Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Banged Up Wiz Return Home After 2-3 Trip

Sunday night the Wizards were one big shot or one defensive stop away from stunning the Lakers in an overtime thriller in Los Angeles. A victory would've secured a winning road trip and bolstered Washington's chances of holding on to the 5th spot in the East and perhaps even catching Cleveland for 4th.

Instead, the boys in blue lost that game 126-120, suffered two key injuries, got drilled by 42 points in Utah last night and limped home with a 2-3 mark on the West coast trip. It was an ugly way to end an otherwise encouraging trip for the Wiz, who mounted impressive comebacks in each of their two wins and to force overtime against the Lakers.

In Friday's 114-108 win in Sacramento the Wizards climbed back from 16 down in the third quarter and thanks in large part to former-King Darius Songaila's 17 points in 18 minutes, they were able to hold on at the end.

Two nights later, it was another bench player who almost single-handedly kept the Wizards in a tight game in L.A. Making his first trip back to the city where he starred for USC, rookie Nick Young exploded for his most impressive offensive game, dropping a career-high 27 in a career-high 31 minutes. Eddie Jordan put the ball in his young scorer's hands time and time again down the stretch - a little too much for my liking, even with his hot hand - and showed tremendous confidence in Young against one of the best teams in the league.

The Wizards lost the game in overtime, in another one of those physically and emotionally draining defeats. They also lost Antonio Daniels (sprained left wrist) and Caron Butler (sprained left hamstring) at least for last night's loss in Utah. Butler - who hit a ridiculous three with Derek Fisher all up in his grill to force overtime - might be able to return for tomorrow' night's game against the Bucks. Daniels could also play but his injury, which forced him out of Sunday's game after just three minutes on the floor, appears to be a bit more serious.

What to Take Away from the Road Trip

  • The bench is geared up and ready to play. With a few exceptions - read Andray Blatche - the Wizards' reserves are pulling their weight and then some in recent weeks. Roger Mason has been the unsung hero all season, filling in for the injured Arenas and Daniels at the point and providing timely long-range buckets to go along with veteran backcourt play. But now Songaila and Young are pitching in on a nightly basis, giving Washington more reliable scoring options off the bench than they've had all season. Check out the Numbers Game below to see their improvements.
  • Tough Juice is in playoff mode. Since returning to the Wizards' lineup on March 13 against Cleveland, the Wiz are 7-3 in games in which he has played. Butler was firing on all cylinders against his old team on Sunday, notching his third triple-double of the season (17 points, 12 boards and 12 assists) and watching his reaction to that three to force overtime sent a chill down my spine. I just wish Eddie would've put the ball in Caron's hands in overtime rather than Young's. Nick had a great game but Caron is the captain and hitting big shots go with that title. You've got to give him touches in the extra period. Assuming his hamstring injury isn't serious, I can't see Caron allowing this team to fall any lower than the 5th spot. Everyone on that roster would love to get another shot at the Cavs and with the way CB3 is playing right now, it would be a tasty matchup.
  • Speaking of guys drooling over a possible Cavs-Wiz first round series, how about DeShawn Stevenson on Sunday night? The Locksmith was locked and loaded in L.A., dropping 27 on 8-for-12 shooting from behind the arc. Stevenson seems to step it up big in the big games and if he gets another chance to go opposite his not-so-good buddy LeBron, you can bet he'll be looking to make a statement for himself and his team.
The Numbers Game
The bench has been producing for the Wizards lately, and they made their presence felt on the five-game road trip. Here's a look at how the reserves played during that stretch compared to their season averages. Note: One of these things is not like the others. Scoring numbers are up for every reserve except one.

Mason (07-08)----8.8----1.5-----1.7
Mason (Last 5)---12.2----2.2-----3.0
Songaila(Last 5)---7.4----2.8-----1.2
Young (07-08)----7.5----1.6-----0.9
Young (Last 5)---11.4----0.6-----1.0
McGuire (07-08)-1.2----1.9-----0.5
McGuire (Last 5)-2.8----1.6-----0.4
Blatche (07-08)---7.1----5.0-----1.1
Blatche (Last 5)---4.8----3.6-----0.8

  • "I'm happy for Nick Young and I'm proud of my guys but we just played a team that executed down the stretch. And we just couldn't come up with the one big play at the end." -- Eddie Jordan on the loss to L.A.
  • "I wouldn't say we were tired; I would say they are good and you have to give credit to them. They attacked us early, kept attacking, they had great ball movement and they just continued to play well. They're running the same offense they ran when I was here and if you don't come out focused, they'll keep screening and get open shots and that's what happened." -- Stevenson on the loss to Utah
Stay tuned for some news on Gilbert possibly taking a pay-cut to keep the Big Three in tact and Washington's matchup with the Bucks tomorrow night.

-- The Tar Heel

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