Bucked Down 102-74: Hard Lessons Come Easy For Young Wizards
A local scribe brought his two young boys to Friday night’s Wizards game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Both in the age range of four to six I would guess. Probably should have asked, but I was too curious about the dire appearance of their situation.
Plopped down on the floor against the cold white wall, limbs askew, the hoods of their coats over heads. The parts of their faces I could see looked to be some of the saddest in the building at the moment. Not as bad as their puppy just dying, but worse than being dragged to the ballet or church. The Verizon Center seemed like the last place in the world they wanted to be.
Other media members, those whose job is mainly to cover the Washington Wizards, joked, “You two look like how I’ve felt all season.” This comment, mind you, was made by two separate reporters independent of each other. Their situation had become an inherent punchline out of necessity. And this scene took place before the game even started.
“Gotta laugh to keep from crying,” said Caron Butler at one point earlier this year. He would later laugh all the way to Dallas. Others have had to stick with the same coping ability back here in the District.
“Don’t ever think it can’t get any worse, because it can,” is another quote from Flip Saunders after a late December home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It certainly did get much, much worse with guns and trades and perhaps culminating with Josh Howard’s season-ending knee injury as the steam arising from the cow pie, or in other words, the icing on the cake.
I wouldn’t classify Friday’s 102-74 loss to the Bucks, after just having lost to the same team in Milwaukee 100-87 two days earlier, as a continued digression. Those who know better knew there would be days like this with the current squad. It was, however, the worst effort since the trades, and piggy-backs upon what was perhaps the most boring home game of the year. It was Date Night at the Phone Booth, one can only imagine how many disappointed happy endings the piss-poor basketball game led to. Toward the end, the boo-birds were flying higher in the Verizon Center than they had all season. Hard to imagine them not killing any love birds in the process.
By halftime the Wizards’ poor body language became a reflection of those two young boys’ state of mind before the game. James Singleton was the first in line to leave the court at intermission, shaking his head all the way to the locker room. One hoped, that one being me, who can be positive sometimes, that the Wizards would return to the court re-focused, re-motivated, and ready to fire on all cylinders, filled with the pride of not wanting to continue getting mopped across the floor by the same team that had done so for the previous 60 minutes. Against a Milwaukee team only three games above .500 (after last night’s win) and with a current road record of 13-20, which was, however, as bad as 5-18 heading into February.
The third quarter quickly morphed into the fourth, and it was a damn quick game. Milwaukee won the battle on the boards 51-42, out assisted the Wizards 27-10, won the fast-break points 20-1, and out-muscled the Wizards in the paint scoring 44 points to 28. Hanging heads, shaking heads, and towels over heads prevailed. The Wizards were a defeated team and they couldn’t do a damn thing about it. But why?
My friend Mr. Mike Prada so aptly put it after Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee, “As of right now, the Wizards don’t have anyone who can break a defense down off the dribble. If you do, then you can combat Milwaukee’s ball pressure, but the Wizards just don’t.”
This is a partially a reflection of point guard play, something with which Flip Saunders has become increasingly frustrated as of late. It’s becoming more apparent that Randy Foye’s time in Washington is limited. Foye is a class act, but not the capable floor leader the Wizards need. Not completely his fault that he’s so limited, but it also says a lot that he’s been unable to rise to the occasion. Enjoy him while you can, I suppose.
Recently Saunders has found ways to take subtle jabs at Foye while using newcomer Shaun Livingston as a conduit. Well, subtle in his words, but certainly not subtle through the filters of journalists.
When asked about the potential of Livingston before Friday’s game, Saunders responded, “A lot of times, when Randy [Foye] plays, Randy gets what I call system assists. We bring a shooter off a double and that’s the one we’re looking for, where Shaun gets assists when he kind of makes something out of nothing, and he’s the one guy on our team that can do that a little bit.”
After the game, when again asked a question specifically about Livingston, who played 15 minutes, scoring six points on 3-4 shooting with two assists, two rebounds and one turnover, Saunders said, “[Livingston] can create, can do some things. He’s got size. He has poise with the ball, got us into offenses a little bit quicker. You know, Randy didn’t get us into any offense. We were discombobulated.”
Message sent coach. Randy is a black and white player. He has shown no instinct. But other than Foye, who is only a fraction of the problem, this team has flashed back to the days of “hero ball” … or Groundhog Day Part Two.
“Players tried to do too much, that’s why we had the low assists,” said Saunders, referring to his team’s season-low 10 assists on the game. The Wizards are currently 29th in the NBA in assist per game with 18.61, besting the league worst New Jersey Nets by 0.53 assists.
“Instead of trying to let the system work, they tried to do it more individually. We gotta get back to doing it the other way,” the coach concluded.
So it’s back to the lesson plan for the teacher and back to the desks for the students. Grab your red markers folks, the term paper for the rest of the season might be heavily marked up for both the coach and the players.