Friday, April 25, 2008

Crank That White Out

Game 3: Washington 108, Cleveland 76

The Wizards finally put up a fight - on the floor as opposed to in the media - in Thursday's game three at the Phone Booth, giving the sold-out, white-out crowd the kind of performance fans have been waiting two years to witness.

Speaking of witnesses, all those who showed up wearing their No. 23 red or white or navy jerseys or those lame Nike ad campaign shirts got to witness a complete dud from the King.

It was a pretty spectacular turn-around from Monday's humbling defeat and one that, at least to this first-hand spectator, lacked a great deal of effort from the visiting team. I expect a much tougher test in Sunday's game four. But for one night at least, DeShawn Stevenson couldn't feel his mow hawk-crested face,
Andray Blatche could do the sprinkler with the really old guy in the stands, Caron Butler could pirouette his way to the rim and a sea of white could wave their towels in wild abandon.

It was quite a night in D.C. indeed.

I'll have more from game three and a preview for game four tomorrow so stay tuned.

-- The Tar Heel
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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bleck! Wizards in 0-2 Hole

Game 2: Cleveland 116 - Washington 86

Forget not being able to feel their faces, the Wizards would rather not be able to see their faces in the mirror after yesterday's whooping. The whole "let's be physical against LeBron and not let him dunk on our heads" gameplan completely backfired with Brendan Haywood's ejection after a hard foul - maybe worthy of a flagrant 1, but certainly not a flagrant 2 with the accompanying ejection.

Gilbert Arenas was awful, Caron Butler was bad and Antawn Jamison wasn't much better. None of the starters showed any of the toughness, intensity and most importantly, the focus, that they displayed through three quarters of play on Saturday.

I'm much less excited about having tickets for Thursday's Game 3 at the Phone Booth than I was coming into the series, and it wouldn't shock me if this one is over in five or if it ends up to be another sweep.

And for crying out loud, now is the time to stop with the trash talking and the stupid "I can't feel my face" taunting and play basketball.

I think I'm too disenchanted and frustrated with this team at the moment to even throw up a decent breakdown of what went wrong last night and what needs to change before Thursday. Maybe I'll get it together by tomorrow. Until then, pardon me while I ralph in the rubbish bin to the left of my computer.

Thank goodness for the Caps. I'm glad I had Game 6 to watch last night instead of the massacre at the Q, and I'm even more excited to watch Game 7 tonight. Let's Go Caps!

-- The Tar Heel
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Monday, April 21, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

Game 1: Cleveland 93, Washington 86

After weeks of trash talk leading up to Game 1 between the Wizards and Cavaliers, it doesn't look like much has changed in the last two years. With a healthy big three on the floor for the Wiz and a few new faces here and there on both teams, the first game in this best of seven series played out true to the form set back in 2006.

The two teams battled back in forth in Cleveland in a competitive, physical playoff game. Washington appeared to have the upper hand early in the fourth quarter with a two-point lead and the Cavs in the penalty with 7:30 left. But that's when the best player on the floor took over, just as he did last April...and the April before that.

The Wizards - who could have (and should have) put themselves in a position to win by driving to the rim and getting to the free throw line - settled for outside shots. They missed
three-pointers and long jumpers from all over the floor and LeBron James took advantage. He drove to the rack on back-to-back possessions to give the Cavs the lead. Gilbert Arenas tried to do the same for the Wizards but turned the ball over in the lane and then threw up a wild shot that landed in a Cleveland rebounders' mits and pretty much sealed the game.

Before those final deciding minutes, Antawn
Jamison had more than outplayed James. He was getting to the basket for his patented flip shots and runners, rebounding like Ben Wallace circa 2000 and even picked up a technical for defending a teammate (and fellow Tar Heel) when Brendan Haywood and LeBron got in a brief scuffle at mid-court. Sadly, it was Jamison who started forcing shots in that critical stretch - including a long jumper followed by two bricked open threes on consecutive possessions - to let Cleveland take control.

The Wizards were right there, but as was the case in 2006, they just could not seal the deal.
Now they find themselves in a similar situation. Down 0-1 with a second game to come in Cleveland - one which they desperately need. It's not quite a must-win, but psychologically, with how inept the Wizards have been at winning at the 'Q', essentially it is just that.

Game 2
Washington Wizards at Cleveland Cavaliers
Tonight, Monday, April 21 - 7pm

Quicken Loans Arena

The game-plan was there on Saturday. The Wizards limited LeBron James early on, got scoring from Jamison (23), Caron Butler (14) and even Brendan Haywood (15). Gilbert Arenas was his old, flashy self, scoring 24 in just under 28 minutes and drilling a 30-footer just before the first quarter buzzer. They held the Cavs to under 40 percent shooting (39.5) and limited the damage behind the arc (5-19). With those stats, even factoring in LeBron's 32 points, you have to figure the Wizards come out on top.

But the areas where Cleveland edged Washington, proved key and costly. The Cavs out-rebounded the Wiz 43-42 (we know the Wizards almost never win when they lose the battle of the boards), had eight more assists (24-16) and most importantly, out-shot the boys in gold 37-17. You're never going to win a game with that kind of discrepancy at the line.

With a 20-free throw difference, you might think the referees were to blame. Hardly the case. With just under eight minutes remaining and the Wizards leading, the Cavs were already in the bonus - meaning any foul would result in two free throws for Washington. But after playing aggressive basketball all afternoon, it was then, at the worst time possible, that the Wizards got tentative and started settling for jump shots. Cleveland out-scored Washington 28-14 - more than enough to make up the seven point winning margin.

The plan for the Wizards tonight has got to be - get to the rim, get to the free throw line and get easy points. They've got to keep up the intensity, keep giving good hard fouls to any Cavaliers - particularly James - willing to drive to the basket, and keep crashing the boards.
I like the Wizards to win this game because they clearly have more talent on the floor and more scoring options.

The main question is can they play a full 48 minutes of aggressive, intelligent basketball and get over the psychological advantage that LeBron and the city of Cleveland continue to hold over their heads.

Now is the time. If they lose this game, I think you can pretty much kiss the series goodbye. Eddie Jordan knows this, and I think you'll see the inspired squad you saw for three and a half quarters on Saturday get it done tonight.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

-- The Tar Heel

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is the pressure now on the Flyers?

Capitals 3, Flyers 2

I've never really been one to believe that a young team needs to "learn" how to win playoffs games. After all, a team is playing the same sport they've played countless hours in their lives to that point and although playoffs games do have a different feel, one would expect the players to be prepared for them given how much the players do know about hockey. Yet it seems that almost every year a young, talented team fails to live up to its promise in the postseason.

Thus far this year it has been the Washington Capitals, who dropped three straight to the Philadelphia Flyers after a comeback victory in the first game of the series between the two teams. The Capitals do appear to be learning however: they played much better in Game 4 than in Game 3, and better in Game 5 than in Game 4. Given the Capitals' impressive run to end the season and the fact that they seem to be finding their groove the question is: is the pressure now on the Flyers?

After all, the orange and black missed their first opportunity to close out the series on Saturday afternoon when they let the Capitals come out and dictate the flow of play. Game 6 is going to be the Flyers best chance to close out the Capitals because if they lose the Capitals going in to a Game 7 at home, with momentum. While the Flyers do have the home ice advantage, the home ice advantage comes with pressure; pressure not just to win but to win in style and to please the crowd (especially in Philadelphia where fans can be...unforgiving to say the least). The Flyer faithful love their team's Broad Street Bullies persona and that, coupled with the fact that Capitals controlled the physical play on Saturday, means the Flyers have the potential to put themselves on the penalty kill both early and often. Playing against a Capitals team that's clicking on the powerplay for the first time this postseason the Flyers could be down and out if they succumb to the pressure of trying to close out the series at home and become undisciplined.
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