Friday, March 28, 2008

Gotta Keep Winning

The Washington Capitals must win every game remaining on their schedule and hope the teams above them falter. They fell behind the 8-ball early this season and have been clawing back into contention ever since Bruce Boudreau took over.

The Washington Wizards are in a similar situation, although not nearly as dire. They've pretty much got a playoff spot locked up with the dismal state of most of the teams behind them in the Eastern Conference standings, but if they're looking to hold onto their current 5th seed, they can't let up. The Philadelphia 76ers are playing the role of the Caps to the Wizards' position as the Carolina Hurricanes (or Boston/Philadelphia). Once out of the race, they're now smack dab in the thick of it.

The Sixers (37-35) were a dreadful 16-28 on January 25th, well out of the playoff picture and talking about rebuilding. With the exception of the Houston Rockets, no team (not even the mighty Celtics) has put together a better mark since. With a 21-7 record since then, Philly has stormed back into contention and with just one-half game separating them and the 5th spot, they're breathing right down the Wizards' necks.

So the only solution for Washington (37-34) is to take care of what they can control and just keep winning.

The Road Trip So Far

The Wizards faltered on Monday in the first test of their current five-game West Coast road trip, suffering a 102-82 drubbing in Portland.

The Trail Blazers withstood the loss of leading scorer Brandon Roy to a groin injury at the end of the first quarter, and Washington was never really able to make it a competitive game. Portland shot near 50 percent (49.4) as the Wizards managed just 35.8 percent from the field. Caron Butler scored 19 but was just 6-for-20, Antonio Daniels had 14 to go along with 8 assists and Antawn Jamison finished with 9 on a terrible 3-of-13 shooting performance.

Maybe the Wizards' were a little tired from the cross-country flight, but when you consider that Portland had dropped an 97-84 contest to the lowly Seattle Sonics the night before, the excuse didn't carry much weight.

Eddie Jordan's troops bounced back two nights later against those same Sonics in a game that was much closer than it should have been.

With 5:47 left in the third, the Wiz found themselves trailing by 18 - 73-56 - but that's when they turned things around. Brendan Haywood jump-started a 10-0 Washington run with his put-back and with 8:25 left in the game, Roger Mason's triple gave the visitors their first lead of the second half at 84-83.

The Wizards relied heavily on their bench to get it done for them down the stretch and they were rewarded with a 104-99 victory.

Mason was fantastic, draining five of his career-high six threes in the fourth to lead Washington with 22 points. Darius Songaila was also huge down the stretch, scoring eight of his 10 points in the final frame.

Caron and Antawn were better offensively, combining for 38 points on 12-of-33 shooting and Haywood (13) and DeShawn Stevenson (11) also cracked double figures. The somehow managed to overcome a 32-49 rebounding disadvantage - a real sign of fatigue and a result of Nick Collison's 21-board night - and it certainly helped that they made 10 threes to Seattle's one.

Regardless, the big story here is the reserves coming through in the clutch. With weary legs and banged up bodies this kind of bench support is exactly what the Wizards need during this trip. If they can make it home with a 2-3 mark or somehow sneak a win in either Los Angeles or Utah to make it a winning trip, it would huge in the standings and also for morale.


“Roger Mason really bailed us out tonight,” -- Eddie Jordan after the win in Seattle

"We just came with some energy. Obviously, Roger got hot and hit some shots and then we got some stops on defense and that turned the game around."
-- Darius Songaila


  • As has been the word out of the Phone Booth all season, the Wizards sound like they're committed to bringing the core of this year's team back next season in its entirety. That means upcoming free agents Jamison and Gilbert Arenas included. Today Washington Post beat writer Ivan Carter reported that Eddie Jordan, President Ernie Grunfield and owner Abe Pollin all expect to re-sign both All-Stars this summer. The NBA has announced that the Wiz will be playing preseason exhibition games in Berlin and Barcelona as part of the NBA's Europe Live Tour - and the Commish is expecting them to showcase a healthy Big Three.
    • "We've said all along that our intention is to have those guys here over the long haul and that hasn't changed at all," Grunfeld said. "Even with Gilbert injured this season, we've shown that we can beat some of the best teams in the league, we like the development we are seeing from our young players and we feel that when we are healthy, we can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference."
  • After missing back-to-back games with a bruised thigh, rookie guard Nick Young played in both of the Wizards' first two road games. He scored four points in 16 minutes in Portland and scored one basket in six minutes against Seattle. The Bean Burrito hasn't been able to maintain a consistent level of offense off the bench this season - often showing flashes of his ability to put the ball in the cup for stretches and then losing his aggressiveness for games at a time. Youth, inexperience and inconsistency go hand-in-hand, but the more Young can give the Wiz off the bench on a nightly basis, the more confidence Jordan will have in him this postseason.
  • The most entertaining saga involving the Wizards lately is the war of words between Stevenson and LeBron James. In case you missed it, here's a bit of a recap.
Next Up

Washington Wizards (37-34)
at Sacramento Kings (32-39)
Friday, March 28 - 10pm
Arco Arena

Friday's tilt in Sacramento is a game the Wizards must win if they want to make this a winning road trip. The Kings had dropped three straight before a 107-106 home win over Memphis on Wednesday. They always play well at home, so by no means will it be a cake-walk for Washington, but if they can shoot a respectable percentage and contain point guard Kevin Martin, they should have the upper hand.

The Wizards have had their way with the Kings in recent years. They haven't lost to Sacramento, regardless of venue, since Feb. 27, 2005. Washington won their first matchup 92-79 on Dec. 15.

Seven players average double-figures in scoring for the Kings, including Martin (23.2), Ron Artest (20.2) and Brad Miller (13.7) and at a 101.9 points per game clip, they certainly like to get up and down the floor. Normally that style plays to the Wizards' advantage, but if fatigue continues to be a problem, Sacramento could run away with this one.

It should be an exciting matchup between two teams that like to run and gun and also get to the rim. The Sixers host Phoenix tonight, which means it could be a great opportunity for the Wiz to get a little breathing room in the standings. With that said, Philly already knocked off the Suns 119-114 in Phoenix earlier this month and in the last two weeks they've picked up impressive wins against San Antonio, Denver and at Detroit and Boston. But the Wizards can't waste time watching the standings, they simply have to keep winning.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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