Friday, February 1, 2008

Capitals/Thrashers Preview

Atlanta Thrashers at Washington Capitals
Saturday, February 2nd, 7:00 P.M.
Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Last Meeting: 12/8/2007, Capitals win 6-3

After avenging the perceived disrespect the Capitals felt at the hands of the Canadiens the Capitals host their Southeast Division rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers, less than twenty-fours after the Thrashers topped the Sabres in a shootout (exacting a little revenge of their own) to pull a point ahead of the Caps in the Southeast and in the Eastern Conference. With two games in hand and just the one point back the Capitals are still sitting pretty when it comes to the Thrashers but it would be nice for the Capitals to pick up a win and move ahead of the Thrashers in the standings. Plus there are temporary bragging rights at stake.

About the Opponent

Atlanta Thrashers: 25-25-4, 54 points, 2nd in the Southeast Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference.

Team Leaders
Goals: Ilya Kovalchuk (38), active - Marian Hossa (22)
Tobias Enstrom (28)
Ilya Kovalchuk (64)
Plus/Minus: Niclas Havelid (+3)
Penalty Minutes:
Chris Thorburn (74)
Chris Thorburn (8)

Random Thrashers Fact
Perhaps the most significant of Don Waddell's follies as general manager of the Atlanta Thrashers was his selection of Braydon Coburn (since traded to the Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik) with the eighth overall pick in the 2003 entry. Dion Phaneuf was selected ninth.

Random Thrashers Statistic
The Thrashers have as many guys (four) with plus/minus ratings of -15 or worse as they do players with ratings better than even. Of the four players with positive ratings only one has played more than 30 games this season.

Keys to the Game

Be prepared for anything. The only thing that's consistant about the Atlanta Thrashers is that they're inconsistent - any aspect of their game could be on or off on any given night and while that isn't a good thing by any stretch, it does make them difficult to gameplan for.

Listen to Brad McCrimmon; tune out Don Waddell. Seriously, Waddell sucks.

Players to Watch

Alexander Ovechkin - With his four goal, five point night against the Habs Ovechkin pulled into the NHL lead in points and opened some space between himself and Thrashers' left wing Ilya Kovalchuk in the goal-scoring race. Look for Ovechkin to build off that momentum and prove to Thrashers fans who the best goal scorer in the NHL truly is.

Marian Hossa - Despite being named an all-star Hossa's play has been criticized this season by Atlanta fans and media alike and the winger's going to need to come up big time if the Thrashers want to win without Kovalchuk in the lineup.

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Caronimo, AJ Crash the All-Star Party in N'awlins

How appropriate that the two men primarily responsible for holding the Washington Wizards together following Gilbert Arenas' second surgery were recognized for their tremendous efforts with spots on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, the team's co-captains, did not campaign for votes from fans and coaches.

Their coach, Eddie Jordan, refused to even state his opinion on whether or not his two top players deserved to be in New Orleans on February 17th.

"I haven't campaigned for them, and I won't campaign for them," Jordan said after Washington's 108-104 overtime win against the Raptors on Tuesday. "Their numbers speak for themselves."

There's no denying the impact these two have had on a team struggling to find consistency over the past two seasons. Jamison is the even-keel veteran who goes to work every day and leads by example in the locker room and on the practice court. Butler, who is playing just about as well as anyone not named LeBron James this season, has established himself as the emotional leader - a perfect compliment to his counterpart. This duo has led the Wizards to a 24-20 record and more impressively, a 21-15 mark without Agent Zero.

Neither guy is going to win an NBA popularity contest, as evidenced by their final standings in the fan voting that set the All-Star starters. Butler was sixth behind Kevin Garnett, James, Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce (all selected to the team by either fans or coaches) and Yi Jianlian. Jamison wasn't even in the top 10. But the coaches clearly saw what the fans overlooked.

Butler and Jamison have not only held together a team that most expected to fall apart without it's star, they've made it better. Butler is having his best season ever with career highs in scoring (21.9), assists (4.3) and steals (2.4). He's also shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 91.5 percent from the line. (And we don't want to jinx him, but how about his franchise-record 70 straight makes from the stripe!).

Jamison is no slouch either. With 21.5 points per game and a career-best 10.5 boards, he's averaging a double-double. His 26 double-dips rank second in the NBA behind Dwight Howard (an All-Star starter).
So good for both of these guys and good for the Washington Wizards as a whole. There is no better recognition of their accomplishments thus far this season than having both of their captains representing them in New Orleans.

Stud Stats
Here's a look at how Washington's All-Star duo stacks up against the rest of the league statistically.


Both players also rank in the top 25 in the league in efficiency rating. The formula to determine efficiency is ((PTS + REB + AST + STL + BLK) - ((FGA - FGM) + (FTA - FTM) + TO)) / G. Butler ranks 15th at 24.1 and Jamison is 25th at 21.8. Not too shabby.

"The fact that we will be there is a reflection of the whole entire team. We've hit our share of bumps along the way but we've also played some good basketball despite the injuries and everything else and this is a reward for that. It's going to feel good to have two of us down there representing the Wizards." - Butler on his second career All-Star selection.

"I've always felt that the coach's voting is more meaningful. Not to take anything away from the fans, but sometimes that's a popularity contest...To get respect from your peers, from guys who know everything about the X's and O's of the game, guys who are trying to find ways to beat you, that really says something."
- Jamison on his third trip to the All-Star game.

Tonight's game tips off shortly so let's just get right to the good stuff. If Caron -who will be a game-time decision - plays, I like to Wiz to squeek by Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and AK-47. If he's on the bench, I think the Jazz just have too much of an advantage on the interior for Haywood, Blatche and Jamison to overcome. With Tough Juice, the Wiz win it, 103-98. Sans Caron, the Jazz hit their chord, 105-90.

All photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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Ovechkin Scores Four as Caps top Habs 5-4

Capitals 5, Canadiens 4 (OT)

Know how many four-goal games is a lot? One. Know how many four goals games is really a lot? Two.

After being shutout 4-0, feeling that the Canadiens were out to embarrass them and being called out by Coach Bruce Boudreau, many Capitals fans hoped their team would come out aggressive in the first period and the Caps did not disappoint, flying out of the gate and dominating the hitting in the first period and taking it to their opponents in both ends, in front of the nets, along the boards in the neutral zone and in the open ice (I could watch Alex Ovechkin's hit on Steve Begin a hundred times without getting tired of it). Donald Brashear was looking for a dance partner desperately and it was quite amusing as a Capitals fan to see the Canadiens visibly scared on the ice, essentially waiting for Brashear to leave them alone so they could shout back over their shoulders "You're just a big bully, you bully!"

Unfortunately for Capitals fans the game did not turn into the kind of blowout it looked like it might become early on, as the hometown crowd say the resilient Canadiens stage a comeback from a 3-0 deficit that was capped by two Guillaume Latendresse markers, the last with 36 seconds left in regulation. As a Caps fan, let me say that giving up one goal in the final minutes of a period is frustrating. Giving up two is damn near heartbreaking, especially when one comes because your goalie leaves his five-hole open (again) and one came because your goalie failed to cover the puck despite there being no opposing players coming down on him.

As a whole the Capitals looked aggressive, fast, sharp and smart. Maybe it's a case of rampant fan-ism but I think if Boudreau can get the team to play like this night in and night out they're not only going to make the playoffs, they're going to be a hell of challenge for any opposition in a seven game set.

Not a perfect night for the boys in the red, white and blue but a very good one. Even if Guillaume Latendresse's two late goals ruined my "Ovechkin 3, Canadiens 2" line.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Alexander Ovechkin - 4 goals, 1 assist, +4, 6 shots, 5 hits
(2) Viktor Kozlov - 1 goal, 2 assists, +3, 5 shots
(3) Mike Green - 2 assists, +1, 6 shots, 27:02 of ice time

Quick Hits

  • The line of David Steckel, Quintin Laing and Matt Bradley did a great job of mixing things up early on, especially in front of the Canadiens' net. Not surprising though: Steckel is 6'5'', Bradley hits anything that moves and is a willing pugilist and Laing will sacrifice his body for the good of the team in a heartbeat.
  • No matter what team it's called on, every time there is a penalty for a puck over the glass by a non-goalie it makes me want to find Gary Bettman and punch him in the nose.
  • I like Joe Beninanti a lot but he got the facts of Ilya Kovalchuk's injury wrong: it wasn't after the whistle, the only reason it was knee-on-knee was that Kovalchuck tried to dodge the hit and it wasn't "borderline cheap" - the Thrashers' commentators weren't even sure it should have been a penalty.
  • If Donald Brashear is going to get a rough penalty for pushing Latendresse in the back then Mike Komisarek should have gotten a penalty for getting in Ovechkin's face after Ovechkin dumped Josh Gorges. But I guess that's what the call a "reputation penalty" (that along with Alexander Semin's hooking call) and I guess that's what bad referees see.
  • It was feast or famine in the faceoff circle for the Capitals: Boyd Gordon and David Steckel were at 71 and 64 percent, respectively while Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich were at 42 and 38 percent (not quite as respectively).

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

One Up, One Down for Wiz, Raps

Ask and ye shall receive. In my last post, I discussed the need for the Wizards to find some consistent production from the bench. Apparently Eddie Jordan was listening.
No, I didn't expect it to come in the form of an Andray Blatche start in place of an injured Caron Butler, but Juice's injury - a strained hip flexor - isn't serious and it was good for the youngster to get a chance to show off his game. And did he ever. In only his second start of the season, Cabbage Blatche played just under 35 minutes, scored 19 points, pulled down eight boards and did a decent job defending one of the league's top post players, Chris Bosh.

More impressively, the Wizards won, 108-104 in overtime...without Caron! Antawn Jamison had another double-double - this one featuring 20 rebounds to go along with 24 points - and DeShawn Stevenson scored 20, making five three-pointers.

Washington nearly threw the game a way after an eerily similar last second prayer from
Anthony Parker fell through the net just as the buzzer sounded to send the game to an extra period. Where's Michael Ruffin when you need him? But the Wizards held strong in the overtime, relying on five points from AJ and a key triple from the Locksmith to lock up their 24th win - just their fifth without Butler in 21 tries over the last two seasons.
Now back to the bench for a minute. Blatche stepped up huge in a starting role, but the Wizards also got a huge lift from those role players sitting next to the assistant coaches.
Roger Mason scored 13 points, including three treys, and the long forgotten Dominic McGuire pulled down a monstrous 10 rebounds in a career-high 21 minutes. Remember him? That other guy the Wizards drafted this season to be a presence on the defensive end? I guess Eddie needed an injury to his star to jog his memory.
It was a great team performance and a big lift for the team's confidence to realize that it can win without two of the big three.
As for the encore performance, last night's 122-83 rematch in Toronto, happens...and they're playing without Caron! So cut them some slack. It didn't hurt that the Raptors shot 57 percent from the field and made 13 three-pointers.
Juice should be back for Friday's home game against Utah, a tough one that kicks off the brutal February schedule for the boys in white and blue, and sometimes gold and black.


"I knew I had to bring it, because Caron's are big shoes to fill. After hitting my first shot, I knew I was going to be rolling." - Blatche on filling in for the injured Butler in Tuesday's win.

"It was like a knockout punch to the head, and we stood our ground and kept our composure."
- Eddie Jordan on Parker's last second heave and Washington's response in overtime.

The Numbers Game

The best barometer for how well this team plays is not how many points Caron and Antawn score, it's not how many threes Washington's opponents hit and it's not even which team has a higher shooting percentage (as the Wizards have shown by beating the Celtics twice while shooting a lower percentage). For this team, especially this season, it all comes down to the battle of the boards. Here's a look at rebounding results and the outcome of each game.

Date/Opponent---/---Rebounding---/---Margin Result

1/23 @ Cleveland: -24 (29-53) --- L (85-121)
1/25 v. Memphis: +11 (47-36) --- W (104-93)
1/27 @ Milwaukee: -5 (42-47) --- L (102-105)
1/29 v. Toronto: +13 (57-44) ---- W (108-104)
1/30 @ Toronto: -2 (36-38) ------ L (83-122)

It doesn't matter if it's by 24 or two. If the Wizards win the rebounding battle, they win - with very few exceptions. If they don't, you can put it in the loss column. If that's not an indicator that Blatche and McGuire deserve some more PT, I don't know what is.

All photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Capitals' Prospect Update

I haven’t kept up the prospects update like I’d wanted to when I published the first one in November, but I still think it’s worth taking a look at how some of the Capitals’ top prospects are faring:

Karl Alzner (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL)- many Caps fans probably already know that the 5th overall pick in last year’s draft was the captain of Canada’s gold medal winning World Juniors team. Alzner is playing his junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL and having an impressive season in just about every facet with 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists) in 41 games. Alzner is also +21 and has just 11 penalty minutes.

Francois Bouchard (Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL) - while not producing at quite as a prodigious rate as last season Bouchard is putting up good offense numbers with 71 points (26+45) in 52 games and looks poised to lead Baie-Comeau Drakkar in points for the third straight season.

Chris Bourque (Right Wing/Left Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Bourque made his NHL debut this season, getting in three games without scoring a point. In Hershey (AHL), Bourque has 14 goals and 15 assists through 40 games.

Eric Fehr (Right Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Fehr has made an impressively quick comeback from a back/hip injury that at one point looked to threaten his career. Though he’s only played nine games so far this season, picking up a goal and four assists, don’t be shocked to see Fehr in a Capitals uniform by season’s end.

Joe Finley (Defense, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, WCHA) - with two goals and eight assists in 25 games for the Fighting Sioux, Finley has actually exceeded offensive expectations (he had one goal and nine assists in 83 games in his collegiate career coming into 2007-08). Finley is a defensive defenseman however, and he has shined in his own end as - his whopping +19 rating is the highest on the North Dakota team.

Josh Godfrey (Defense, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, OHL) - Godfrey is shaping up to be a good draft pick for the Capitals. Thought to be a bit of reach in the secon round of last year’s draft Godfrey has had an impressive season this year, making the Canadian World Junior team and putting his 99 mile-per-hour shot to good use, racking up 15 goals and 21 assists in 41 games for the Greyhounds. Godfrey is also +16 and has 49 penalty minutes.

Michal Neuvirth (Goalie, Oshawa General, OHL) - Neuvirth has been traded twice already this season, first from the Plymouth Whalers to the Windsor Spitfires and then from Windsor to Oshawa, and has performed well at every stop. For the season, combined amongst all teams, Neuvirth is 13-5-2 with a 2.67 GAA and a .915 save percentage.

Mathieu Perreault (Center, Acadie-Bathurst Titans, QMJHL) - the Capitals’ scouting staff must have known something that no one else did because the team was able to nab Perreault in the sixth round of the 2006 draft, after a season which Perreault put up 52 points (18+34) in 62 games, and watch Perreault put up 119 (41+78) points in 67 games last season. This year Perreault has 69 points (24+45) in 43 games.

Sasha Pokulok (Defense, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Pokulok’s numbers this season aren’t particularly impressive (no goals, five assists, 35 PIMs, +6) but the fact that the big defenseman has been able to make it through the first 31 games of this season without a serious injury and shown some improvement is a good sign

Keith Seabrook (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL) - Seabrook has found his stride somewhat but the 2006 second round pick still has just three goals and eight assists in 39 games for the Hitmen.

Semen Varlamov (Goalie, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl , RSL) - as with most players (and especially goalies) in the Russian Super League it was difficult to find statistics on Varlamov, but I was able to dig up that he is 23-10 and has a GAA of about 2.40.

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Just One of those Days

Canadiens 4, Capitals 0

Everyone’s had those days where nothing seems to go right and last night was one for the Capitals. When in the first 21 minutes alone you’ve given up a goal that came when your team went shorthanded because of quite possibly the worst rule in the history of the NHL, given up two goals that came as a result of opposing players getting out of the box at just the right moment and hit the post the post twice in the other team’s end, it’s just not your night.

Unfortunately for the Capitals they ran into a particularly bad opponent to be up against when the breaks don’t go your way early as the Canadiens lived up to their reputation and stifled the Capitals’ attack after going ahead early. I don’t mean to suggest the Capitals deserved to win last night because they didn’t play particularly well. They did, however, play well enough that they should have had at least a chance to come back and win and didn’t deserve to be buried by the first intermission.

This game also underlined the importance Shaone Morrisonn to the Capitals as John Erskine, Morrisonn’s replacement alongside Mike Green, was -1 and took three unnecessarily penalties. Morrisonn has been the most consistent Capital defender in his own end this season and no one is feeling his impact more than his defensive partner Green, who has had zero points and is a -4 in the games Morrisonn has missed after putting up 14 points and a +3 in the nine game before Morrisonn’s injury.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another Excellent Player to the Black Hole of the Mets

The Mets have tentatively reached a deal that would send three young pitchers and an outfielder to the Twins in exchange for Johan Santana. As a Nationals fan, I do not respect the Mets, their obnoxious fans or their lack of inspired play. They are perennial underachievers where good players go to fall short of the overall World Series goal. The 1990's and 2000's have been chock full of ridiculous signings, exorbitant amounts of money and failed aspirations. Players such as Piazza, Beltran, Wagner and Delgado have seen prime years wasted in blue pinstripes. Now add Santana to that list... at least I'll get to watch him demolish the Nationals three times a year.

If the Mets are able to negotiate a deal with Santana in order for him to waive his no-trade clause, it will drastically tip the scale of power in the National League. At least we can all say that the Mets are finally putting their money in the right place. Santana is the best pitcher in the game and with such an explosive offense behind him would be unstoppable. I don't think it's outlandish to say that, if healthy, he could win 25+ games with the Mets. They needed pitching and they now have it in spades.

The Nationals will be hard pressed to match that kind of firepower and during an off-season of big NL East moves, this is the biggest.

- The Hokie

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Caps/Habs Home-and-Home Preview

Washington Capitals at Montréal Canadiens
Monday, January 28th, 2008
Bell Centre in Montréal, Québec
Last Meeting: January 5th, 2007, Capitals win 5-4 in overtime

About the Opponent

Montréal Canadiens (26-15-8, 2nd in the Northeast Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference)

Team Leaders
Alexei Kovalev (21)
Saku Koivu (27)
Alexei Kovalev (45)
tie - Alexei Kovalev and Mike Komisarek (+11)
Penalty Minutes:
Tom Kostopoulos (85)
Tom Kostopoulos (7)

Betcha Didn't Know...
The Canadiens jersey has featured some variation on the current crest (the 'H' within the 'C') since 1916.

Random Canadiens Statistic
Not only is the Canadiens' potent powerplay clicking at 23.9% and ranked second in the NHL, they have also allowed only one shorthanded goal against.

Keys to the Game

Score the first goal. For all that the Capitals have done well since Bruce Boudreau took over, they're not scoring first nearly often enough and with how talented the Canadiens are defensively and the Bell Centre crowd behind them this would be an especially difficult game to come back in.

Keep the pressure up. The Capitals are simply too talent on offensive to try and hold them off all game if the play is in the Canadiens end.

Players to Watch

Brent Johnson - Tarik is reporting that Johnson, who has shined since Boudreau took over, will start tomorrow. With another strong outing Johnson could make the Caps' goaltending situation very interesting.

Tomas Plekanec - everyone know about Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev, but Plekanec has been an important part of the Canadiens success this year and is second on the team in points (42) and tied for second in goals (16).

Round the (Inter)net:
Teemu Selanne
is returning to the Ducks...unable to let any bit of significant NHL news pass without defending his title as the reigning bastion of negativity in the hockey world, Ross McKeon has already criticized him for for it...No need to panic, ESPN has found a way to cover Sidney Crosby even when he's not one the ice - talk about his life off the ice!...E.J. Hradek likes Alex Ovechkin for MVP...My nominee for Best New Hockey Blog goes to: I am the best in the world at NHL '94.

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Bench Not Picking Up the Slack

In Washington's 105-102 overtime loss to Milwaukee yesterday, Antawn Jamison scored 21 points and Caron Butler had a career-high 40. Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson even chipped in 11 a piece. So how, with 90 points coming from their starting five, could the Wizards lose this game?

The answer is simple. The bench, or lack thereof recently.

Twelve points? That's it? Twelve measly points from two former-first rounders a budding center and a couple of supposedly-savvy veterans?

Twelve points is not going to get it done. Blame Eddie Jordan for overworking his starters - see Butler's 51 minutes and AJ's 47 yesterday - but these guys are not making enough of an impact in their time on the floor. Six points for Roger Mason in 14 minutes and a goose egg from Darius Songaila in 16. And what's up with Nick Young? At times he looks ready to take over a game - he had 12 big ones in the win over the Knicks - but then he follows those performances up with tentative, low-scoring efforts. Granted, they're not taking a lot of shots with Butler and Jamison putting up 50-plus attempts between them, but if you want to be on the floor, you've got to prove you deserve to be there.

With a very tough slate coming up, Tough Juice and the starters will definitely need more production from their supporting cast. It's time for the City to show-off his quick scoring ability on a nightly basis, and Mason (who has been very solid thusfar) and Songaila need to get on the statsheet with more regularity as well. As for Andray Blatche, he needs to step up to claim some more playing time from Haywood - who is by far Washington's most-improved player - and then play with the intensity on both ends that he's shown in flashes this season.

If the Wizards are going to continue to compete with the top teams in the conference, they need to have the kind of depth that the elite teams can rely on when their stars have an off night. Right now, that's just not happening.

A Look Ahead
Santa Claus brought the Wizards a cushy January schedule and Eddie Jordan's crew has taken full advantage. With the exception of last week's drubbing in Cleveland, the Wizards have come to play every night and their record shows it. With two games left, the Wiz have an 8-5 January record with marquee wins over Boston (2) and Dallas. But other than a Jan. 2 loss to Detroit and the Cavs game, Washington played just one other team with a winning record (Houston).

But now the road gets much tougher. The Wiz face a brutal February schedule with 10-of-14 games against teams currently with a winning record. They might get a couple Valentine's Day gifts with the pending return of Agent Zero and Etan Thomas that would clearly bolster their lineup. And they also have the added bonus of the national spotlight with seven nationally televised games coming up on ESPN and NBA TV. But Washington needs to come out of February with at least a .500 record to maintain their playoff positioning.

Let's take a look at what's on tap for Tough Juice and company.

Fri, Feb. 1 - v. Utah (26-18) on ESPN - Why is it that all good post players (KG being the one exception) live in the Western Conference? The Wiz get to face a great one in Boozer.
Sun, Feb 3 - v. LA Lakers (27-15) on NBA TV - It's a shame Gilbert won't be back yet for this one. Remember last December at Staples Center?
Wed, Feb 6 - v. San Antonio (28-14) - The champs come to town before the Wizards head West (their next four are on the road).
Sun, Feb 10 - @ Phoenix (32-13) on ESPN - 122-107 winners in Washington and owners of the most wins in the league. Cabbage Blatche led the Wiz with 19 in that game...and we haven't heard from him since.
Fri, Feb 22 - @ Cleveland (24-19) on ESPN - If that 121-85 beat-down doesn't get the Wizards up for this rematch, they all need to get their pulses checked.
Mon, Feb 25 - @ New Orleans (31-12) - With an 11-1 2008 record, the New City Oklahoma Orleans Hornets just might be the best team in basketball.

Next Up
Just before Murderer's Row kicks off, the Wiz get a home-and-home series with the only un-American team in the NBA. Washington edged the Raps 101-97 on December 1, behind 29 points from Caron and 28 points and 14 boards from AJ. Jason Kapono led Toronto with 23 off the bench. But the Raptors (24-19) were without their star, center Chris Bosh, whose team-leading 22.5 points per game likely could have changed the outcome. Winners of seven of their last nine, Toronto scored an impressive 114-112 victory in Boston on Wednesday behind Jose Calderon's 24 points and 13 assists. Both of these teams will be fighting for playoff positioning the rest of the season.

The Wiz get the first of the two-game set at home and they need a win to build some confidence before the big name team's start coming to town. Don't look for any let-up for Caron coming off his 40-point explosion against the Bucks, but I expect to see more of the tenacious defense from the Wizards that led them to those big wins against Boston and Dallas. Eddie Jordan and his captains need to squeeze some more out of their bench and they can look at their opponents as a prime example of how bench production can get you over the hump. The Raps have eight players averaging at least eight points per contest, and they're not afraid to go deep either. Thirteen players average 10 or more minutes for them.

Whether Eddie Jordan is willing to rely on his supporting cast is the bigger question. Eventually, the wear and tear of 40-plus minute nights could come back to haunt Butler and Jamison, so it's better to work Mason, Songaila, Young, Blatche, Pesh and McGuire into the fold now instead of waiting for an injury to force them into action.

I'm looking forward to seeing how well Haywood can match up with Bosh on the glass and if the Wiz can keep Toronto's perimeter players - like Kapono and Calderon - under control. The last time they had back-to-backs against the same team, Washington won at home and lost at the Garden to the Knicks. Before that they knocked off the Celts twice. I like their chances at home Tuesday night. The Wiz get the nod, 98-93.

All photos AP/Getty Images

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cleaning House is Exactly What The Redskins Need to be Doing

The Redskins have fired their two coordinators, Al Saunders and Gregg Williams in light of the retirement of Joe Gibbs. In their place they have hired Jim Zorn, from Seattle, to lead the offense and promoted Greg Blache to lead the defense.
In my mind there was no other way to effectively make this team better than to clean house in the way that Dan Snyder has done. I'm not saying he should have hired two assistant coaches before the head coach, but he definitely should have chucked both Saunders and Williams after ties to Gibbs were cut.
This team, as a whole, has been stuck in mediocrity for the last four years. Making the playoffs isn't good enough and the coaching staff, now of the past, had done nothing to inspire our confidence in their progression towards excellence. Personally, I like Gregg Williams and am disappointed that he won't be a Redskin anymore, but when you look at the bare facts of the matter, the Redskins, in their entirety, are trying to get better and that means change. The Redskins have great defensive personnel. The defensive line is strong and the secondary, with the addition of another cornerback in the off-season can match up against any offense in the league.
But this move isn't about where the Redskins are right now, it's about where they want to be next year and the year after that. The intangibles of a coaching staff go a long way toward consistently winning and after four years, neither of these coaches has shown that inner desire or that transcending confidence to make this team great.
Consistency is always important when you are trying to grow players and develop a winning ball club, but after four years shouldn't there be better results? Who have they really brought in to grow and develop? Why are injuries so crippling to the Redskins while other teams are able to win with good second string players? With all his natural talent, shouldn't Jason Campbell be better than a 77.6 quarterback rating and a 60 percent completion rating? With all their weapons, shouldn't the offense be better than 20.9 points per game? Why, after four years, are the Redskins continually struggling to be a wildcard team? Why did this team squander victories in the second half? Why couldn't this coaching staff get the most out of, what they tell us is, an incredibly talented team? Why should the Redskins settle for this kind of production, hoping that the team will suddenly turn it around? Suddenly make great strides when after four years, the only thing that has changed are a couple of the players names.
Some fans are angry, but do not kid yourselves, this was not a perfect team. Nor would it have been under the direction of Gregg Williams, whose stint in Buffalo languished as a lopsided defensive-minded team who went no where. Their time has come and gone. They had their chance and they did their best. Both coordinators either didn't know how to manage who they had or they didn't know how to bring in the best players to make their system work. By bringing in new people the current players will have another perspective on the game. They won't forget everything they were taught by either Williams or Saunders and will incorporate new techniques and styles into what they already have as a foundation. We'll have to wait and see, but maybe that extra little bit will take a good team and make them great.

- The Hokie

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