Wizards 111, Cavaliers 99: Agent Zero Loves Goooold
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!  Hayes is day-to-day, which probably means he'll miss two months.