Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wizards Get Juice Back for Tonight's Tough Test

Cleveland Cavaliers (37-28) at
Washington Wizards (31-32)

Thursday, March 13 - 8pm

Verizon Center

Barring any unforeseen discomfort before tonight's tip-off against the Cavs at the Phone Booth, the Wizards expect to have two-thirds of their big three on the floor together for the first time in 17 games. After watching helplessly as his team slowly slipped down the Eastern Conference playoff standings while he rested his strained-then-torn hip flexor for the last month, Caron Butler is probable for tonight's game against Cleveland.

Tough Juice turned 28 today and his teammates would like nothing more than to celebrate his birth and his return with a victory over a team that has managed to beat them in every way possible over the last three seasons.
Washington is looking to build on a strong performance Monday night in a 105-97 win over Milwaukee that was highlighted by a career night for rookie Nick Young.

The City/The Bean Burrito (anyone know what he settled on?) scored a career-high 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting in 27 minutes. He also pulled down five boards, tallied three steals and threw down several
vicious dunks - including one on Andrew Bogut's head that resulted in Young's first NBA technical after he insisted on letting Bogut know that it was indeed the rookie who had just posterized him. Young's effort helped the Wiz avoid another big-time let-down in a game they desperately needed. Washington - which shot at even 50 percent on the night - came out firing early and took a 57-44 lead into the break. But the Bucks out-scored their hosts by 11 in the third to get themselves right back in it. Young responded with two key three-point plays in the final quarter to give the Wizards their sixth win in their last nine, although with Philadelphia hot on their heels, each win is crucial.

The high shooting percentage reflects the team's ability to get high quality looks in the lane and knock them down. The Wiz scored a ridiculous 66 points in the paint with man-sized efforts from Brendan Haywood (15 points, 6 boards and 5 blocks), Andray Blatche (15 and 7) and Darius Songaila (11, 5 and 5 assists). And that Antawn Jamison character had another 23-point, 8-rebound effort...yawn.

What does it all mean? Not a whole lot if the Wizards continue to lack the consistent play needed to make a playoff run - OR - Everything if the young guns can produce off the bench night in and night out to help the starters as they wait for their top dogs to get back to 100 percent.


"I’m tired of Brendan Haywood calling me a practice dunker and all kinds of stuff. So it was my way to kind of show them that I belong here—and I can jump a little bit." - Young on his aerial exhibition

"I'm going to be rugged and hard-nosed. That's my style and that's what the fans come to see. That's my niche. That's how I got my name in this league." - Butler on how he plans to play coming off the injury

The Last Time

Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The way the Cavaliers have tormented the Wizards over the past three seasons, no amount of Listerine could possibly do the trick.

On February 22, in just another disappointing ending to a Cavs-Wiz matchup, LeBron James sank two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 90-89 win. James finished with 33 points, 15 boards and 8 assists to will the short-handed Cavs to victory. They didn't even need newly acquired Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak, not to mention the injured Anderson Varejao. In fact, it only took three Cavs (James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas - 15 and Devin Brown -10) to out-rebound the hapless Wizards 33-31.

Key Matchup

Anderson Varejao/Joe Smith v. Brendan Haywood/Andray Blatche/Darius Songaila
With 66 points in the paint Monday night against the Bucks, the Wizards showed that they are committed to getting good looks, rather than settling for jump shots every time down the floor. Not surprisingly, they shot a much-improved 50 percent from the field as a result.

Now Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva are not Ilgauskas and Wallace - the Cavs big free-agent pickup - but fortunately for the Wiz, neither guy is expected to play due to recent back injuries (phew!). Instead they'll bang with Varejao, Smith and Devin Brown on the block. Still, for Washington's bigs to put up anything close to that number tonight, they're going to have to work on every possession, battle for offensive rebounds and get to the free throw line.

Haywood has played with increased aggressiveness over the past few games and Blatche has really been coming on of late. If those two can keep the intensity up on both ends of the floor - they'll be asked to play help defense quite a bit when LeBron blows by his defender on the perimeter - and Songaila can step it up again - he had a season-high 19 in the last meeting - it'll give Jamison and Butler a big boost. Varejao isn't nearly as big of an offensive threat as Z, but he does bring a lot of energy to the floor and has a knack for getting offensive put-backs. Washington will need to keep him and Smith from getting open looks and easy boards, but the Wiz should definitely have an edge in the paint tonight.


It seems like Washington always has an advantage coming into this matchups, at least on paper. And yet LeBron and company always get the best of them. With it being Caron's birthday and this being their third of five straight home games, I don't know what more motivation the Wiz could possibly need. Basically it's going to come down to the question that every team going up against Cleveland must face: Can you stop the King? So far, Washington has answered that one with a resounding "Nope." But it's not so much that they need to shut James down as it is that they simply can't let him take over the game. Make Damon Jones beat you. Honestly, I won't be that upset if Daniel "Boobie" Gibson hits a game-winning triple. I'll be upset, but at least the Wiz will have found a new way to lose to these guys.

Just please, for the love of Abe Pollin, don't let LeBron drive to the hoop for the game-winning bucket tonight.

That said - and I don't want to jinx anyone - I've got a good feeling about this one (knock on wood).

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel


The Tar Heel said...

Well, it looks like Ben Wallace decided to suit up just to spite me.

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