Slow steps and seconds guesses were the main themes from Saturday’s night home loss to an Antwan Jamison-less Cleveland Cavaliers. The Wizards let a very winnable game slip away as Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson and Mo Williams all burried late key three pointers and Washington fell to 1-4 on the young season.
Coach Saunders regretted sitting a hot Al Thornton (23 points on 10-16 field-goals) for the final nine minutes of the game.
“I said to Al that I made a mistake….I question myself the last three minutes about not having Al in there.”
Flip went to the long anticipated three-guard lineup of John Wall, Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas for the fourth quarter. The trio led the Wizards to a 90-85 lead with five minutes to go in the game after Arenas fueled a 3-on-1 fast break that ended with a flush by Andray Blatche.
On the following Cavs possession, where Cleveland seemed to get away with a three-second call and a travel, JaVale McGee fouled J.J. Hickson on a shot attempt. Hickson made the first and missed the second. The very grabbable rebound caromed over McGee’s head into hands of Anderson Varejo, who then found Parker for a corner three ball. The four-point play kind of summed up the night.
After clanking two free-throws and whiffing on a defensive assignment, McGee was subbed out for Hilton Armstrong and would never re-enter. Many media members questioned that move because overall McGee had played pretty well. And Hilton? Not So Much. Flip’s decision was based on McGee’s lackluster pick and roll defense:
“He was having trouble helping us on pick and roll defense…..Hilton is one of our better bigs in defending the pick and roll. It was killing us.”
Rashad Mobley and myself wondered why the Wizards did not to go super small ball and put Thornton at the four during the final stretch since Hickson and Varejao are not exactly world beaters in the post.
The game was tied at 95-95 with three minutes left, Mo Williams then hit two free-throws and Arenas missed a shot. On the next Cavs possession, Williams swung the ball from a double team at top of three-point line, and the Wizards did not communicate on a rotation or recover quick enough. This led to Boobie Gibson drilling in a wide open three. After a Wizards timeout, Arenas fumbled the ball as the shot clock was winding down, Hinrich was forced to heave a running 35-footer that did not touch the rim resulting in a violation.
The Cavs, once again, used quick ball movement find a wide open Williams, who delivered the three point dagger making it 103-95 Cleveland with 49 seconds left — Ball Game.
Lingering Questions Remain:
Can Wall limit his turnovers?
He had six more tonight and is still struggling with them.
Can Arenas become Agent Zero again?
Similar to the Knicks game, he had a hot stretch, but was ice cold for the most part. This team desperately needs him to score 20-25 points per game in order to compete on a nightly basis.
Should the team employ the three-guard lineup from the outset and/or finish with it?
It proved somewhat effective, although Al Thornton’s stellar play deserved more crunch time burn. The three-guard lineup (we need some type of nickname/acronym/twitter abbrev for it, how’s WAH? ) is a work in progress and could be the strength of the team if Hinrich scores as well as he did tonight. This is why Flip makes the big bucks, he needs to figure out how to use it properly.
Can Andray get into playing shape and how soon?
He is seriously huffing and puffing out there. Flip pointed out that Dray probably had his best overall game of the season by cleaning up 15 boards, but he can not play more than 2-3 minutes stretches without keeling over. And just forget about him making a jump shot in the last period because the dude has no legs. We all know that Blatche is still working himself back into shape from the broken foot, but he shouldn’t be this out of shape. We also know that while the team was extending his contract, Andray was feasting on late night snacks and gaining weight– a scenario that seems to fit well with the other ‘palm-smacks-face’ instances in franchise history.
Where is the youth movement?
The Wizards had four draft picks but only the point guard “Game Changer” has seen any legitimate run. I understand Hamady N’diaye and Kevin Seraphin are probably too raw in their development at this point and are thus inactive. But what about Trevor Booker? He was a four-year college player who is supposed to bring toughness to the team. He has only tallied up five total minutes in the last four games and finished against Cleveland with the dreaded ‘DNP – Coach’s Decision’. Wiz traded up in the draft to get this ACC standout, team officials sang his praises on defense, and now the kid sits major pine.
Will this team ever be able to employ solid, consistent team defense?
It is either a guard going under a screen, or not closing out on a shooter, or a big man not hedging properly, or a weak-side defender not rotating, or a player knowing where to go but by the time he makes a mental note, it’s too late, or it’s … man. You name it, the Wizards will do it. Perhaps the most disheartening part is that veterans in this system are making the same repeated mistakes.
Washington is one Carter Martin shot away from 0-5. Yes, the team is rebuilding and yes, patience must be showed for the new hodge-podge of players to mesh. Blatche and Arenas still need time to fully come back, but there seems to be something awry with this group of players. I just can’t put my finger on it. I hope the coaching staff is able to soon before the 1-4 season spirals into 2-8 or 5-20.
Other Game Notes:
- Gilbert Arenas received a warm applause from the home crowd when he entered the game off the bench in both halves. I was really impressed with Arenas’ passing ability versus Knicks and Cavaliers. Maybe the many months of pundits screaming that he can’t share the ball with John Wall diluted my memory of his game. On one possession, he just missed Wall on a breakaway toss that would have been sick to see what type of dunk that Wall would have thrown down.
- Wall had much more confidence in his mid-range jumper and knocked down several pull-ups in smooth fashion. His fast break bucket over Varejao was probably the hoop of the night, and was one of the few times the crowd got to its feet. One of my favorite attributes of Wall is him being visibly upset after the team loses. The defeats burn him up and his personality does a complete 180 from the jovial player he is before games, at practices, or interacting with teammates. His Wizards have now lost more games (4) then he did all of last year at Kentucky (3). I just hope he doesn’t beat himself up too much from an emotional standpoint, and that he is able to find a way to deal with grind of losing in the NBA.
- Hinrich rebounded nicely tonight from two very subpar performances with 17 points in the first half and finished with a line of 21 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and no turnovers.
- Just when I was about to wrap up a post I’ve been working on to pound Colin Cowherd into pixel dust, guess who shows up at the Phone Booth for an on’court performance? The ‘Teach Me How To Dougie’ creators, Cali Swag District. They taught the crowd how to Dougie and hung out after the game, waiting to meet some players, specifically Wall. The group actually just happened to be in town playing for a local D.C. radio station and they told me that they were happy to support Wall since he supported them. While they knew Wall Dougied out before last game, they were unaware of the ignorant criticism leveled by ESPN personality blowhard Colin Cowherd. When I informed them, one member answered “He wasn’t showboating, he was doing the Dougie.”
- Antawn Jamison, who registered a DNP due to nagging injury, made pleasantries with Wizards employees and showed some love to the Cali Swag District. He joked with them that he is too old to Dougie, but advised them to “keep making that music.” Class act, that ‘Twan, through and through.
- The Cali Swag four-man crew were downright hilarious, one dude kept commenting on how every baller had Luis Vitton. More video and pictures to come, I promise.
- I asked several Wizards players in the locker room before the pregame about Cowherd’s words against Wall and almost all were in disbelief that you could judge a player’s future career because of a dance. Trevor Booker had not heard about the quotes, but did say that he hated Cowherd’s act and his TV show Sports Nation. Me too Book, Me too.
- Thornton was in full beast mode tonight and is definitely balling like a man in a contract year. His aggressiveness to the rim and ability to finish are much improved.
- I witnessed several vendors roaming the arena selling adult and kid beverages. Consider me dazzled by the convenient addition.