Focus on the Celtics


The Wizards wrapped up practice not long ago and appear to have turned the page from Wednesday's tough opening night loss in Cleveland and are focused on the Boston Celtics. The good news is that four of the next five games are at Verizon Center, where the Wiz were 27-14 last season, so the team will have an opportunity to bounce back and get rolling in the friendly confines. I'm thrilled at the stretch because we spent almost the entire preseason on the road. The Wiz haven't played at home since the preseason opener against Toronto on Oct. 9.

Jarvis Hayes said he'd like to win 30 games at home this season: "You have to protect that home court because winning on the road in this league is hard."
A big reason why the Wizards won 45 games in 2004-2005 is because they were 29-12 at home. Remember that brutal stretch late in the season when the lost five straight road games and everyone started the "Same old Wizards" talk only to bounce back by ripping four straight off at home?

Anyway, I was flipping through the media guide looking at home and away marks in franchise history and it shocked me how good the old Bullets were at home. Here are the home wins from 1973-74 through 78-79: 31, 36, 31, 32 and 29. If this team protects home court like that, it can lock up home court advantage in the playoffs. That may have made a huge difference in the first round against Cleveland last spring.

Antawn Jamison provided some insight into that last-second attempt the other night from three-point range. "I knew I was going to be wide open because when we walked out there I heard Larry (Hughes) tell Varajeo that it was going to be a dribble handoff (Jamison handing it off to Gilbert) so when I got it and faked to Gilbert, I turned and was all alone. I just rushed it. I probably should have taken a dribble so I would have been going towards the basket."

From my perspective, the really interesting part about the final play was that I had watched Jamison in pregame warm ups go through his normal shooting routine. With Wes Unseld Jr. rebounding, Jamison attempts 15 threes from five spots around the three-point line and I would guess that he makes 60 percent of them. He then moves onto free throws and various mid-range shots and post ups. So, when he took the shot the other night, the thought that popped in my head was: "This is good." He just missed it. He missed similar open look from 3 late last season in Houston but doesn't appear to be bothered. "I've been in those situations a lot and I'm comfortable with it. I just rushed that one. Hopefully I get a few more of those."

A few folks have written in wondering about Andray Blatche. He was inactive Wednesday and obviously is not in Eddie Jordan's plans as far as the regular rotation. However, that does not mean that he'll be inactive every game. Jordan said he will take a look at Blatche from time to time in "certain situations." One thing Andray is working on his outside shot. He tends the release the ball a little flat and he doesn't always get good elevation. He was taking a jumpers after practice today under the watchful eyes of Ernie Grunfeld, who offered advice from time to time.

"What are the three keys Andray?" Grunfeld asked.
Blatche, without hesitating: "Legs, release, finger tips."
Grunfeld: "That's right."
Blatche promptly drilled four of his next five shots.
Grunfeld: "See how easy it is. It's all technique."
Blatche smiled. The kid appears to be keeping his spirits up after a disappointing preseason.

I was killed today for wearing a St. Olaf College sweatshirt (my alma mater) to practice.
VP of BBall administration Tommy Sheppard: "Did you hurt your shoulder pulling that one out of the closet?"
Antonio Daniels: "Man, you went deep with that one. That thing's looking a little short in the front."
Jamison: "St.Olaf? That's a college? I thought it was a pre-school or something."

Interesting observation: Hayes walked out with a Mitch Richmond highlight DVD tucked under his arm. I just hope it is the Golden State/Sacramento version of Richmond rather than the Washington one because the man was nice back in those days.


By Ivan Carter |  November 3, 2006; 1:57 PM ET
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I'd prefer Andray to be working on his post-up game more than his jumper; we need bangers inside. Also, he did very well, I thought, when he was put in games last year, especially given the shooting and lack of training camp. I wonder if he's the type of player who cranks it up when the real bullets are flying? Certainly, he's not a starter, but I'd rather give him 10 minutes a game than Ruffin at this point; we've gotta develop the kids in game situations.

As for Antawn, can you, Ivan, or Michael please ask him why he hangs around the perimeter now, and almost never goes into the post on offense? Without more inside presence, it's gonna be a tough row to hoe, and he is our starting 4 after all. Is he just feeling old and beat-up?

Posted by: Keithinator | November 3, 2006 2:47 PM

Ivan!
I was both pleased and disappointed to see your article in the Post this morning. Pleased that after the first game Jordan is already being asked about his small lineup. I think that is going to be a key storyline to watch throughout the season -- how effective is it, how will it affect defense and rebounding, will it be less effective this year when you don't have a 6'11" Jeffries as part of your small group, etc.?
Disappointed in that there were a couple of inaccuracies in your report. You indicated that, "One factor in Jordan's strategy was Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's decision to go with his own small lineup." That is just not true. Cleveland had at least two of the following players on the floor at all times during the game: Ilgauskas, Varejao, Gooden and Marshall. (You can see this at the gamecast on www.popcornmarchine.net, a great website someone mentioned on this blog yesterday.) And during the pivotal last 6 or so minutes, Gooden (starting PF) and Varejao (backup PF/C) were in, while Jamison, a SF/PF, was playing center for the Wizards.
It was quite interesting also to see Jordan defend his small lineup by saying: "I think we were down 11 and we went to the small lineup and went up by two." Again, looking at the gamecast mentioned above, you can see that when the Wizards were down by 4 halfway through the 3rd quarter, Jordan went small by taking out Jamison and replacing him with Hayes (joined by Stevenson, Thomas, Arenas and Butler). The Wiz then fell down by 11. Jordan went slightly bigger, putting in Haywood for Thomas and Daniels for Stevenson, and the Wiz cut the lead down to 7. For the last 1/2 of the fourth quarter, the Wizards went smaller still, taking a lead, but ending up losing by 3. Add in the fact that when Jordan went small for a short stint in the 2nd quarter by pulling Haywood in favor of Ruffin, it led to a -6 turn in favor of the Cavs. So, I think it's interesting that when questioned about the small lineup, Jordan thinks he went small when he was down by 11 and that led to a lead, when the truth is that going small led to poor results in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and while effective in the last part of the 4th quarter, was not as effective as he recalls. Interesting, interesting, interesting.

Posted by: Henry | November 3, 2006 2:58 PM

Thanks for the word Ivan, it is very much appreciated! I agree w/Keithinator, Blatche needs to work on his post game, his problem to me is he tries to play like a guard, hence the high TOs.

Interesting about Hayes w/the Richmond DVD. I used to love his game when he was young, and Hayes reminds me of him a bit... his build, the way he moves and that sweet shooting stroke. Haven't heard a word about The Rock since MJ bought him out, wonder what he's up to these days. Hayes would be wise to pattern his game after him.

Posted by: Darnell | November 3, 2006 3:04 PM

"They made perimeter shots," Jordan said. "We wanted to protect the paint. I felt that for 3 1/2 quarters, we protected the paint. They got some drives down the last part of the fourth quarter, they got some layups and we didn't rebound the ball so we have to sustain that effort for 48 minutes."

This is exactly what we are talking about! I understand Cavs went small, and were running Varejao on the perimeter. I that case you go with Etan and you take advantage of them inside. You can play zone and keep your big down low, you don't have to make him chase guys out on the perimeter. You play zone, you keep your defensive presence down low, and you force the Cavs to take jumpshots instead of layups. When they miss the Js you get the rebounds. On the other end you go to Etan for the dunk and make them pay for going small. It's not that difficult.

Posted by: Darnell | November 3, 2006 3:13 PM

Cavs coach Brown probably intentially went small so that Eddie would do the same, rather than close with Etan because coach Brown knew they had no answer for Etan. He was the one player they could not match up, so coach Brown went small and kept him out of the game to neutralize the one advantage we had. And we followed right along. Brilliant coaching job by coach Brown.

Posted by: poptart | November 3, 2006 3:15 PM

Please, let's not annoint Etan an unstoppable offensive threat. He's not. He had a nice game. An encouraging game, but he ain't Hakeem. The silly thing about taking him out of the game was that the Zards lost toughness and rebounding. Without those two components, this team will remain the same as last year. And that is exactly why Hughes and Lebron went straight to the basket for easy finishes.

Posted by: marc | November 3, 2006 3:31 PM

What is interesting is that Blatche wasn't working on his jumper because he felt like it. Grunfeld clearly was on board with him working on that. Grunfeld is too tightlipped, Ivan, so I won't even ask you to ask him what his vision for the team is in two years. But it clearly includes Arenas, Daniels and Butler in the backcourt, with Butler playing some SF Songalia at PF, Pecherov at PF/C, and maybe Blatche if he develops as a SF. I would even guess that maybe one reason Thomas is starting this year is that the team wants to make use of him because his contract extends for a while.

Posted by: dave | November 3, 2006 3:53 PM

Henry, thanks for weighing in and you provide some good analysis but I'll disagree with your belief that the story today had some inacurate reporting. Cleveland did indeed go small in the fourth quater in the sense that Ilgauskas was not on the floor. (he played 14 seconds. Gooden and Varajeo are tall players but neither is a true center so, to me, that fits the description of "going small." That was my point about Jordan matching Brown's lineup with his own small lineup. I'm not saying it was a necessarily the best coaching move, just explained some of his reasoning for going with it. And to Dave, Ernie absolutely invisions a future frontcourt that includes the 6-11 Blatche and the 7-foot Pecherov. He believes the league is going towards those kinds of versatile big men, guys who can handle, pass, shoot, run the floor and post up. Also, Ernie did mention to me today that he wants to see Andray working in the post as he watched him work after practice. Ernie sees him eventually being the kind of player who can post up, face up and really do damage with his length and quickness. One issue is that for almost his entire basketball playing life Blatche has been comfortable out on the perimeter handling the ball. He does have terrific dribbling and passing skills for a guy his size and it showed this summer during summer league. The post game will come with time as he fills out, adds strength and gains confidence. The good news at this point is that the work ethic appears to be there. He wants to get better.

Posted by: Ivan | November 3, 2006 4:26 PM

It's unfair to pluck one stat after one game, but this one caught my eye. At 82games.com, the effective FG% allowed while in the game the other night for Haywood and Daniels were 39.7% and 43.3%, respectively, and while off the court for those two, 60.2% and 71.2%, respectively. That's a stunning difference.

Posted by: Dudley | November 3, 2006 5:36 PM

I don't see why everyone is giving Jamison a hard time on here. If he gets hurt it's going to be difficult to replace him.

Saying that he still needs to hit those.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 3, 2006 9:49 PM

I wouldn't consider using Varejao at C as going small when Varejao is their regular backup C.

Varejao is 6-10 just like Etan.

Posted by: Dat2U (realgm) | November 4, 2006 6:21 AM

I wouldn't consider using Varejao at C as going small when Varejao is their regular backup C.

Varejao is 6-10 just like Etan.

Posted by: Dat2U (realgm) | November 4, 2006 6:21 AM

I see what you are saying, Ivan, but as Ron Burgundy would say, "Agree to disagree." If you want to say that Cleveland went small by playing two PFs instead of a PF and C, that's fine, but you can't say that Jordan then matched it, because he didn't. He had two PGs, two SG/SFs, and one SF/PF (Jamison) on the floor for the last half of the 4th quarter. If Cleveland went small with its two PF lineup, then keeping the terms relative, you would need to say that Jordan went dwarf. (I think dwarf is the pc term for little people, but I could be wrong.)

Posted by: Henry | November 4, 2006 7:39 AM

Fransisco Liriano done! The list of people who have come back is scary. I am crying. KG just slapped a ball into the third row. We look alright, not great. Good luck Wiz! I cannot stand Eastern Conference basketball though. It is much better than it has been but is there any more boring defending champ than Miami. Hey, don't let the fools get you down. Wear your Ole with pride, brother. Maybe you can explain how you overcame repeated defeat to a certain knuckleballing point guard to rise up from the heady shoulders of Nowhere Bound to positively influence the lives of hundreds (ney!) thousands of wayward Lutheren girls. Big up MIAC! Interesting sidelight...my father found one of my old RWHS BB tapes and critiqued my play for about ten minutes...stimulating! Apparently I didn't shoot enough. Thankfully, he paid me for every shot attempt after. Do you think if we were ever any good the MNHSA might have suspended me for playing professionally in high school?

Posted by: Twinkiller | November 4, 2006 11:38 PM

Eddie Jordan was pulling the small-ball nonsense again last night. Wally Sczerbiak would not be scoring a ridiculous 33 points on us if Eddie would just stop putting Ruffin and Jamison at center.

Posted by: Genesis of the Ever | November 5, 2006 4:37 AM

A couple notes from Saturday night's game:
1. Jordan went to his small lineup (Jamison at center) with 6 minutes left in the 4th exactly like he did in the Cleveland game. That seems to be a plan of his. His small group lost a bit of the lead, but fortunately not that much.
2. What has surprised me the most is that when Jamison is coming out of games, Hayes or Butler are playing PF. Those guys are shooting guards/small forwards! Ruffin is playing exclusively at center (and his +/- numbers are dreadful, by the way). Why not play Ruffin at PF, and give Thomas and Haywood more minutes (they collectively are averaging about 37 minutes a game)? Why not play Thomas some at PF?

Posted by: boss | November 5, 2006 8:09 AM

Hey Boss, don't try making sense of EJ's rotations, it's futile. Why Ruff is seeing any Play time at all is beyond me - those minutes SHOULD be split between Etan & Brendan.

Posted by: Wizzy | November 5, 2006 6:11 PM

Same team. Same message as last year. Same results. D? We gave up 120 to the Celtics. The Cs are awful. This should be all we need to know. See you guys at the 7 seed party. So annoying.

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