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Little love for the Wiz

If you are anything like me, you look forward to reading as many NBA season preview magazines as you can get. I've always felt that Sports Illustrated had one of the best and the new issue arrived at my place yesterday. The first thing you'll notice is that the cover is shared by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony. That should come as no surprise to anyone who closely followed the national team this summer. Basically, if felt like the whole thing was a marketing push for those three players. LeBron I get. He's a stud. And what can anyone say about D-Wade? He has a ring and he's favored to get another. Carmelo? Not so sure. He's good but is he LeBron and D-Wade good?

Something tells me that Gilbert Arenas saw the magazine as well and will have some more, um, extra motivation. We'll see. SI has the Wiz finishing 7th in the Eastern Conference but that's not all that shocking because it seems that most national types have the Wiz somewhere around 6, 7 or 8. I asked Antonio Daniels about such expectations during camp in Richmond and he wasn't upset. "I kind of like that people are sleeping on us. Let them. They don't know what we have here but they'll find out." That seems to be the general attitude of the entire team.

The real shocker for me was the mag picking New Jersey to finish second and Indiana to finish 6th, one spot ahead of Les Wiz. Not sure about those selections. The Nets have their own Big Three with J KIdd, Vince Carter and R Jefferson plus a legit big man in Nenad Krstic (the more I saw him last season, the more I liked his game. He's the ideal center for where this game is going) but I don't see any kind of a bench. Marcus Williams is a rookie, Josh Boone is a rookie and has a bad shoulder, Cliff Robinson is 107 years old and Eddie House is hurt. Also, it's a contract year for Carter and that could go either way. Given his history, I see it being a problem.

What do you guys think about where the Wiz should be slotted? The Darius Songaila situation is a setback no doubt. Ernie Grunfeld was counting on him to add some shooting touch to the frontcourt and some defense and rebounding. As it is, the Wizards will have to count on Michael Ruffin off the bench and perhaps, the kid, Andray Blatche until Songaila gets back. The key will be the health of Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison and Antonio Daniels. Lose any of those guys early in the season and this team could be in trouble.

Someone wrote a comment on my story from this morning touching on a stat I used. It kind of shocked me. The Wizards were 10-18 in games decided by six points or less last season. And that was just the regular season. Remember, they lost three games by one point in the playoff series against Cleveland. That stat kind of stunned me. I mean, I was there for all but two games last season but hadn't realized that they were 10-18. During 2004-2005 when they finished 45-37, the Wiz were 20-13 in games decided by six or less. That's obviously a huge swing and one huge endoresment for tightening up that defense. However, it's also an endorsement for taking care of business earlier in games. Last season, the Wiz had a lot of lulls in second and third quarters when they allowed nice leads to evaporate. A stronger, deeper bench should help fix that but again, that will depend on health. If Jarvis stays healthy and if Songaila can bet back healthy, this is a very deep squad.

The team unveilved new, alternate uniforms yesterday. I like the two-toned, gold and black look. St. Olaf colors baby!

Judging by the comments here and on the Wiz site, other folks aren't as impressed. I know this: if the Wiz ever wear those uniforms during a game on TNT, Charles Barkley is going to have a field day.

By Ivan Carter  |  October 20, 2006; 10:31 AM ET
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