Wednesday, May 7, 2008

State of the Capitals: Forwards

Top Performer: Alexander Ovechkin. He's going to win the league MVP, so naturally he was the Caps' best forward this year.

Underachiever: Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann was impressive enough in camp to win a spot across from Alex Ovechkin on the top line, but wound up only 10 goals and 30 points this year, and was scratched for several games in the playoffs.

Biggest Surprise: Brooks Laich. When Laich was acquired for Peter Bondra, he was pitched as a versatile depth forward with the potential to contribute more if everything came together. Given his attitude and work ethic, it isn't surprising Laich turned into a solid contributer. What is surprising is that he managed to do so at 24.

Underrated: Eric Fehr. Fehr's a player who's hard to evaluate objectively, with his career already marked by significant injury woes and the stigma of being selected one pick before Ryan Getzlaf on him. Fehr was able to bring an important presence to the Capitals though, using his big frame to crash the net and create havoc in the opponent's end. He won't ever be Getzlaf, but once Fehr gets his hands back and finishes filling out his frame, he'll be a very solid forward.

One to watch: Eric Fehr. I think Fehr, more than any other Capitals forward, is poised for a breakout year in 2008-09.

Under Contract for 2008-09: Nicklas Backstrom, Donald Brashear, Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Quintin Laing, Michael Nylander, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, David Steckel.
Restricted Free Agents: Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich

Unrestricted Free Agents: Matt Bradley, Matt Cooke, Sergei Fedorov

Depth Charts

Left Wing
(1) Alexander Ovechkin
(2) Alexander Semin
(3) Chris Bourque
(4) Donald Brashear
(5) Quintin Laing

(1) Nicklas Backstrom
(2) Michael Nylander
(3) Brooks Laich
(4) Boyd Gordon
(5) David Steckel
(6) Kyle Wilson
(7) Mathieu Perreault

Right Wing
(1) Viktor Kozlov
(2) Chris Clark
(3) Eric Fehr
(4) Tomas Fleischmann
(5) Andrew Gordon
(6) Ben Clymer
(7) Francois Bouchard

The Good: The Capitals are one player with breakout season away from having a very impressive first two lines with Backstrom, Ovechkin, Kozlov, Nylander and Semin all being legitimate top six players at the NHL level. Fortunately, the Capitals now have enough forward depth that at least one of Eric Fehr, Books Laich, Chris Clark and Tomas Fleischmann should be to pull top six duty next season. The Capitals depth also shows in two other, oft underrated areas: defense and versatility. Boyd Gordon, Chris Clark, David Steckel, Brooks Laich and Quintin Laing are all good defensive forwards, even if none are Selke-worthy; in terms of versatility, Capitals have at least six forwards who spent significant time in the NHL who are capable of playing center and nearly all the Caps' forwards can play more than one position. The key player here is Brooks Laich who is capable of providing a solid defensive presence and the ability to chip in on offense from any of the three forward positions.

The Bad: While the Capitals have a number of good defensive forwards, the checkers could stand to chip in more on offense (Steckel, Gordon and Laing had a combined 13 goals, including several empty netters, in a combined 173 games). Other than Ovechkin, none of the Capitals top five forwards play a very physical game.

2008-09 Outlook: With five of their top six spots filled, a versatile forward corps and plenty of high-potential players in the mix, the Capitals' outlook for next season is excellent. The potential of having Chris Clark, Alexander Semin and Michael Nylander for the entire season and the continued development of Backstrom, Fehr and Fleischmann, means the Capitals have a legitimate shot at leading the league in scoring in 2008-09 (if you think that's crazy, consider that the Capitals averaged 3.13 goals per game under Boudreau, a rate that would have them tied for second in the league this season). In terms of defense, the Capitals should look to add one or two more players, someone who can agitate opponents, someone who can play a physical game and back it up by dropping the gloves and someone who can kill penalties. These roles could be filled by re-signing Matt Cooke and Matt Bradley. If they chose to leave Washington there will be other options in the free agent market - I personally favor Adam Hall and Aaron Asham; if the Capitals want to avoid bidding on free agents, Chris Bourque is likely ready to step in to a grinder role. Given that the team only has this one need at the forward position, McPhee should not have too much difficulty filling it.
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Monday, April 28, 2008

Capitals Prospects Update

Well, the season's over, so it's only natural to look ahead to next year. In that spirit, here's how some of the Capitals' best prospects fared in 2007-08.

Karl Alzner (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL)- The statistics for Alzner were impressive: 36 points in 60 regular season games, a +26 rating in the regular season and six goals in the 16 playoffs games the Hitmen played before being swept out of the playoffs in the WHL's semi-final round. But Alzner's talens go beyond what can represented via statistics: he captained both the WHL's Eastern Conference Hitmen and the gold medal winning Canadian team at the World Juniors. Nothing is set in stone, but there's a very good chance that Alzner could break camp with the Capitals next season.

Francois Bouchard (Right Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Bouchard finished up his QMJHL career with Baie-Comeau Drakkar quite well, finishing eight in the 'Q' with 92 points and sixth in assists with 56, and has since joined the Bears for their playoff run. Although the Capitals are a little unsettled on the right wing after Viktor Kozlov and Chris Clark, the organization is likely going to want Bouchard to get at least one season of professional experience under his belt before they call him up for any extended period of time.

Chris Bourque (Right Wing/Left Wing, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Bourque had a solid season in 2007-08, highlighted by his NHL debut in Atlanta and a four goal night in Hershey. Like Bouchard, Bourque will probably get a look because the Capitals depth chart gets muddled on the wing after the first couple lines. Unlike Bouchard, Bourque has the attitude and experience to be a legitimate option as a depth player for the Capitals. His odds are probably largely dependent on whether or not Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke re-sign.

Joe Finley (Defense, North Dakota Fighting Sioux, WCHA) - In between a couple controversial incidents, Finley picked up 15 points (including four goals) for the Fighting Sioux while leading the team with a +24 rating. Finley hasn't said whether or not he plans to forgo his final season at North Dakota and turn pro, but even if he does the towering defenseman is likely to need 50-100 games of NHL experience before he's NHL ready.

Josh Godfrey (Defense, Hershey Bears) - The 2007 second rounder with the big shot lit the lamp 17 times this season for his OHL Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, and scored 41 goals over his last two years in the league, a span of 128 games. Like Alzner, Godfrey was a member of Canada's gold medal winning team at the World Juniors. It's very unlikely Godfrey would make the Capitals out of camp, but it's possible he could get a callup at some point in 2008-09, if for nothing other than to primarily man the point on the second powerplay unit.

Sami Lepisto (Defense, Hershey Bears, AHL) - Lepisto got his first taste of NHL action this year, playing in seven games for the Capitals. The callup was well deserved: Lepisto had four goals and 41 assists in 55 games for the Bears and his +29 rating led the Bears and was third in the AHL. Lepisto's future depends in large part on Brian Pothier. If Pothier ends up having to retire due to his concussion-related issues, there's a good chance the Capitals will keep Lepisto on their roster to fill his spot. If Pothier is able to come back, Lepisto still stands a very good chance at making the Caps, but it's likely his playing time won't be as significant.

Michal Neuvirth (Goalie, Oshawa General, OHL) - Neuvirth played for three OHL teams this season, compiling an aggregate 17-7-5 record with a 3.11 GAA and a .910 save percentage. Barring some unforeseen set of circumstances, Neuvirth will start next season in either South Carolina (ECHL) or Hershey (AHL).

Mathieu Perreault (Center, Hershey Bears) - Perreault led the QMJHL in points (114) and assists (80) in 2007-08. The 2006 sixth rounder joined the Bears at the end of their playoff run, playing three games without registering a point. With Nicklas Backstrom, Michael Nylander, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon already firmly entrenched in D.C. (along with the fact the Capitals probably want to see Perreault add some bulk to his 166 pound frame), Perreault will likely spend 2008-09 in Hershey.

Sasha Pokulok (Defense, South Carolina Stingrays, ECHL) - Pokulok hasn't progressed the way the Capitals would have liked and he was sent down to South Carolina (ECHL) after 44 games with the Bears. Pokulok performed well in the East Coast League, notching six assists in five regular season games and four assists in ten playoff games. Still, questions remain about Pokulok's durability and mobility. Pokulok will most likely start next year with Hershey.

Keith Seabrook (Defense, Calgary Hitmen, WHL) - Seabrook struggled through a disappointing season for the Hitmen in 2007-08, notching only four goals and 13 assists in 59 games. On the plus side, Seabrook was a +4 on the season, although that number might not be where Caps fans would want to see it either, considering that the regular season Eastern Conference winning Hitmen had 15 player with better ratings.

Semen Varlamov (Goalie, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl , RSL) - Varlamov gained a great deal of valuable experience this past season, playing in 44 games for his Russian team, going 27-15-0 and posting a 2.45 GAA.
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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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Friday, April 18, 2008

Cavs - Wiz: Act Three

All season long there seemed to be a certain sense of inevitability about this matchup. I don't know what the record is for consecutive first round playoff meetings, but the way things have gone in recent years, I wouldn't be surprised if this pairing doesn't break it. But while the Eastern Conference might have lacked the on-court drama down the stretch of it's left-ward counterpart, there's certainly been no short of drama off the hardwood. And that, more than the fact that there will be five current or former all-stars going toe-to-toe, makes this one of the most intriguing first round series of 2008.

The Story So Far

Two years ago, LeBron James almost single-handedly knocked the Wizards out of the first round with multiple baseline drives for game-winning layups. Washington fans cried "Travel!" while Cleveland fans praised their monarch. And there was also that little whisper and pat on the chest from LeBron just before Gilbert Arenas stepped to the line for the second of two critical free throws. Of course Gilbert missed it long, Damon Jones sank the shot of his career and the rest is history.

Last season, the Wiz limped into the postseason sans Gilbert and Caron Butler and, not surprisingly, got swept, despite a tremendous effort from their captain, Antawn Jamison.

As if two tough first-round losses wasn't enough to get the Wizards amped up for a rematch, DeShawn Stevenson decided to stir the pot following Washington's 101-99 home win against Cleveland on March 13, calling LeBron "overrated." LeBron came back with his "It's almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy" line. DeShawn responded with "I hope we play Cleveland. I'm going to get Soulja Boy courtside seats and have him wear a DeShawn Stevenson jersey. Maybe he can have Jay-Z there since LeBron's all on his (shorts) anyway." And then just in case he didn't get the message, "And tell LeBron to cut that beard off and stop copying me."

Then this week Mr. "I'm not talking to the media" Arenas throws this up on his blog:

"I think everybody wants Cleveland in that first round. They’ve been a .500 team ever since they made that trade and everybody wants a chance at that matchup. We want Cleveland for our own reasons, we don’t think they can beat us in the playoffs three years straight. It’s hard to beat a team three years straight. We want to try our luck."

Upon reading this, Charles "Soon to be the governor of Alabama if he can ditch the gambling addiction" Barkley called the Wizards "the dumbest team in the history of civilization."

Suffice it to say, there are plenty of story lines to watch in this series that go well beyond the play on the court. But while this little war of words is fun for the media, and those involved, ultimately, this series will come down to execution on the court. Surprise!

This Season

The two teams split their four-game season series with each winning twice at home and losing twice on the road. Gilbert Arenas missed all of the games and a couple other key players weren't in action in two more of the meetings.

Dec. 5 @ Washington - Wizards 105, Cavaliers 86
No LeBron James = a Wizards' walloping.

Jan. 23 @ Cleveland - Cavaliers 121, Wizards 85
This one was ugly from the start with the Wizards completely breaking down on the defensive end and allowing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to score 24 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the field...without even playing in the fourth quarter. The Cavs shot 56.6 percent from the field while Washington's starters combined to score just 42 points.

Feb 22 @ Cleveland - Cavaliers 90, Wizards 89
Even without Caron, Washington nearly dug this one out behind double-figure scoring from Jamison, Haywood, Stevenson, Blatche and Songaila off the bench. James scored 33 to lead all scorers and hit the game-winning free throws with 7.8 seconds left to lift the Cavs - who were without new additions Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Joe Smith.

Mar. 13 @ Washington - Wizards 101, Cavaliers 99
This was the one that started all the trash talking. Caron Butler returned to score 19 and DeShawn Stevenson drew a charge from James with 19.4 seconds left to preserve the victory and start the jawing.

The Matchups

Point Guard: Antonio Daniels (8.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.8 apg) v. Delonte West (8.3, 3.2, 3.8) -
AD has the most playoff experience of anyone on the Wizards' roster from his years in San Antonio (see his ring) and Seattle. His wrist has bothered him over the last couple months but he lives for the postseason and has proven his playoff worth many times in the past. Look for him to elevate his play, despite a decrease in minutes with the return of Arenas. This will be West's first trip to the postseason, but the former St. Joseph's star has the quickness to give Daniels trouble on the defensive end. Neither player is relied upon to score a great deal - and with Stevenson, Arenas and Butler for the Wiz and LeBron for the Cavs, both frequently lose their bringing the ball up responsibilities - but whoever can best dictate the tempo and limit his turnovers will give his team an important edge in the back-court. Edge: Wizards (barely)

Shooting Guard: DeShawn Stevenson (11.2, 2.9, 3.1) v. Devon Brown (7.5, 3.4, 2.2) - Defensively, the Locksmith has requested the assignment of taking on LeBron James - which would give him a chance to put his money where his mouth is. But on the offensive end, the Wiz will rely on Stevenson to make big buckets from the perimeter and take care of some of the ball-handling duties. He has taken a leadership role on this team in Gilbert's absence, delivering clutch shots down the stretch in close contests and he'll need to continue his hard-nosed play for the Wizards' to win this series. Brown is a spot up shooter who can also get to the rim but shouldn't be the type of factor Damon Jones was in the 2006 series - unless the Wizards decide to leave him open every time down the floor. They he could hurt them. Edge: Wizards

Small Forward: Caron Butler (20.3, 6.7, 4.9) v. LeBron James (30.0, 7.9, 7.2) -
In a huge matchup between two all-stars, the edge has to go to LeBron, simply because of how much he does for his team. Heck, he IS the team. Each year, James elevates his play and his ridiculous numbers in the playoffs, and expect the same from him this time around. He must play well for the Cavs to even have a chance...and if he does, they could easily win it. Butler has been dinged up lately but sat out the last couple games and will be ready to go. He competes like a lion every night and is really the pulse of the Washington team. The Wiz need him to do everything LeBron does - score, rebound, find the open man and get steals - but he doesn't have to do quite as much of it for the Wizards to be successful. Edge: Cavaliers

Power Forward: Antawn Jamison (21.4, 10.2, 1.5) v. Ben Wallace (4.8, 8.4, 1.5) -
This will be a very intriguing matchup with one of the best offensive and rebounding forwards in the game going up against one of the best defensive and rebounding forward/centers in the last decade. Big Ben should give Jamison some trouble when the Wizards have the ball, but with his unorthodox shots and his knack for getting his brand of flip-shots and runners up on the backboard, Antawn will get his points. Wallace isn't much of a threat on the offensive end, but Jamison has to box out the bigger man to prevent Cleveland from getting second-chance points. Edge: Wizards

Center: Brendan Haywood (10.6, 7.2, 0.9) v. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (14.1, 9.3, 1.4) -
Big Z killed the Wiz on the inside earlier this season and he could be the X-factor again in this series. Haywood has really raised his level of play on both ends since last season and he's going to have to play physical on the block with Ilgauskas and Wallace crashing the boards and James slashing to the hoop. If the Wizards can get double-digit rebounds and between 7 and 15 points from their big man, they'll be happy. Edge: Cavaliers

The Cavaliers restocked before the trade deadline, picking up Wallace, West, Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith. They also have Anderson Varejao on the inside and Damon Jones and Daniel "Boobie" Gibson to throw up threes on the perimeter. It's a nice group of guys but no one can match what the Wizards have coming off the pine pony in Gilbert Arenas. He changes the complexion of the game entirely with his speed and ability to pull up from outside or drive to the basket. He's looked great in the last week and a half and I expect him to play like the Gilbert of old in this series. But he still needs to play within himself and his new role. Arenas won't hold anything back, but the team chemistry has been great since his return and it would be a shame to throw that out so Gilbert can be the prime-time star he has been in the past. Washington also has very capable guys in Darius Songaila and Roger Mason (another potential X-factor) to go along with young-guns Andray Blatche and Nick Young. Edge: Wizards

Coaching: Eddie Jordan has done a tremendous job considering all the injuries this team has sustained to key players. He won't get coach of the year but should be up there on the ballot. Mike Brown has often struggled to find the best lineup and he hasn't really had to do much other than get the ball in his star's hands. Edge: Wizards

Series Prediction: I'm taking the Wizards in 6.
The series could very easily go 7 and it would probably be a fitting conclusion. Either way, it's going to be physical, the games are going to be close and I'm looking forward to all the trash talking and drama that comes with LeBron v. DeShawn/Gilbert. I'll be at Game 3 Thursday in D.C. and here's hoping Soulja Boy is court-side in a Locksmith jersey.

-- The Tar Heel

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