Lob City comes to the District tonight… the highest highs and the lowest lows of the Wizards multiplied by the Los Angeles Clippers and divided by a 4-19 record against a 13-7 one. “I told them I’m pulling that cigarette out tonight,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman before the game, referring to the very poor effort the Wizards gave in a loss to Toronto last night and how his team “fell off the wagon” back to poor habits. The coach is also going with Trevor Booker over Jan Vesely in the Wizards starting lineup. Talking to the Cook Book before the game, his focus will be keeping Blake Griffin away from the basket and on how the Wizards guard pick and rolls (Chris Paul runs a lot of them, Wittman admitted). What’s the key to stopping Paul on the P&Rs? “We got to make sure we stop the ball, make sure he can’t get in the lane. The more he’s in the lane, the more have to collapse, and the more the bigs are going to be open to throw the lob to,” said Booker. For tonight’s 3-on-3 drill we have Kevin Arnovitz (@kevinarnovitz) of ESPN TrueHoop/ClipperBlog, along with TAI’s Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20) and Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It). Three questions, three answers starts now…
1) What’s the No. 1 thing Chris Paul has that John Wall doesn’t, but really needs to get?
ARNOVITZ: Vision. When Paul has the ball in the half court, he’s thinking about one thing — where he is relationally to the other shotmakers on the court and those on the defense who can alter those shots. Wall is speedy, but like most people in their early 20s – apologies to Louis CK – he has no idea how to do the job yet. That will change.
MOBLEY: Since this is the Super Bowl weekend, I’ll start with a football analogy. Rookie running backs tend ignore their offensive line and to try to use their God-given athleticism to make a big play. Seasoned running backs patiently wait for the offensive line to open a hole (they may even rest their hands on the backs of the O-line while the play is unfolding) then they run right through. There’s an impatience to Wall’s game right now that manifests itself via the one-man fast breaks, the rushed jumpers, and the exasperation with his teammates. Chris Paul, with talented teammates in Los Angeles and less talented teammates in New Orleans, is a patient point guard. He lets the game come to him, he sets up teammates, and if he’s needed to do more, he does that too.
[Flip Saunders & Chauncey Billups remember the good ole days. They can't last forever, can they?]
[My column this week at the DCist, the first three paragraphs of which are posted below, covers Flip Saunders, the general state of team management, and how fans should be prepared for there to be no change in basketball operations at least until the end of the current 2010-11 season. Thanks for checking it out (and yes, I'm now recycling my own content).]
Earlier this season, after who knows what number post-game press conference where he had to explain a frustrating loss, Wizards coach Flip Saunders exited the media room with an impassioned step. The media followed his path up until the point where Saunders carried forward to his office, per usual, while hurried members of the press took a quick turn left into locker room to interview players. Before disappearing around the corner, in a moment where he probably thought he was alone, Saunders let out a loud expletive, both rhyming with and feeling down on his luck.
Moving to his press conference after Tuesday’s home game against the Denver Nuggets — the Wizards’ 31st loss in 44 games on the season — Saunders’ demeanor was different. He wasn’t exactly a defeated man — Saunders’ often conveys a sleepy-eyed, subtle calmness — but he was more a coach resigned to a situation which he often likes to point out that he didn’t sign up for. He highlighted more what the Nuggets did in building confidence to beat a downtrodden, rebuilding franchise, rather than what his own team did, or didn’t do, in losing yet again. Saunders didn’t seem as angry at the loss as he did on Monday night in New York, but more faced it as a matter-of-fact. Afterward, as he went through his exit routine with the media following on their way to talk to players, Saunders didn’t drop any F-bombs. He just gently rapped his hand along the photos of Wizards stuck to the wall as he plodded toward to his office, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
The names Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups have been in the minds of Denver Nuggets fans, beat writers and casual observers all season long and with good reason. Carmelo has been Denver’s franchise player for eight years now, and he has made it known that he wants to take his talents elsewhere — allegedly to the New York Knicks, but Chicago, New Jersey and Denver are “allegedly” under consideration as well. If he does leave, whether via trade or free-agency, the Nuggets figure to be in rebuilding mode, which will also affect Billups. Chauncey is 34-years old, he’s won a championship, and although he’s not the same “Mr. Big Shot” as he was during his title run with the Detroit Pistons, he is still an effective player (15.9 points and 5.3 assists per game). He’s earned the right to be on a contending team, not one in transition — and without Carmelo, or someone of value in return, that’s exactly what the Nuggets would become.
So when Denver visited the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Wizards Tuesday night, I was curious to see how Carmelo and Billups would perform under the weight of all the alleged trades and transition. Carmelo had 23 points and seven rebounds, Billups had 15 points and six assists, and both players were integral to the Nuggets’ 120-109 victory. However, I came away from the game with the names of their two teammates in my mind instead: Ty Lawson and Al Harrington.
Lawson had 17 points and two assists, and did most of his damage in the second quarter when the Nuggets stretched their lead to 12 points (although it got as high as 17 at one point in the period). The point guard had seven points in the second, and he kept both John Wall and Mustafa Shakur completely off-balance with his ability to change speeds, get to the basket, and knock down the open shot.
Harrington was a non-factor for three quarters, but he came alive in the fourth quarter when he hit five of the six three-pointers he attempted. He finished with 21 points, and he did so despite being heckled the entire game by courtside Wizards fans who insisted on calling him Othella, instead of Al (Kyle Weidie detailed this exchange in a great post).
The Washington Post’s Michael Lee called JaVale McGee’s limited time in the Team USA intra-squad scrimmage on Thursday night an “uneven” performance. You could say that — he had two points (1-2 FGs), two turnovers, a foul and a single defensive rebound in 9:40 of court action. You could also say that the defense McGee played on the final play, a sudden death game-winning lob dunk by McGee’s opposition, Tyson Chandler, was ‘so’ JaVale … as in typical. Let’s take a peek …
The Sudden Death Play
It’s a loose ball on the perimeter after a long missed shot by the blue team and McGee, in white in the middle of the lane, looks to have good intentions in going for it (even though he’s no where near being the closest person to the ball).
Some are saying that John Wall in a Wizards uniform should mean the end of Gilbert Arena. They assume the two are incapable of co-existing.
Matt Moore of Pro Basketball Talk and Hardwood Paroxysm makes a solid argument using statistics. On PBT Moore cites Arenas’ high usage rate, and on HP he uses Synergy Sports to outline the types of solo offensive plays involving Arenas last season. Both pieces highlight valid concerns that a Wall-Arenas backcourt will not work because they both need the ball in their hands.
Moore also alludes that the Wizards’ locker room is likely still poisoned and assumes there’s little chance Arenas will emerge from his mess a man changed for the better … and that this would obviously be a bad situation to bring Wall into.
Shaun Livingston has been through basketball hell, but the point guard just might be the godsend Flip Saunders has been searching the heavens for to lead his team.
The Wizards, as was pretty much expected, lost their third game in as many nights 109-95 to the Orlando Magic on Saturday, but Livingston broke out with his best game (most points with 18 and most assists with eight) since his career-changing knee injury in February 2007 .
Livingston has barely been with the Wizards two weeks and he appears more comfortable running Flip’s offense than anyone else has been all season.
“The biggest thing is he’s got a very high basketball I.Q. He seems to calm everybody down a little bit when he’s on the floor,” said Saunders. “And he’s got great size so when things break down he’s has the ability to back somebody down and get a shot off.”
Ok, it was just one game … two games counting the win against Minnesota. With a 107-97 win over the Denver Nuggets, the Wizards have won two games in a row for just the sixth time all year (three has yet to be accomplished). Is it a reason to think this team just might do something crazy and sneak into the playoffs? Absolutely not. Is it a reason to get excited? A resounding yes.
Energy, effort, hustle and hunger were the themes tossed around the Verizon Center Friday night, the obvious reason why Wizards fans, even those who came to see Baltimore’s Carmelo Anthony, stood up and cheered for a brand of basketball that’s rarely been seen this season, if at all.
“I told guys at shoot-around, ‘We gotta play like a pack of mad dogs,’ and that’s how we played tonight,” said Flip Saunders after the game. The new guys, Josh Howard, Al Thornton and James Singleton set the example and led the way. “Thornton at 6’7″ can play like 6’10″ rebounding-wise, and Josh can play bigger, and of course Singleton. Those are energy guys,” the coach continued.
Thornton can score too, netting 17 of his 21 points in the second half. He arrived in D.C. at 2 am on Friday, and wasn’t able to participate in that morning’s shoot-around, but dug deep and found a way to play some damn good defense against Anthony. “Once Carmelo gets in a groove and gets in jab steps going, he’s very hard to guard. So, I just tried to get in him and frustrate him a little bit and make him take off-balanced shots,” Thornton said. Melo had 23 points in the game, but only five in the second half and zero in the fourth quarter. He shot 1-10 in the second half.
Kevin McHale once told Randy Foye, “Anything [Dwyane Wade] can do, you can do.” I doubt Wade would have come up short in three crucial game situations as Foye did in Chicago, but the team and fans are finding out that the 26-year old might be worth keeping after this season. He has stepped up his play in Gilbert Arenas’ absence, and has proven to be a high character guy.
Not counting the blowout in Cleveland (because the Wizards were going through mental shock from the last-minute indefinite suspension of Arenas and Foye didn’t even start), in the seven games Foye has filled in as the Wizards’ starting point guard, he has averaged 18.6 points (.438 FG%), 7.1 assists, 1.9 turnovers, and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Of course, give any player more minutes and his numbers will go up. Foye has averaged 38:40 minutes over his last seven compared to 17:39 over his first 32 games. To put his latest stats in perspective, it’s best to compare his numbers per 36 minutes between the defined pre- and post-Gilbert Arenas eras [note: Foye's one missed game came November 14th against the Pistons; he had a sprained ankle].