catching the better teams on back-to-backs, which means they don't play as well. This doesn't mean we can denounce the Wizards' disturbing trend, but it makes you wonder whether the solution is as simple as it seems.

Do you agree that Arenas plays too much for the officials? What do you think is ultimately the Wizards problem in road games?

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Gilbert Arenas says...

Gilbert Arenas' blog is definetly one of my favorite reads, but I don't get a chance to check it out all the time because it doesn't have an RSS feed. But, in spirit of his 45 point game and Hype's hillareous post, let's take a look at the best from his latest entry.

On his Halo team:

My Halo team, the Halo team I sponsor, “Final Boss,” they play in Las Vegas on the 17th for the championship round. And they have their own television show on, what is it? USA Network, I think. I don’t even have my own TV show! But I’m on their show Dec. 9.

It’s just amazing. I’m just trying to get my hands into different things that people are interested in. You know, see how we can get the young video game minds into basketball courts and vice versa.

Of course, what invariably ends up happening is that it's a one-way street with Gilbert simply playing Halo with them. I'd love to see these Halo players come to Verizon Center and maybe shoot some shots at halftime. Maybe the crowd can watch the guys play Halo against each other on the big screen. The possibilities are endless.

On the stigma that he's a ball-hog.
To me, I don’t even pay attention to that anymore. Because, if I was a two, a 2-guard, you know, I’d just be a great scorer. But, since I’m playing the point position, you know, I’m a guy who shoots a lot. It’s easy to pick on me for some reason, but, every team I’ve played with I might average 29-28, but I’ll also have two players that average 20 and 20. So, for some guy who is jacking it up, how come I’m always with two other players that score that much? I’ve never seen anybody else in this league that have two players on their team that are scorers like mine.
Very true. I'm not sure where this comes from, honestly. How many people think Arenas is a ball hog? Raise your hand if you do.

On the Knicks.
If they decide to play basketball, they’ll be a dangerous team.
I guess Arenas should inform Isaiah Thomas that Stephon Marbury throws a wicked gyroball.

Finally, on the all-star ballot.
I know ballots are out. I know Puffy had the Vote or Die, you know, with them shirts. You know, I want to have, “If no one votes for me, I’m not going to do anymore blogs.”
I'm just going to refer you over to Hype's post for more on this. It's pure comedic gold.

Gilbert Wants You to Vote, For Him [The Hype]
Gaining In the Race [Gilbert Arenas' NBA.com Blog]

How hillareous is Gilbert Arenas' blog? Does it do his character justice?

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Wizards 111, Cavaliers 99: Agent Zero Loves Goooold

I guess forgetting to post an open thread is lucky.

Either that, or gold jerseys do something to Gilbert Arenas and the rest of the Wizards, because that was about as satisfying a win as this team has had in a while. The score may be 111-99, but that looks a lot closer than it really was, because Cleveland went on a pointless 14-0 nothing run to close the game.

I said yesterday that despite the loss to Detroit, there were some positive signs. The Wizards shot poorly even by their standards for two straight games, and you had to expect that to turn around simply by the law of averages. The perimeter defense was better Friday, and the Wizards were able to win the rebounding battle. The only thing stopping the Wizards was their own shooting, which was bound to improve after three off nights in a row.

One need not look further than at Arenas to see the difference in shooting yesterday. Arenas was on fire, scoring 45 points and draining 7 of 11 threes. With Larry Hughes injured, there was nobody that could guard Arenas yesterday. Cleveland put LeBron James on Arenas for a stretch, and we all know that the King leaves a little to be desired on the defensive end. Combine all that with the home-court advantage, and it's no surprise that Arenas went off last night.

DeShawn Stevenson was also solid yesterday, with 15 points and really solid perimeter defense. The Wizards did allow Cleveland to shoot 47 percent from the floor, but for the most part, it was guys like Damon Jones and Sasha Pavlovic that had success. Drew Gooden, who gave the Wizards so much trouble in the first matchup, was nowhere to be found. Cleveland also really missed Larry Hughes, who was the real star of the opening day win. The Wizards defended the three well (31 percent) and forced guys like Jones and Pavlovic to beat them. It was a strong defensive scheme and it worked extremely well, especially in the third quarter, where the Wizards made their big run.

I hate to be the guy shooting down all the optimists, but despite blowing out a really good Cavaliers team, the Wizards didn't answer two of the biggest questions surrounding this team.

First, can this team win if Arenas is not shooting the ball well. In the Wizards' four wins this year, Arenas has scored 45, 43, 40, and 29 points. The best teams find ways to win even if their star is having an off night, and I still haven't seen any sign that the Wizards can win if Arenas is struggling. I don't expect Arenas' Jekyll and Hyde routine to continue, but there are going to be plenty of games where he doesn't produce. When that happens, the Wizards need to buckle down and figure out how to grind their way to wins. Caron Butler and Stevenson need to be consistent defensively and still be able to find ways to produce enough offensive scoring.

Secondly, and most importantly, this wasn't a road win. We know the Wizards can destroy even the best teams at home. We know the Wizards shoot better and somehow play much more aggressively in the Verizon Center than they do on the road. Obviously, the Wizards couldn't answer this question tonight, but when you watch this team play at home, it's easy to wonder where this type of effort and scrappiness is when they hit the road. If the Wizards are serious about competing, they need to start winning key road games. This next stretch of games is going to be huge for the Wizards. They desperately need a big win, especially against either Dallas or Houston.

A couple more thoughts:
  • I wasn't sure what I thought about the gold jerseys when I first heard about them, but I know now. They're horrendous. Get them out of there. I'm sure UniWatch will be all over these jerseys soon, but I can't understand how gold and black actually makes sense. The colors clash incredibly. A gold jersey like that is blinding on its own, but when you combine it with black, it makes it so much worse. However, if the Wizards contiue to play this well in gold, then I'm all for the unis.
  • I'm glad to hear Jarvis Hayes is okay. That spill looked pretty bad, and it was scary to watch him be carted off. Les Bullez is all over Hayes, saying he should have known better than to put himself in that situation. I have to respectfully disagree. There's no way you can expect a competitor like Hayes who is there to bring energy off the bench to suddenly let a guy go right by him. If this was a situation where Cleveland was down 7 with 45 seconds left, where an And 1 would have really hurt, I can understand, but when it's that much of a blowout, the score doesn't even matter anyway. It's unfortunate that Hayes got hurt, but you can't just let someone drive by you without even trying to stop him. I'm happy Jarvis is okay. Now just stop shooting bad jumpers! [edit] Hayes is day-to-day, which probably means he'll miss two months.
Postgame thoughts? What did you think of the win?

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Not Wizards Related, But...

It's an exciting time to be a Maryland Terrapins basketball fan.

I'm not going to analyze this too much (that's for the guys at Turtle Soup), but I will leave you with this.

The last team to win the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic? Florida. What happened to them last year? We all pretty much know.

How did you feel about Maryland winning the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic yesterday?

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Pistons 100, Wizards 91: Wizards D Cures Ailing Pistons O in Detroit Win

For nearly four full quarters, the Wizards outplayed Detroit last night, but one 13-0 stretch in the third quarter allowed Detroit to pull away for the 9 point victory last night.

I actually thought the Wizards did a lot of things right yesterday. They shot fairly well from two-point range, held Detroit to 43 percent shooting, and won the rebound battle. But two things really went wrong yesterday that cost the Wizards the game.

First, Detroit was an obscene 8 of 16 from three point range. Tayshaun Price and Rasheed Wallace on their own shot 6 of 9. Prince hit two of those threes during that decisive 13-0 third quarter run. I said the Wizards would struggle to defend Richard Hamilton on the perimeter (and they did), but I expected a better effort defending Tayshaun Prince.

The other thing was that the Wizards shot only 21 free throws. For a team that jacks up as many shots as Washington, they need to get to the line more. Arenas was a main culprit, as he only shot 6 free throws on the night. Without Ben Wallace in the middle, the Wizards have no real excuse to not attack the rim. This is not a characteristic problem, but when you combine it with the inability to defend the perimeter, it becomes a much greater problem.

One of these days, I'm going to devote a post to Antonio Daniels. He's arguably the teams most unsung hero, and it feels like he helps bring the Wizards back from a fourth-quarter deficit every night. He did it again tonight with some awesome drives to the basket, especially in the fourth. If only the Wizards had not created a deficit for themselves.

Overall, it's disappointing to lose, but the Wizards did play better. Detroit needed this one badly and it showed. With Cleveland playing really well right now, the Wizards need to match the desire Detroit had last night in tonight's home contest. Both teams are on a back-to-back, so that cannot be an excuse.

Postgame thoughts? What did you take away from yesterday's loss?

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Open Thread: Game 8

Regular Season Game 8
Wizards (3-4) vs. Pistons (3-5)
The Palace at Auburn Hills
8 PM

Despite winning 64 games last year, the Pistons curiously struggled with the Wizards last year. Of their 18 losses, 3 came against Les Bullez. Granted, one of those games was a late-season contest where Detroit rested all their starters, but it's still very interesting that the Pistons struggled so much against the Wizards last season. There was that double overtime thriller early in the year where Gilbert Arenas scored 39 and Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins had 27 and 20 each. Hopefully, the success carries over this time around.

Pistons Blogs: Detroit Bad Boys, Need4Sheed, Motoring, The Detroit Pistons Today

Last year, the Wizards had success against Detroit because they were able to turn the contests into perimeter battles. Without a real inside threat to play against, Ben Wallace wasn't his usual self last year in the three games. He fouled out of the first one, was rendered useless in the second matchup, and barely played in the third one. Wallace, obviously, is gone, and Nazr Mohammad is there in his place, meaning conventional wisdom should dictate that the Wizards are going to have similar success.

Of course, conventional wisdom doesn't always work with this team. The Wizards outshot Detroit from the line in every game last year, and that should continue again. This means that as long as the Wizards make some shots, they should have at least a fighting chance. Arenas has to have a big game tonight from the field if the Wizards are going to win.

On the other side, the Wizards need to keep Detroit in jump-shooting mode and focus on contesting every shot. Richard Hamilton is back in the lineup tonight, and he has the ability to work off screens for open shots. Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson have to be able to fight through the picks and prevent open jumpers. That's not an easy task, but the Wizards did hold Hamilton in check last year. On the ball defense on Chauncey Billups is key as well.

The other major problem is that Detroit is going to be desperate and they're playing at home. The Wizards have the ability to win this game, but they must match Detroit's desperation. This is a major game for the Wizards too. They have to play like it.

Go Wizards!

Prediction: Wizards 102, Pistons 99

If you're here during the game, post your thoughts!

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Keeping Things Simple

Losing to the New York Knicks can naturally set off a fan base as fragile as ours. Considering all the stuff we've been through, it makes sense for fans to go crazy after every bad loss. It's easy to forget that the Knicks, as bad as they were last year, did win 23 games, some of which were blowouts. Bad games happen, and even back-to-back bad games happen.

Reading some of the comments on the latest Wizards Insider entry made this post necessary. I feel like the problem with the Wizards through 7 games this year is not as complex as people are making it out to be. Time and time again, fans wondered aloud why the Wizards weren't taking the ball to the basket in this game. Ivan Carter himself even mentioned it. All these complaints ignored the fact that the Wizards scored over a third of their points last night on free throws. They were 36-40 from the line!!!! There are lots of reasons the Wizards got spanked last night, but a lack of aggressivness taking the ball to the rim is not one of them.

To me, the problem is much, much simpler. Jones on the NBA has a great post preaching patience and showing tons of examples of teams trying to do too much too quick. He applies this logic mostly in terms of front office moves, but I see the same type of things happening with the Wizards on the court. Players are pressing because they are trying to do too much. It's as if they are thinking in the back of their heads about their deficiencies instead of figuring out how to maximize their strengths.

Gilbert Arenas isn't going to turn into a playmaker overnight. Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood aren't going to be great every night right away. Jarvis Hayes hasn't played in a real game in a long time, so expecting him to suddenly fit in is unrealistic. I feel like the Wizards have failed thus far because they are trying to become a perfect team too quickly. Instead of looking at development as a series of stages, the Wizards want to jump all the way to the end.

I don't really have any emperical evidence to prove this, but it seems to me that the last two games have indicated that Wizards players are overwhelmed out there. Arenas is not playing with the same free flow as he did last year, probably because he's become overwhelmed with his deficiencies. Same with Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood. In general, the offense seems too routine; it's as if I can predict exactly what will happen on any given possession. Defensively, there have been high points and low points, but we can't expect the team to become a better unit right away.

What I'm advocating for is a simple mindset change. The Wizards have gotten away from their scrappy style in the last few games, and that needs to return. Interestingly enough, Detroit is another team that has to regain their mentality early on. I hate resorting to an argument like this, but the bottom line is that whichever team can regain their edge will win tomorrow.

Is this warranted? Should we actually be concerned after 7 games? Is this really the problem?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Knicks 102, Wizards 82: Umm...Yeah...

I'm always hesitant to promote intangibles as a primary cause for success or failure, simply because of the danger of over-relying on elements that are difficult to emperically define. However, in light of this performance, I feel pretty confident in saying the following statement.

The Knicks wanted it more than the Wizards tonight.

How else can you explain how the Knicks' second unit, led by David Lee and Renaldo Balkman, outplaying the Wizards starters in the fourth quarter? How else can you explain the Wizards going 36-40 from the free throw line and getting blown out by 20?

Understandibly, the Knicks second unit has arguably been stronger than their first unit, but this has occured mostly against other team's second units. Today, Isaiah Thomas finally played them for extended minutes, and it paid off. Balkman finally got real minutes and he made the most of them. They had more energy on both ends of the floor, and it was contageous. Lee in particular was a beast on the offensive boards, and Balkman was all over the floor offensively and defensively. It's no accident the Knicks pounded the Wizards 52-39 on the boards, held them to 31.5 percent from the field and 0-15 from three-point range.

This kind of felt like one of those mid-majors going up against a Kansas or a North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. The underdog, with the crowd in its favor, uses the energy and races ahead to a consistent 4-8 point lead for a long period of time. All the while, you sit there thinking sooner or later the better team will get their act together and turn things around. The problem is, the more the underdog, energetic team invariably gains more energy, gets the crowd into it more, and uses that energy to thwart a comeback and potentially turn the game into even more of a blowout. I can remember the crowd being very out of it early on and slowly getting into it when the Knicks were turning it on.

Again, I hate using this analysis, because it's all based on subjective findings and it doesn't help to signify a strong trend. But I have to hand it to the Knicks tonight; they deserved to win by even more and they really shut down the Wizards' offense.

If I can pick out a real trend that is particularly disturbing, it's rebounding again. Do not ignore the importance of rebounding. The Wizards struggled tonight, and it meant that they got blown out despite going to the free throw line so much. The Knicks aren't exactly known as a rebounding powerhouse, which makes tonight's line even more disturbing.

All this makes for an interesting game on Friday against Detroit. Both teams are struggling, and both teams are in about as much of a must-win situation as you can be this early in the season. One thing's for sure though; a loss tonight really hurts the Wizards.

Postgame thoughts? What did you think of tonight's loss? If you need to air some grievances, feel free to let it loose.

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