Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wizards Season Opener @ Indiana

The Wizards open their 2007-08 campaign Wednesday at Indiana in a game that should reveal a lot about the health and improvement of this team from a year ago. Last season, Washington opened the season the same way they ended the previous one – with a narrow loss to the Cavs in Cleveland. They stumbled to a 4-9 start and went winless in their first eight road contests. With 10 of their first 16 games scheduled away from Verizon Center this season, the Wiz need a much better start out of the blocks.

Larry Bird’s dismal Pacers should be easy pickins. Their only true scorer is the ever-disgruntled Jermaine O’Neal, who spent last spring and the off-season whining about wanting to be traded only to find out that no team was willing to part with much of anything for the oft-injured six-time all-star. Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy – two guys the Pacers got in return for dealing Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington to the Warriors last season (I wonder who won that deal) – fill out a lineup that also features Danny Granger at the 2 and Jamaal Tinsley at point.

If the Big Three are on – meaning their shooting percentage is over the Mendoza line, which it wasn’t for much of the preseason – this should be a romp. But it’s rarely that easy. As noted, the Wiz are far from a consistent road team, plus there’s that whole defense thing. If O’Neal goes off on Brendan Haywood and Antawn Jamison in the middle (which would surprise no one) and Tinsley and Murphy knock down some threes, it’ll be a close one. It might take a little while for Washington's shooters to get back into the flow of the game, but this is definitely a game they should and need to win with a date against the new Big Three and Boston looming on Friday.

I like the Wiz by 8.

Keys to the game

  • The Wizards need to control the tempo from the outset, they are one of the quickest teams top to bottom in the league and if they can get out and run on the Pacers, this one could turn into a track meet.
  • O’Neal and Murphy are great at crashing the boards. Haywood is not. With Antawn, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler still getting into their shooting rhythm, offensive rebounding could vital. If reserves Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila can provide some defense and a few put-backs on the offensive end, it will give the starters a tremendous boost.

Match-up to watch

  • Butler v. Dunleavy: This really isn’t much of one at all, but it will factor heavily into the game’s outcome. This could’ve been “O’Neal v. whoever the Wiz put on him,” but Jermaine is going to get his regardless. This Butler match-up gives the Wiz a chance to make up for their disadvantage down low. Caron is too big and strong to let the former Dookie alter his game. Look for hard drives to the basket followed by pull up jumpers once Mike starts backing off to defend the dribble. On defense Butler – one of the few Wizards who has shown a desire to scrap on both ends – should dominate his man.


  • "It's like going back to school. You can't sleep that night; you've got all of your clothes ready to go." – Arenas on the excitement leading up to opening night

Injury Report

  • Ukranian superstar/Wizard rookie reserve (yeah it’s his second year but last year he played in the DL), Oleksiy Pecherov (sprained right ankle) won’t be making his debut just yet. Pech, who was seen hobbling around Verizon Center and promising to get in the weight room, is expected to miss up to two weeks. He wasn’t going to be a major part of the rotation, but this leaves the Wiz one more big body short of having any depth in the middle.

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