Monday, January 14, 2008

The Inevitable Return of The Wiz

It's been awhile, but the Tar Heel is back in the country and ready to deliver you the best comprehensive Wizards coverage south of the Potomac...or something like that.

A lot has happened since we last spoke, although in terms of results, it was pretty much the same-old-same-old. Washington was beating the teams it should beat - see the Hawks, Bucks and Sonics just to name a few - and dropping games to playoff contenders - like the Rockets and Pistons. Well that all changed Saturday night when the Wiz used a 15-4 run to close the fourth quarter and stun the mighty Boston Celtics 85-78 at Verizon Center. And it wasn't just the win that was impressive, but the manner in which it came. The Wizards battled back from seven down in the fourth to take the lead behind 19 points from DeShawn Stevenson and double-doubles from Antawn Jamison (10 points, 16 boards) and Caron Butler (16 and 10). Not only that, but they held the best team in the conference to a season-low 78 points. We're not used to this team winning when they don't crack the century mark, but Saturday night the Wizards got things done on the defensive end. Kevin Garnett scored 19, but Paul Pierce was limited to 15 and Ray Allen scored only eight on 3-for-13 shooting.

Now the Wizards (19-16) get to prove that Saturday night wasn't a fluke. Tonight they travel to Boston (30-5) for a rematch against a team they know will be fired up for revenge.

Key Match Up

  • Caron Butler v. Paul Pierce - Both big guns were far from spectacular Saturday, with Pierce making just 5-of-13 shots from the field and Butler hitting on 5-of-17, including an 0-for-6 night from long-range. Look for the rematch to be a more up-tempo, high-scoring affair like we're used to seeing from both teams. Butler took turns guarding Pierce on Saturday and did well to keep Boston's playmaker in check. More importantly, he outrebounded Pierce 10-6, preventing the Celtics from getting second looks on a night in which both teams struggled shooting the basketball. One of these guys is going to have a big game tonight. The difference between the two is, if Butler can hold Pierce under 20 and the Celts can still win in with big nights from KG and Ray. If Caron doesn't at least get his average (21.7), the Wizards will struggle to keep up.
  • Washington's win against Boston was its first against a team with a winning record since the Wiz defeated Toronto 101-97 on Dec. 1. On Nov. 26 the Wizards won at Dallas 110-98 but dropped their next two - at San Antonio and Philly.
  • The Wiz dominated Boston on the boards, 49-30, Saturday. Garnett and Pierce combined for just 10 rebounds while AJ and Caron had 26 between them.
  • The Celtics sorely missed starting point guard Rajon Rondo on Saturday as he sat out with a back injury suffered Friday at New Jersey. The second-year guard out of Kentucky is averaging nine points and five assists and is questionable for tonight's game. Veteran Tony Allen started in his place Saturday and finished with eight points, no assists and four turnovers.
  • Boston has yet to lose consecutive games this season and like to follow up their losses with beat-downs of their next opponent. They hammered Chicago 107-82 following a nationally televised 87-85 loss to the Pistons on December 19 and trounced the Knicks 104-59 after a 109-104 loss to the Cavs in November.
  • As if the Celtics didn't already have enough motivation going into tonight's contest, Stevenson's primal scream toward the Boston bench after a dunk in the waning seconds of Saturday's Washington win surely got the attention of the men in green. Don't be surprised to see things get a little chippy tonight at the Garden.
  • "You know, a signature win catapults you. We have to see if this catapults us. I've seen major wins go down the drain in the next few weeks so for us, it's where do you go from here?" -- Eddie Jordan on the win over the C's.
  • I'd love to see the Wiz pull off back-to-back wins against the best team in the East, especially if they're able to do it in Boston. Those New Englanders have had far too many reasons to be giddy in the last six months. But I just don't see this one happening. It'll be closer than Washington's last visit to the Garden - a 103-83 rout on Nov. 2, but the Celtics have lost only twice at home and they're not going to shoot 41 percent for a second-straight game. If Rondo is out and the Wizards can control the tempo, own the boards again and shoot a far better clip than the 37 percent they managed Saturday, they could spring another upset. That said, these Celtics are too solid to drop three out of four in the East. The Celtics take it 105-96.
All photos AP/Getty

-- The Tar Heel


Yard Yoder said...

Not Hockey....what??

I think Washington has no chance in this one, no way boston will drop two in a row to them....but we'll see

Yard Yoder said...

i stand corrected

The Tar Heel said...

Fool me twice, shame on me. Seriously, who'd a thunk it?! These guys are playing the best, hard-nosed, defensive conscious basketball I've seen since the Bullets became the Wiz. If they can consistently hold their opponents under 95 points - I'll need a little more evidence before they make me a believer - there's no telling what they can do.

The Tar Heel said...

So I was way off on the score, but Caron did hit his 21-point average and he definitely outplayed Pierce down the stretch.