Saturday, November 17, 2007

Wizards Make It Easy As 1-2-3!

The last time the Wizards made the trek to the Twin Cities, a typical road trip turned into a miserable marathon. A late February storm forced the rerouting of Washington's plane and an extended bus ride just to make it to the arena before tip-off. Caron Butler's back tightened up on the drive, forcing him out of the game, and the short-handed Wizards were dealt a 98-94 loss.

Friday, the Wizards (3-5) returned to Minnesota looking to pick up a third consecutive win against the KG-less Timberwolves - their first victory at Target Center in their last eight trips. After a dismal second quarter in which they were outscored 27-15, the big guns turned it on down the stretch, using a 34-point fourth quarter to propel the Wiz to a 105-89 victory. Butler dropped 29 on 11-of-16 shooting and Gilbert Arenas added 27 as Washington shot 51.9% from the field. (Whatever happened to that replacement squad Eddie Jordan had on the court the last week that couldn't crack 36%?). Washington also got a respectable 25 points and 20 boards combined from their three bigs - Brendan Haywood (8, 11), Darius Songaila (10, 5) and Andray Blatche (7, 4). With no dominant scorer in the middle, getting that kind of production in the paint on a nightly basis will really help this squad.

The T-Wolves (1-6) are a far howl from what they were in the days of KG, Cassell, Spree & Co., but these days, a Wizards road win against anyone is a welcome sign.


Wednesday night the Wiz got a second crack at the Indiana Pacers, this time in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center. On Halloween in Indianapolis, Agent Zero's buzzer-beating heroics sent the game into an extra frame, but the Pacers got the best of Washington,119-110. But even with a healthy Jermaine O'Neal, the Pacers couldn't repeat their success against a methodical, well-orchestrated Washington offense. The Wiz shot 48.6% from the field, dished out 23 assists and coughed it up only 14 times en route to a 103-90 win (If you're keeping score at home, that's three straight games in which the Wiz have held their opponents to 90 points or fewer! Who said they can't play defense? Was it me? It's quite possible...).

Gil put up 30 on 9-of-18 from the floor and added 11 assists, while Caron - who has easily become the Wizards most reliable go-to scorer - added 25. Haywood (16) and Songaila (12) also cracked double digits as Washington's big men held O'Neal to 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting.

Stat Standout

Wizards statistics during their five-game losing streak vs. the three-game win streak:

Team FG % --------------------36.7-----------------------------47.7

Opp FG % ----------------------44.6-----------------------------40

Assists/Game -----------------15.2------------------------------23

Rebounding Margin ----------(+2)-----------------------------(+18)

Turnover Margin -------------(-11)-----------------------------(+3)

Avg. Scoring Margin ---------(-13.8)---------------------------(+13.3)

What can we take from this? Sharing is caring, people. It's also the key to winning basketball games. And it all starts from the point of attack. Through the first five games of the season, Gil was averaging just 4.4 assists per contest. In his last three, Agent Zero has just about doubled his average to 8.3 dimes per game. While his 9-for-18 showing against Indiana was a sign of his increasing confidence in his surgically-repaired knee, it's essential that Gilbert continues to get his teammates involved to take pressure off himself and to make it harder for opposing defenses to key in on one particular scorer. With Caron lighting it up from everywhere, Gilbert becoming more aggressive each game, Antawn getting his looks, Haywood getting put-backs on the inside and DeShawn Stevenson nailing open jumpers from the wing, the Wizards are very tough to defend. Add a little production from Songaila, Blatche and Antonio Daniels off the bench and you've got a dangerous offensive team. That's what we've seen from these guys the last three times out. Now they just have to keep it up and prove they can compete against more talented squads.

Up Next

The Wiz return home to host the surprising Portland Trailblazers. Without their top draft choice, Greg Oden, the Blazers (4-5) have started strong out of the gates, stringing together four consecutive home wins against New Orleans, Memphis, Dallas and Detroit. They've faltered on the first two stops of their four-game East Coast road trip, losing at Denver and suffering a complete collapse against the 76ers after leading by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, before losing 92-88. The Blazers are led by second-year studs Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, who each average over 19 points per game and provide match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. Portland is young throughout their lineup, but they have sure-handed point guards in former Terp and Wizard Steve Blake and former
Yellow Jacket Jarrett Jack and big bodies down low with veterans Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla.

Key Match-Up

  • Antawn Jamison v. LaMarcus Aldridge - At 6-foot-11 and with a freakish wingspan, the second year forward out of Texas will wreak havoc on the inside against a mediocre at best defender in Jamison. Look for Eddie Jordan to use his new-found big-man lineup - which features Haywood, Songaila, Blatche, Butler and Arenas or Daniels at point - to give the Wiz more size on the interior to defend Aldridge and Przybilla. If Aldridge is guarding Jamison, look for the Wizards' All-Star forward to try to draw his defender out on the perimeter to create room for penetration from Arenas and sharp cuts to the rim from Caron. Aldridge's length makes him a dangerous shot blocker, but Jamison ability to get off quick runners in the lane should allow him to reach his usual offensive totals.

This is a much improved Blazers unit that, even without it's top pick, has the talent to take down the Wizards - as evidenced by their wins against the likes of Dallas and Detroit. But they looked tired in the second half in Philly and they'll certainly be feeling deflated after letting a 25-point second quarter lead evaporate. Meanwhile, the Wiz are firing on all cylinders and in spite of their short travel turnaround, they should be able to keep things rolling against Nate McMillan's team. Captain Caron breaks 20 for the 7th consecutive game and the Wizards win it by 9.

-- The Tar Heel

1 comment:

liquidswordz said...

Wiz playing defense? Our bigs are actually doing things? What is this bizarro world? Great Stats on the turn round, let's hope they keep it up. I like seing gil distribute the ball, especially in light of his early strugles with his shot and the injury concerns. Hopefully he'll play tomorow. I also expect a little dap for nick young in the next post.