Monday, February 25, 2008

Depleted Wizards Keep Fighting

It might get worse before it gets better. Things have already been pretty bleak for the Wizards in the here and now since Caron Butler was sidelined with a strained hip flexor three weeks ago. But it looks like neither he nor Gilbert Arenas will be back anytime soon. Both stayed in D.C. as the Wizards embarked on another tough road trip with stops in New Orleans (tonight), Houston (tomorrow) and Chicago (Friday).

After a crushing 90-89 loss in Cleveland on Friday, Washington got an elusive victory at home against Charlotte on Saturday. Antawn Jamison scored 22 to lead all five starters in double-figures as the Wizards won for only the second time in their last 12 games, 110-95. DeShawn Stevenson had 20 points and four 3-pointers and Brendan Haywood added 15 and seven boards.
Washington (26-29) allowed the Bobcats to shoot 50 percent from the field but outrebounded their opponents 46-36 including 22 offensive boards to make up for mediocre defense.

It was a good win, if for no other reason than to stop the bleeding as the Wizards continue to play on without two of the big three. Tonight they face a stern test in the form of the Southwest Division leading Hornets (37-17). All-Star point guard Chris Paul is a front-runner for MVP and Byron Scott's boys just keep disproving their doubters.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, for the Wiz, N'awlins is coming off two straight losses to San Antonio and Houston following five straight victories. They'll be looking for a get-well game before back-to-back home dates with Phoenix and Utah.

Meanwhile, the Wizards - who seem to have the ability to hang in games without Caron but just can't seal the deal - are looking for a win any way possible. With no real time table set for the returns of the big guns, they continue their current free-fall in the East and expect to jump back in the race when/if they finally get healthy. Yes, it's still th
e East, but unlike the Cavs, Bulls and even the Hawks, Washington made no moves to improve its roster for a playoff push. So it's time to suck it up and go to work.


"We know that it's going to be a challenge. Chris Paul, he's playing as well as anyone in the league, David West is a guy not a lot of people know about but I saw him down there for the All-Star Game and he can play; and then they have a solid group of veterans who play well together. So, we're going to have to play very well and find a way to execute down the stretch like we did [Saturday night]. It would be great to start this trip on a positive note." - Jamison

Key Matchup

Andray Blatche v. David West -
With lots of jump shooters on the floor, the Wizards again must win the battle of the boards in order to have a chance in this one. Expect Tyson Chandler to abuse Haywood on the inside, boxing him out and grabbing his 12.3 boards per game and then some. Therefore, Blatche will have to step up huge for the Wizards on both ends of the floor. Washington needs his offense, but they also need him banging with the All-Star power forward in the lane. West averages just under 20 points and 10 boards per game and at 6-foot-9, 240, he's a force on the block. Blatche will need to try to push him out and make him settle for the jumper, rather than let Chris Paul feed him for easy dunks and layups around the rim.


The Wizards are seriously short-handed and New Orleans has two All-Stars and one possible snub (Chandler) poised to make a run at division title. No one on Washington's roster can contain Paul, who is averaging an obscene 20.7 points, 10.8 assists, 4 boards and 2.7 steals per contest. The only hope is to keep him out of the lane as much as possible and hope for a colossal effort from the starters and Mason, Songaila and the rooks off the bench. The don't have much in the way of depth, but they'll need every last drop to pull out an upset in this one.

All photos from Yahoo! (AP/Getty Images)

-- The Tar Heel

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