Thursday, January 17, 2008

Minus AD, Wiz Suffer Predictable Letdown

After two, emotionally charged wins against the Celtics, a road loss the following night shouldn't have come as a real surprise to anyone. Washington was playing its fourth game in five nights in four cities and they were without starting point guard Antonio Daniels who watched this one from the sidelines with a sore knee. Still, it wasn't the Magic or Pistons or even the Pacers who they were playing. This was the Knicks. The 10-26, "you tell me how we beat the Pistons in Detroit cause I for the life of me have no clue," New York Knicks.

Washington came out flat offensively, shot under 40 percent for the third straight game and forgot everything they had learned against the Celtics about the benefits of playing defense. Jamal Crawford had a field day from beyond the arc, nailing 6-of-7 treys and tallying a game-high 29 points as the Knicks won two in a row for the first time since November, 105-93.

The Wiz looked lethargic, and understandably so, and couldn't find their flow on offense with Roger Mason at the helm. Caron Butler put up 24, Antawn Jamison had 21 and Mason more than made up for AD in the box score with 20 of his own, but it wasn't enough to match a Knicks team that shot 51 percent from the field and 65 percent from downtown. Six Knicks finished in double-figures and New York had six more boards and 13 more assists - see the lack of Daniels as Mason had zero dishes and one turnover - than the Wiz.

This was a great win for the Knicks (12-26) who last night extended their winning streak to an unconscionable three with a 111-105 win at New Jersey. Maybe Isiah made a deal with Eddie to take it easy on his boys so they could win a couple to prevent him from getting canned before the All-Star break.

This was not a terrible loss for the Wiz. Yeah, it's the Knicks and they're bad. All right, they're awful. But they've learned how to feast on teams coming off four games in five days stretches (see the win over the Pistons), and Washington was ripe for the picking. It's disappointing, but they're still riding the high of the weekend double-dip and you can fully expect them to come out hard Friday when the Knicks come to town. There's something fun about getting to play a two-game mini-series with a conference foe during the regular season. You get a chance to gauge their weapons, study their offense and see how your guys respond.

It's nice to see Washington taking this loss harder than they normally might, however. If they want to establish themselves as a force in the conference, which they fully believe they are capable of doing - and this weekend's sweep of Boston lends credence too, they need to beat the teams below them. DeShawn Stevenson, who scored just four points to end a streak of five straight double-figure games in which the Wizards went 4-1, took the loss especially hard. "The Locksmith" as he was dubbed by Ernie Grunfeld after holding Kevin Durant in check earlier this month, couldn't contain the scorching Crawford. Look for the bearded one to come out with a chip on his shoulder Friday night.


  • Rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov had a career high nine points in the loss to New York. He showed off his range, hitting three treys in 18 first half minutes. But Pesh missed both of his shots from long-range during Washington's attempted rally late in the fourth quarter. He was bummed after the game, saying "I try to make the shot, but I just miss it. I let the team down." No worries big fella. You're just getting a feel for NBA action and it's good to see Eddie having enough confidence in you to play you down the stretch. Keep shooting!
  • Jamison saw his streak of three straight double-doubles end in New York. The should-be All-Star has 25 double-d's in 37 games this year. That's more than MVP front-runner Kevin Garnett.
  • "It's one thing to say you beat the best team in the league back-to-back and all of a sudden you come back, lose to a team that's won what, 11 games before tonight? You've still got to lace them up. You've still got to be focused enough and you've still got to bring the energy early in the game. And for us those were the things that pretty much lost the game for us." - AJ on the loss to New York
"The Locksmith" is angry, Pesh is pissed and Jamal Crawford averages 19.8 points per game on normal nights. All that adds up to a stingy defensive effort from a Wizards team eager to prove they aren't about to suffer a setback after announcing to the league that they are prepared to make some noise with or without their biggest mouth on the floor. Caron and AJ do their thing and Brendan Haywood helps Washington win the battle of the boards. The Wiz get back on track, 97-90.

-- the Tar Heel

All photos AP/Getty

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Twice As Nice

If Saturday's fourth quarter come-from-behind win over the Boston Celtics was an unexpected left hook to the side of the head, last night's 88-83 encore in Beantown was a full-force shot in the mouth. Pow! Right in the Kisser!
Following a gutty home victory over the new titans of the East, a let-down should have been in the cards. If the Wizards didn't give the game away, the Celtics surely wouldn't let them walk into the Garden and win two straight...not when they hadn't lost back-to-back games all season. But that's just what Washington did. They went on the road - where they've been notoriously poor over the past two seasons - and stuck to the game plan that got them their 85-78 victory on Saturday.
For the second straight game the Wiz held the Celtics (30-6) to under 42 percent shooting and well below their season average of 98.3 points per game. The C's shot just 25 percent (5-for-2
0) from long-range as Ray Allen struggled yet again. The He Got Game star hasn't had much against the Wiz as he went a combined 8-for-27 in the weekend double-header including just 4-for 15 from beyond the arc. Allen's fade-away three-point attempt with just seconds left that would have tied the game fell way short of the rim. The Wizards held Boston to one field goal in the final six minutes.
Caron Butler scored 11 of his team-high 21 in the over the final seven minutes - a stretch in which the Wizards (20-16) used a 25-6 run to come from 14 back for their third straight win. Antawn Jamison added 20 and 10 for his 24th double-double of the season and DeShawn Stevenson continued his shooting tear, tallying 16 points including four treys. Brendan Haywood also had a hard earned 14 in the paint.
The Wiz didn't shoot the ball well, falling below the 42 percent mark for the fourth straight game, but once again they were able to grind it out by holding their own on the boards (37-37) and getting to the line down the stretch. Butler's three free throws in the final minute - the first coming off a crafty off-balanced and-one runner - extended his streak of consecutive made free throws to 40.

The Numbers Game

102-102 -
Two game scoring totals from the respective Big Threes: Boston's Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Allen v. Butler/Jamison/Stevenson

4-0 -
Washington's record when they hold their opponents to fewer than 80 points. All four have come in the last 13 games.

4 - Washington's current overall position in the Eastern conference.

43 - Caron and Antawn's combined scoring average - making them the highest scoring forward tandem in the league.

17-11 - The Wizards' record sans Agent Zero

(Do it, Antawn!)

  • "Our eyes are on winning a championship. Hopefully we get Gilbert back by March and when he comes back we will be even more dangerous." - Caron Butler following the win.
  • Oleksiy Pecherov saw action for the second time in three games for the Wizards on Monday. He logged just under three minutes and went scoreless from the floor, missing two shots and pulling down one rebound. Pesh, who recently returned to practice after finally recovering from a right ankle injury, scored his first NBA bucket in Washington's 102-98 overtime win against in Atlanta on Friday.
  • Center Etan Thomas, who underwent open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve on Oct. 11, has been cleared to participate in non-contact drills. There is no timetable for his return and no reason to expect the Wizards to rush him back into full practices. Upon hearing the news, starting center Brendan Haywood made a beeline to the boxing gym to re-master his right jab.
Up Next
There's little time to celebrate for the Wiz, who head into Madison Square Garden tonight to take on the Knickerbockers. At 10-26, Isiah Thomas' squad is in complete disarray, just two games ahead of Miami in the race for worst record in the East. New York has lost eight of its last 10 but still managed to notch the upset of the week - yeah, the Wiz over the Celts twice was a stunner, but at least Washington has a winning record - when they hammered the Detroit Pistons 89-65 on Sunday. They're still atrocious and the way Washington has been playing defensively, this one shouldn't be close. With that said, tonight's match up is an easy trap game that the Wiz must avoid. They're riding high after two emotional upsets but need to keep things rolling against the conference bottom-feeders. In a scheduling quirk, Washington returns home to host the Knicks at Verizon Center on Friday.

Key Match Up
  • Antawn Jamison v. Zach Randolph - In a battle between two big-men who excel on offense but leave something to be desired on the other end of the floor, this could be a shootout. Expect both AJ, who is averaging 21 and 11, and the former Portland bad boy (16.8 and 10) to get their points, but the most intriguing aspect of this match up might be on the backboard. Jamison has been a monster on the glass all season for the Wiz, but at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, Randolph can throw his weight around on the block. Both teams have struggled shooting the ball lately so there should be a lot of bricks for these guys to get after.
No Stars, No Problem
Like the Wizards, the Knicks are learning to adjust to life without their superstar. Point guard Stephon Marbury will miss tonight's game, and at least one more, with an ankle injury that may require surgery. However, like the Wiz, New York has fared better without Starbury thus far. Without the much-maligned two-shots-a-minute playmaker, the Knicks are 4-8. With Marbury in the lineup they're just 6-18.

There's no reason to get cute here. After knocking off the top dogs twice in three days, the Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the league. Good teams, unless you're the Pistons apparently, don't play around with terrible teams. This game is a perfect opportunity for Eddie Jordan's squad to prove they belong at the top of the conference by thrashing a team with less talent and no chemistry. If the Wiz can blow it open early, it might be a good night to rest the starters - especially Butler and Jamsion - who have been on the floor for 40-plus minutes multiple times in recent games. The Wiz make it four in a row, 96-87.

All photos AP/Getty

-- the Tar Heel

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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Inevitable Return of The Wiz

It's been awhile, but the Tar Heel is back in the country and ready to deliver you the best comprehensive Wizards coverage south of the Potomac...or something like that.

A lot has happened since we last spoke, although in terms of results, it was pretty much the same-old-same-old. Washington was beating the teams it should beat - see the Hawks, Bucks and Sonics just to name a few - and dropping games to playoff contenders - like the Rockets and Pistons. Well that all changed Saturday night when the Wiz used a 15-4 run to close the fourth quarter and stun the mighty Boston Celtics 85-78 at Verizon Center. And it wasn't just the win that was impressive, but the manner in which it came. The Wizards battled back from seven down in the fourth to take the lead behind 19 points from DeShawn Stevenson and double-doubles from Antawn Jamison (10 points, 16 boards) and Caron Butler (16 and 10). Not only that, but they held the best team in the conference to a season-low 78 points. We're not used to this team winning when they don't crack the century mark, but Saturday night the Wizards got things done on the defensive end. Kevin Garnett scored 19, but Paul Pierce was limited to 15 and Ray Allen scored only eight on 3-for-13 shooting.

Now the Wizards (19-16) get to prove that Saturday night wasn't a fluke. Tonight they travel to Boston (30-5) for a rematch against a team they know will be fired up for revenge.

Key Match Up

  • Caron Butler v. Paul Pierce - Both big guns were far from spectacular Saturday, with Pierce making just 5-of-13 shots from the field and Butler hitting on 5-of-17, including an 0-for-6 night from long-range. Look for the rematch to be a more up-tempo, high-scoring affair like we're used to seeing from both teams. Butler took turns guarding Pierce on Saturday and did well to keep Boston's playmaker in check. More importantly, he outrebounded Pierce 10-6, preventing the Celtics from getting second looks on a night in which both teams struggled shooting the basketball. One of these guys is going to have a big game tonight. The difference between the two is, if Butler can hold Pierce under 20 and the Celts can still win in with big nights from KG and Ray. If Caron doesn't at least get his average (21.7), the Wizards will struggle to keep up.
  • Washington's win against Boston was its first against a team with a winning record since the Wiz defeated Toronto 101-97 on Dec. 1. On Nov. 26 the Wizards won at Dallas 110-98 but dropped their next two - at San Antonio and Philly.
  • The Wiz dominated Boston on the boards, 49-30, Saturday. Garnett and Pierce combined for just 10 rebounds while AJ and Caron had 26 between them.
  • The Celtics sorely missed starting point guard Rajon Rondo on Saturday as he sat out with a back injury suffered Friday at New Jersey. The second-year guard out of Kentucky is averaging nine points and five assists and is questionable for tonight's game. Veteran Tony Allen started in his place Saturday and finished with eight points, no assists and four turnovers.
  • Boston has yet to lose consecutive games this season and like to follow up their losses with beat-downs of their next opponent. They hammered Chicago 107-82 following a nationally televised 87-85 loss to the Pistons on December 19 and trounced the Knicks 104-59 after a 109-104 loss to the Cavs in November.
  • As if the Celtics didn't already have enough motivation going into tonight's contest, Stevenson's primal scream toward the Boston bench after a dunk in the waning seconds of Saturday's Washington win surely got the attention of the men in green. Don't be surprised to see things get a little chippy tonight at the Garden.
  • "You know, a signature win catapults you. We have to see if this catapults us. I've seen major wins go down the drain in the next few weeks so for us, it's where do you go from here?" -- Eddie Jordan on the win over the C's.
  • I'd love to see the Wiz pull off back-to-back wins against the best team in the East, especially if they're able to do it in Boston. Those New Englanders have had far too many reasons to be giddy in the last six months. But I just don't see this one happening. It'll be closer than Washington's last visit to the Garden - a 103-83 rout on Nov. 2, but the Celtics have lost only twice at home and they're not going to shoot 41 percent for a second-straight game. If Rondo is out and the Wizards can control the tempo, own the boards again and shoot a far better clip than the 37 percent they managed Saturday, they could spring another upset. That said, these Celtics are too solid to drop three out of four in the East. The Celtics take it 105-96.
All photos AP/Getty

-- The Tar Heel
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