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Wizards vs. the World and Texas A&M, Plus Beards

This being playoff time, media people are making playoff picks. ESPN's Marc Stein says the Cavs will sweep, and none of the games will be close. Marcel Mutoni at FanHaus says "it should be a cakewalk." SLAMOnline has two previews; both say Cavs in five. CBSSportsline has five experts making picks; three of them say the Cavs sweep, and the other two say the Cavs in five. Sports Illustrated's three NBA writers are similarly divided between four games and five. Salon's King Kaufman calls it a Cavs sweep, while Deadspin says Cavs in five. The AP calls the Wiz "one of the weakest playoff teams the league has seen," and FoxSports's Charley Rosen gives the series an interest level of "F." This, friends, is consensus.

So after practice today, Eddie Jordan gathered the team for an old-fashioned pep talk, a discourse about silencing the doubters and earning respect, the kind of soft-spoken yet pointed monologue that features gradually swelling brass and kettle drums and goosebumps and maybe a tear or two leaking out of particularly emotional viewers. It was much more Hoosiers than NBA. Suffice it to say, the word "disrespected" was featured prominently.

"He talked about the issue," Andray Blatche summarized for us after the send-off had ended. "The way everybody was doubting us, how we should take this personal, come out as a team and try to win this game, and dig deep down inside of ourselves and be the best basketball players we can be."

Not the kind of stuff you imagine coming from jaded pro coaches. This felt like gym class, circa eighth grade. But several players said this kind of motivation actually works, even for grown men with seven-figure contracts who claim not to read the papers.

"I mean, he's right," Antonio Daniels said of Jordan. "He's 100 percent right. You can't show me one publication, in D.C., out of D.C., anywhere, where anyone's picking us to do anything."

"Not true," I immediately thought. Maybe it's not technically a publication, but DC Optimist, the blog that looks on the sunny side of Washington sports, has the Wizards winning in a sweep. But I decided to let A.D. continue.

"We're being extremely disrespected by every media outlet that there is out there," he continued, "so I think myself and my teammates need to take it personal, take it as a smack in the face."

Others were more sympathetic to the no-nothing media pessimists.

"If I was the media I'd be doing the same thing," Brendan Haywood said. "At the end of the day, if I was on the other side, if I was the media and I had to take who I thought would win, you know, you'd have to pick against us right now. But it's up to us, the guys within the team, to prove everybody and the rest of the world wrong. We're all NBA players. We all get checks. So we definitely have enough players and enough pride to go out there and play the right way and win some games."

"I say anything's possible," agreed injured head cheerleader Caron Butler, who traveled with the team to Cleveland today, cast and all. "We're the underdogs. Don't rule out the possibility of me coming back. If we get a win and stretch this series out a little farther, anything's possible. So just understand that."

[Note: The first round is still in play. The team's official blog is even speculating about it Say the Wiz somehow steal one in Cleveland, ok? Surely they can win one at home; everyone who's picking Cavs in five is acknowledging that. So now they could go back to Cleveland 2-2, and Caron's cast would have been off for more than a week, and...well, just saying.]

"We can't go in with our heads hung low like little sick puppies," summarized Jarvis Hayes, taking the prize for best quote of the pre-playoffs. "We've got to go in with some kind of fight, and we will."

Back to Coach's inspirational message. Hayes, grinning throughout just at the prospect of playoff basketball, said he hadn't read any of the predictions, "but from what coach said, it's pretty hilarious." Hilarious? I love hilarious. Any examples? "Oh, just like they don't give us a chance, like we can't beat Texas A&M or something like that."

Texas A&M? How did the Aggies get involved in this? I mean, Texas A&M lost to the team (Memphis) that lost to the team (Ohio State) that lost to the team (Florida) that won the national championship. Seemed an odd choice. I wonder if they now feel disrespected.

"I didn't really mean to say Texas A&M," Jordan confessed later.

"Acie Law's good," someone pointed out.

"I know," Jordan said. "I meant to say a smaller school, there was a smaller school I was thinking of."

"Texas A&M-Corpus Christi?" someone suggested.

"Yeah," Jordan said. "There you go."

And in any case, "We would kill Texas A&M," Hayes said, confidently. So there you go.

Playoff Beard Update

I'm not shaving until the Wizards are eliminated. I thought I was being inspired by Michael Ruffin, who hadn't shaved for something like a month, and, like me, has very little hair on top of his head. But it turns out I misunderstood the situation. His playoff beard involved not shaving until the playoffs began. Kind of the anti-playoff beard. He showed up today, clean-shaven, and my heart dropped. But when I explained to him that I was following his lead, playoff-beard wise, and that I had already mentioned this on regional cable, I'm pretty sure he agreed to resume growing his playoff beard. I tried to get Calvin Booth on board, too; "no deal," he said.

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 20, 2007; 5:36 PM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Comments

Wizards in 4. Enough said

Posted by: double mint | April 20, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse

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