As much progress the Wizards seemed to make in last Wednesday’s preseason win in San Antonio, on Friday in Cleveland it all came unraveled. I don’t take much stock in preseason results, losing by 28 points to the Cavaliers is nothing more than a meaningless number at this juncture. And as Caron Butler was quoted in the Washington Post, “It’s not necessarily about shots made and missed. It’s about energy and establishing some type of rhythm for the first group.”
All true. Through the first half of the second quarter in Cleveland, the Wizards starters, along with the initial wave of second unit players, led the Cavs 35-33. But with an intriguing lineup of Dee Brown, Nick Young, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and JaVale McGee on the court, a Roots album title ensued (or Nine Inch Nails, or the literary inspiration, or the original poetic inspiration…depending on your flavor)……and things fell apart.
Cleveland closed out the first half on a 24-4 run, taking a 57-39 lead into the locker room, against a lineup that it’s reasonable to assume Eddie Jordan will be using this year, as opposed to him just tinkering.
The focus now shifts to the season opener against the New Jersey Nets on Tuesday. As with many NBA teams, there are still areas of concern. You can read the full preseason Wizards-Cavs game blog at Bullets Forever, but here are three observations which need to be addressed as the season grows:
- On back-to-back plays at the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Andray Blatche failed to display the most basic of rebounding fundamentals. A CYO player would’ve known to make body contact and box out, instead of standing straight up waiting for the ball to come to you. A 12-year old girl would’ve known to secure the rock with two hands instead of casually grasping for a board with one hand. Lorenzen Wright got offensive rebounds in both of the above scenarios and Blatche was benched for the rest of the game, only seeing a total of 3:49 on the court.
- Antonio Daniels is the scrappy, heady player this team needs. He’ll push the ball in transition when the opportunity arises, but mostly manages the game and values possessions. Daniels is not afraid to put his body on the line to get to the rim or create for others. However, Antonio Daniels is a very poor defender…..and it’s not just him being 32-years old and lacking the quickness to keep up with the speedy PGs of the NBA in one-on-one situations.
Several times against Cleveland, Daniels put himself in bad situations, losing track of his man when playing help-side defense. Turning his head and not seeing Delonte West cutting down the lane when helping on Ilgauskas equaled a layup. Losing track of a fading Mo Williams off the ball while being unaware of an Ilgauskus back screen equaled a Williams three-pointer. Giving help to Juan Dixon when it really wasn’t necessary equaled a Tarence Kinsey layup. Maybe some of the blame can be put on the overall defensive scheme and general court awareness, but either way, the end result isn’t working out for the Wizards.
- I have full confidence that Caron Butler can put the entire team on his shoulders and be the unquestioned leader, even when Gilbert Arenas returns. I also believe in Butler’s killer mid-range game. Yet, I can’t kick the feeling that he settles for jumpers way too much. Butler is one of the best free-throw shooters in the NBA, his 90.1% was good enough for 6th in the league last year. But as the Pradamaster pointed out in his Wizards season preview on Bullets Forever, Butler only attempted 4.1 free-throws per 36 minutes last season……“remarkably low for a top offensive option.” I know that opposing defenses will focus on Butler, with him being the go-to-guy. But to be a complete leader, and create opportunities for his teammates, Butler needs to get into (or closer to) the paint more. Doing so will only increase offensive movement in the absence of a creator such as Gilbert Arenas.