Thursday, January 31, 2008

One Up, One Down for Wiz, Raps

Ask and ye shall receive. In my last post, I discussed the need for the Wizards to find some consistent production from the bench. Apparently Eddie Jordan was listening.
No, I didn't expect it to come in the form of an Andray Blatche start in place of an injured Caron Butler, but Juice's injury - a strained hip flexor - isn't serious and it was good for the youngster to get a chance to show off his game. And did he ever. In only his second start of the season, Cabbage Blatche played just under 35 minutes, scored 19 points, pulled down eight boards and did a decent job defending one of the league's top post players, Chris Bosh.

More impressively, the Wizards won, 108-104 in overtime...without Caron! Antawn Jamison had another double-double - this one featuring 20 rebounds to go along with 24 points - and DeShawn Stevenson scored 20, making five three-pointers.

Washington nearly threw the game a way after an eerily similar last second prayer from
Anthony Parker fell through the net just as the buzzer sounded to send the game to an extra period. Where's Michael Ruffin when you need him? But the Wizards held strong in the overtime, relying on five points from AJ and a key triple from the Locksmith to lock up their 24th win - just their fifth without Butler in 21 tries over the last two seasons.
Now back to the bench for a minute. Blatche stepped up huge in a starting role, but the Wizards also got a huge lift from those role players sitting next to the assistant coaches.
Roger Mason scored 13 points, including three treys, and the long forgotten Dominic McGuire pulled down a monstrous 10 rebounds in a career-high 21 minutes. Remember him? That other guy the Wizards drafted this season to be a presence on the defensive end? I guess Eddie needed an injury to his star to jog his memory.
It was a great team performance and a big lift for the team's confidence to realize that it can win without two of the big three.
As for the encore performance, last night's 122-83 rematch in Toronto, happens...and they're playing without Caron! So cut them some slack. It didn't hurt that the Raptors shot 57 percent from the field and made 13 three-pointers.
Juice should be back for Friday's home game against Utah, a tough one that kicks off the brutal February schedule for the boys in white and blue, and sometimes gold and black.


"I knew I had to bring it, because Caron's are big shoes to fill. After hitting my first shot, I knew I was going to be rolling." - Blatche on filling in for the injured Butler in Tuesday's win.

"It was like a knockout punch to the head, and we stood our ground and kept our composure."
- Eddie Jordan on Parker's last second heave and Washington's response in overtime.

The Numbers Game

The best barometer for how well this team plays is not how many points Caron and Antawn score, it's not how many threes Washington's opponents hit and it's not even which team has a higher shooting percentage (as the Wizards have shown by beating the Celtics twice while shooting a lower percentage). For this team, especially this season, it all comes down to the battle of the boards. Here's a look at rebounding results and the outcome of each game.

Date/Opponent---/---Rebounding---/---Margin Result

1/23 @ Cleveland: -24 (29-53) --- L (85-121)
1/25 v. Memphis: +11 (47-36) --- W (104-93)
1/27 @ Milwaukee: -5 (42-47) --- L (102-105)
1/29 v. Toronto: +13 (57-44) ---- W (108-104)
1/30 @ Toronto: -2 (36-38) ------ L (83-122)

It doesn't matter if it's by 24 or two. If the Wizards win the rebounding battle, they win - with very few exceptions. If they don't, you can put it in the loss column. If that's not an indicator that Blatche and McGuire deserve some more PT, I don't know what is.

All photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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