Heading to New York
There really is only one way to travel to New York from Washington and that's on a train. I'm getting ready to pull out of Union Station right now and was able to score a nice seat by a window with a place to work on my laptop. Compared to checking in at the airport, getting molested going through security and squeezing into a seat designed for a small child on a flying tube, this is heaven. No kid kicking my seat. No big-bodied person pouring themselves into my lap and no turbulence.
The more I think about this upcoming stretch of games, the more I think it will have a huge impact on how this season plays out for the Wizards. Yes, it's early and there a ton of games left but look at what this team has coming up: five of the next six are on the road, there are three sets of back-to-backs coming up and the team will play seven games in 11 days. Then, check out the competition: at Detroit, Cleveland, at Dallas, at Houston, at Memphis and Detroit at home. Tough stretch.
First and foremost, the Wizards will have their depth tested. So far, Eddie Jordan has basically relied on an eight-man rotation. Michael Ruffin has been a ninth body recently and Jordan has said that he will not hesitate to go to Donell Taylor, Roger Mason Jr. and Calvin Booth in upcoming games. The second unit will be a huge factor during this stretch.
Again, it's early but have you looked a the league stats so far this season? The Wizards are tops among 11 teams averaging at least 100 points per game. One more (Toronto) is averging 99 and five more are averaging 98. At the end of last season, the Wiz were one of five teams to average at least 100 points and four more averaged at least 99. One key: several coaches are playing small lineups that are stacked with playmaking point guards and deadly outside shooters. The Wizards have done this a lot but so has Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Golden State, Toronto and several other teams.
I was checking out the Toronto/Golden State game last night and for a long stretch of the first half, Golden State coach Don Nelson went with a lineup consisting of Baron Davis, Mickael Pietrus, Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy was the tallest player in the lineup. Toronto's Chris Bosh looked like a giant. Both teams pushed the ball hard in transition, played the drive and kick game to outside shooters and tried to create mismatches with pick-and-rolls. Highly entertaining basketball.
Another factor, according to Gilbert Arenas, is the way games are being called. The referees made a point of going around the league this preseason and pointing out the ways they were going to "clean up" the game in the words of referee Benny Salvatore, who broke it down with a video presentation for a group of us hoop hacks in Cleveland one night.
The refs are cracking down on hand checks, extra bumping for position in the paint, sloppy screens and basically anything that hinders "freedom of movement" in the words of Salvatore.
"Every time you touch somebody, it's a foul," said Arenas, who watches a ton of ball on TV via the NBA package. "It's not like three years ago when defense was the key to everything. Now, they are gearing everything towards offense. We still want to be in the middle of that defensive pack, we want to get out, get steals and we want to take charges, get loose balls and all of that but going out there and straight locking teams down, that's not going to happen anymore."
Arenas continued. "You can barely touch anybody. They want to get back to the days of 110, 115 points a game. You can't be that aggressive anymore. Look at the way Ben Wallace played two years ago and look at the way he plays now. He's not the same physical player he used to be because they are calling ticky tack fouls now. You can still be a good defensive team but you wont' see many half-court, lockdown defensive teams."
A few other matters:
-Did you see the way Houston totally fell apart at home against San Antonio last night? They had a 19 point third quarter lead but lost 92-84. T-Mac vanished down the stretch - he's really just a jump shooter now - and Yao Ming was dominated by Tim Duncan.
-The Utah Jazz just might be legit. If you checked out last night's home win over the Clippers you saw a big, versatile team that has a stud at PG (Derron Williams), a nice set of forwards (including Memo Okur) and a find in rookie big man Paul Millsap.
-Miami can't score. Shaq didn't play last night but even with him, the Heat has looked old, slow and utterly lacking crispness on offense so far this season. In a 112-105 home loss to Denver last night, the Heat needed 37 from Dwyane Wade and 14 threes just to get to 105. Defensively, Miami was picked apart by Andre Miller and Carmelo Anthony. Wonder how long Pat Riley watches that kind of performance before he shakes things up?
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