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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?


By Ivan Carter  |  November 15, 2006; 12:58 PM ET
 
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Comments

Unrelated to Ivan's interesting post, I saw the following in Bill Simmons' column today and thought, "Hmm, that sounds familiar":

"Speaking of Stotts, Tuesday's Milwaukee paper ran a "what's wrong with the Bucks?" column that easily could have been written about the Celtics, Grizzlies or Raptors. See, it's not hard to tell when your coach stinks. You usually know when your players are constantly saying things like "We just need to sustain that intensity for four quarters," "We need to play the kind of defense we're capable of playing," "We can take big leads, now we need to learn how to keep them," "We're a young team, so we're still learning how to bring the same consistency every night," "We have to start getting stops," and my personal favorite, "We need to learn how to execute down the stretch." All of it is B.S. All of it. Players from well-coached teams never say these things. If those fake quotes look familiar to you ... then your coach is underperforming and needs to leave."
I think Jordan is a good coach, but those quotes caught my eye.

Posted by: sean | November 15, 2006 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Sean - Eddie Jordon a good coach?? Puhleeze!!

Re: Coaches imploying outside shooters

One of our major weeknesses is that we don't have a reliable outside shooter, we didn't draft Steve Novak, and Steve Blake is gone. So what you've seen thus far from the Wiz, is pretty much a mid-range or drive to the basket team, no post game to go to until D-Song is healthy or Pech is ready.

This team will continue to live or die by the production of The Trio, it's that simple.

Posted by: Wizzy | November 15, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I really hate this small ball BS! I hate that the league is changing the rules to benefit more offense. You think it's more entertaining to watch people running back and forth scoring easy layup after easy layup? Defense used to win in the 80s and 90s, teams like the Bulls, Knicks, Seattle lead by "The Glove", Utah, etc.

I hate it, watching these guys run back and forth, uncontested layups and dunks. It's all to cater to small players like Steve Nash and the Suns, to even the playing field because they can't play D and there is a lack of quality big men league wide.

You like it?? Why don't you go watch tennis, or a track meet.

Posted by: Darnell | November 15, 2006 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Darnell,

I have got to disagree with you here man. I am a huge fan of opening things up. Not sure how old you are (I'm 27), but the hoops I grew up with in the 80s was beautiful. Everyone could shoot, people moved on offense, the ball moved quickly, and everyone got up and down the court. Celtics, Lakers and the great teams of the 80s and early 90s were incredible to watch because everyone could play.

Then, the league kept expanding, more and more kids came out early, then the high school kids, and before you knew it, we had 'Riley ball' of games in the 80s. Players backing each other down, clutching, grabbing, and playing football on the hardwood. Basically, the league allowed teams to do whatever they could to stop MJ.

I like that the league is taking steps to making basketball a free game again. This version is closer to the NBA glory years.

Posted by: Bernard King | November 15, 2006 3:09 PM | Report abuse

If the league is pushing towards opening up the game and away from Riley-ball (and it seems it is), it's interesting that:
1. Riley won it last year
2. The Jazz, one the league's bigger teams, is doing so well.
3. Dallas and Phoenix are struggling.

Posted by: Red | November 15, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Bernard King you need to get your facts straight. First you talk about the glory teams of the 80's, and then how "Riley-ball" ruined it? Riley was the coach of the Lakers you mention, and the Knicks he coached was the 80s-90s era you talk about. Don't give me that garbage you're eating! I don't want any of it, give it to the dogs where it belongs.

I hate this small ball make the game pretty BS! Why don't you go watch some women's tennis? It's all about throwing it downcourt quick and cherry-pick for open layups! It's all for the small players because you are right Bernard King, the league expanded so much and watered down the talent, there aren't enough good centers and PFs to go around now. That's the problem!! There are only enough good guards and smalls, and outside shooter who can't play D! Everyone wants to be a guard now, even 6-10 to 7fters! Everyone wants to shoot 3s, and no one wants to play defense!

Give me the days of bigs like Hakeem, Patrick, Shaq. PFs like Kemp, Oakley, Barkley and Malone. Give me some bigs who can rebound and got some low post skills. You can take this small ball and send it back overseas where it belongs! All these tic tac fouls when anyone gets touched. Why don't you go watch a relay race, or some speed skating.

Posted by: Darnell | November 15, 2006 3:46 PM | Report abuse

It feels like I spent an entire hour yelling at Salvatore to call the handcheck in the Bucks game...to no avail.

Posted by: Unsilent Majority | November 15, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I think Stern and that guy from the suns are trying to change the nba game to make it more compatible with the international game. ball movement, 3 pt shooters, bigs with perimeter skill, soft defense.

it is more pleasing to the eye to watch the ball movement and high scoring. but mainly i think they do it because they want to sell nba to the world.

Posted by: poptart | November 15, 2006 4:32 PM | Report abuse

I was talking about the Knicks/Heat Riley teams where you had slow and unskilled thugs like Anthony Mason ruining a beautiful game.

My facts are perfectly straight. For the record, I don't like small ball. The 2 teams I mentioned were both big teams (Celts: Parrish, McHale, Bird, Ainge all over 6'8"/ Lakers: Kareem, Worthy, Magic, Cooper all over 6'8") that played great basketball.

You're right about undertalented bigs and expansion hurting the quality of play. I think we are starting to correct for it with the influx of international players but we're still far away from when the NBA was great.

The Pistons started it with their prison-yard tactics and Riley adopted it when he went to NY/Miami and slowed the game down and made it unbearable to watch.

Rugby called and they need some fans.

Posted by: Bernard King | November 15, 2006 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Poptart -- I think another reason is that the NBA's profitability would be hurt if the U.S. keeps getting its butt kicked in international play, and getting NBA players more used to the international game is seen as important. But then again, I remember the U.S. players saying that in the World Championship, the play was very rough. So I don't know.

Posted by: Red | November 15, 2006 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Darnell WAY too much on here. ;)

BK, those Celtics and Lakers of the 80's were some of the best in the history of the game and they could both play solid defense.

Some of those games were incredible, and very physical.

"Poptart" is probably pretty close on the "international" thing, but to draw more fans you need more points.

I used to hate watching the Knicks in the 90's, they were pretty boring. Admittedly, I found myself rooting for Golden State with "Run TMC" when the playoffs came about since the Bullets were never there. They couldn't play a lick of defense, but they sure could put up some points.

Never won a title either because of that.

Defense rules! And so do all the teams with quality big men....

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 15, 2006 5:16 PM | Report abuse

This game against the Knicks seals it. The Wizards have relegated themselves to a jump shooting team that's hit-or-miss from game to game. Couple that with no defensive presence, mental toughness and killer instinct, and you have the makings of another mediocre year. I'm posting all this regardless of how tonight's game ends. Gilbert has already consigned himself to avoiding defense entirely, saying the way the game is officiated today essentially makes defending another player a meaningless endeavor. He's actually convinced defense doesn't matter. Well, it does become important when you're giving up long rebounds because your constant streat of jump shots clang off the back of the iron. I'm watching this team and visions of this year's Redskins dance through my head. Hype, expectations, excitement all crushed for any number of reasons. Sure, the season is seven games old, but if anyone out there can tell me what they've seen from the Wizards that actually gives one a sense of encouragement, please feel free to share.

Posted by: Colin | November 15, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Ivan, what's up with the guys tonight? Actually it appears nothing is....they are FLAT....against the Knicks!

Posted by: Lisa | November 15, 2006 9:36 PM | Report abuse

""The Wizards have relegated themselves to a jump shooting team that's hit-or-miss from game to game.""

Colin,

I've been saying that since the pre-season....shoot last year! They give up layups at one end while relegating themselves to jumpers at the other. The Knicks dominated tonight. The Knicks?????? How bad does that make the Wiz?

Again, Jamison having an open lane against the Pacers and STILL trying to take a jumper. Crazy, I'll never get that out of my mind.

Ivan,

The Wiz just got beat down by the Knicks tonight. You still picking them second??? God knows, I picked them forth. :P

They look horrible! They won't beat Cleveland on Saturday because they play on Friday night against Detriot.

Forget that "too early in the season" or "it's the refs!" stuff. I think this is going to be a lottery year. :(

*sigh*

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 15, 2006 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Ray, I know you have. But I put a large amount of blind faith into them this season, so naturally, I wasn't seeing things your way early on. Now, however, I am, and the picture is muddled and disgusting. They could legitimately lose the next five games. I wouldn't be surprised. Right now, this team is terrible, and from the looks of it, the season is going to spiral out of control quickly until the Wizards do some self-reflection, get mad and start making plays. It all starts with the coach, and he's not doing a good job. Since he's been in Washington, he hasn't been very good. I thought signing him to an extension was NOT a good move.

I'm also sensing a groundswell of animosity toward Arenas arising on some other message boards and fans, who are becoming a little disillusioned with his play. He whines too much, he relegates himself to a jump shooter, he doesn't know how to lead a team, he demonstrates no mental toughness. Granted, it's a small contingent of people who are starting to turn, but that population is there. Two years ago, you would've never heard an unkind word about Gilbert. Now, that's not true.

Posted by: Colin | November 15, 2006 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Ivan - Tonight was ugly. Its the ball no its the officials no its...we are on the road...what happened to the 3 point range...when will Jamison make a shot from his favorite spot top right of the key --brick city...just ugly 20 pts to the Knicks

Posted by: Matt | November 15, 2006 10:18 PM | Report abuse

This game tonight was absolutely ridiculous. Just like last year we hear all the rhetoric about playing defense and 2 weeks into the season it is gone. I figured that at 3-3 this would be a very, very important first win on the road. I have thought all week that this game tonight would be a major barometer of the skill, killer instinct and ability to get prepared. I was stunned as I watched it.

The biggest problem I saw is that Jordan is absolutely committed to small ball. Jamison at the 5? Come on you gotta be kidding me. Haven't we seen enough of that? That was more even problematic than the shot selection which was obviously atrocious. I saw a few spurts where Etan controlled the middle but he got in foul trouble. Need to play him untill he fouls out. When Hayward tried to back somebody down in the post and had that unforced turnover I thought, "Good, now Jordan will pull him." But no, he stayed with him. I guess he figured Heyward was doing better at the 5 than Jamison. I don't know what is worse defensively, our bigs or our guards and wings.

As the teams walked off the court after the game did anybody notice Gilbert and Crawford going off together as if they were victorious teamates? I guess they are planning the next few hours in the "city that never sleeps?" He needs to have another one of his 3am one on one sessions in the gym.

Skins, Wizards...both going down the tubes. Gosh, where is the hope around here?
Maybe Jason Campbell will somehow get our spirits raised.

Posted by: BmoreRev | November 15, 2006 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I agree with what Colin said above, and Ivan, I really disagree with the statement in your game summary today that most of the misses occurred in the flow of the offense. Especially early in the game, guys were jacking up long jumpers (and missing, of course) one or two passes into the offense, thinking they could get an easy win by just hitting from the outside and keeping their uniforms clean. This team does not value possessions or try to get higher percentage shots. The operating philosophy seems to be "if you have an open shot or think you can hit it, take it." That goes to coaching more than it does to the players.
There was one stretch early in the 1st where: (1) one pass into the offense Butler shaked and baked his defender when he was 21 feet from the basket and took a jumper that clanged off the rim (when Butler starts that shaking and baking, you know he's going to take a jumper in 2 seconds -- real effective); (2) the next time down Butler got a pass a little more in the flow of the offense and took an 18 footer and made it; and (3) the next time down Butler again after one pass I believe took another 18-20 footer and bricked it. Many coaches, after seeing such selfishness and bad shot selection, would pull that player. That doesn't happen on this team. I don't think Jordan even said anything to him.
So much of the discussion on this blog has been about the centers, but the impact those guys can have on the game with the way the team is playing it is so limited. They don't touch the ball on offense, they have just set picks at the top of the key when 20 foot jumpshots go up so there is little change for offensive rebounds, and there are so many holes on defense, they can only try to impede the masses rolling to the rim.

Posted by: Henry | November 16, 2006 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Shot selection, shot selection, shot selection. I agree with the comments above. If this team thinks that it can succeed by being 18-22 ft. jumpshooters, it will be a long season.

Posted by: Red | November 16, 2006 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Ouch, that hurt. The Wizards put up so many bricks last night, Habitat for Humanity could have rebuilt the South Bronx.

And who were these cats? David Lee? Rolando Balckman? Marbury and Robinson kept finding them under the basket for layups and dunks, or they cleaned up the mess on the boards from shots in the lane or on the baseline.

Meanwhile, our bigs never seem to touch the ball on offense and there's always very little penetration to get better-percentage shots down low.

I really had hoped the Wizards would perform better last night, but it seems like the same wishful thinking.

Can you please get it together?

Posted by: iceberg | November 16, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

""Two years ago, you would've never heard an unkind word about Gilbert.""

He was also different player two years ago. He's taking more jumpers now when he could be driving to hole, ala two years ago. Him and Hughes closed a lot of games out like that. That was then I guess....

I don't know if that's because of rule changes or it's Jordan's schemes.

I love Gilbert, but he just doesn't look the same. Makes me wonder if Lebron is still in his head. :(

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 16, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

If we can get blown out by the Knicks on the road, than it leads me to believe we are not going to win many road games this season. That was just sad last night.

Posted by: Dominic | November 16, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Ray: That's what I'm saying, pretty much. He's made himself a jump shooter. He's taken a lot of the aggressiveness out of his game, which is the main reason they don't win the close ones. Dwayne Wade didn't shoot his way to the NBA title. He knew getting to the rim was the only way to win a basketball game.

Posted by: Colin | November 16, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Colin, I totally agree with you about the jumpshooting. No way you can win consistantly like that.

That was just a really bad game, painful to watch.

It was interesting Booth came in the game before Haywood. Makes me wonder if something is going on behind the scenes, the team has been flat past 2 games.

Arenas seems really affected by the new rules. I don't get it really... new rules are supposed to free up the game but Gil gets called for offensive fouls everytime he makes a move, or he drives and gets hacked and doesn't get the call. He is definately having a hard time.

Posted by: Darnell | November 16, 2006 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Darnell is a bigger bama than I thought previously.

So the Knicks. We lost to them. Where is the 50 wins talk now? The defensive coaching? The "new" Jarvis Hayes who missed huge open shots against Cleveland and went 0-6 yesterday.

Ugly.

Posted by: The Governor | November 16, 2006 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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