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Ugly loss on an ugly day

The thing about being a beat writer covering a pro sports team is that you always wind up being half sports writer/half pyschologist for the devastated fans who love the team you cover. When I lived in Kansas City and covered the Chiefs, I often found myself consoling crushed Chiefs fans after their beloved team gave up 550 yards and lost 45-44 on the last play of the game.
"Yeah, but Priest Holmes had a nice day," was my classic response. It didn't help.

Such was the case last night, after I watched the Wizards go down in one of the strangest basketball games I've ever seen. Vince Carter hit a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime, the Wizards fell apart and New Jersey got out with a win. After pounding out a story on deadline, I headed to the local watering hole to down a few brews and watch Bears/Giants. Wasn't there long before one of my boys, Norm, walked in, took a seat and started shaking his head.

"Sorry about your Skins man," I said.
"Forget the Skins, they're done," said Norm, who was wearing an old-school Bullets hat. "What happened to my Wizards? How do you let Vince Carter take a three pointer like that? Shouldn't you be guarding the three-point line? And why did they get 10 seconds to inbound the ball? And have you ever seen a ball stick on the glass, stay there, and then fall into the basket? Don't tell me that something isn't up with that new ball. It sucks. We should never has lost that game."

All I could do was buy Norm a brew and let him vent. Tough, tough loss. To understand how tough, all you had to do was see Eddie Jordan's eyes in host postgame press conference. I've seen Eddie mad, I've seen Eddie frustrated and I've seen Eddie analytical but I've seldom seen him that crushed. His eyes were red, his voice was shot and his comments were as short as they've ever been. When someone asked him why he didn't consider fouling Carter before he could get a three off, Eddie came as close as I've ever seen to pulling a Jim Mora Sr. by going off.

Anyway, the Wizards pretty much got what they deserved. They came out flatter than a drive through western Kansas, missed a ton of wide open shots and allowed the only guy who could hurt them (Carter) to get open for the game-tying three. Verizon Center was dead the entire night and the Wiz never gave their fans a reason to get hyped up. It was as though every person in the building wished they had stayed at home under a blanket on the couch and watched football.

That said, I am finally ready to concede that something is up with the new basketball. Did you see how that thing stayed on the glass before dropping through on Carter's shot? Unreal. I've played basketball, watched basketball and covered basketball now for most of my life and I've never see a ball behave like that. With the old ball, Carter's shot would have banged off the back of the rim, landed somewhere around the free throw line and the Wizards would be celebrating a win right now.

For you hoop heads out there, is there a person on the planet you would rather play with than Jason Kidd? 18 assists? If he's on your team, all you have to do is flow to the open spot on the floor and wait for a perfect pass. The guy is terrible shooter but man can he pick a defense apart. He's like basketball version of Peyton Manning.

Funny tale from the lockeroom: Some of you are aware that the Wizards have a "hustle board" in the lockeroom? Anyway, the board is posted on a wall right next to Gilbert's locker which makes for some controversial moments. Assistant coach Harvey Grant is in charge of updating the board with stats detailing individual steals, deflections, charges taken etc. but somehow, Gilbert always ends up with lead in most stats. Also, the handwriting on the board often appears to be different than Grant's.
"It doesn't matter what you put up there for me Harv," Antonio Daniels said before the game. "If it's a higher number than Gilbert, he's just going to change it anyway. It's ridiculous."
At that exact moment, Gilbert emerged from the training room and joined the argument. "Why is it always ridiculous when I'm winning at something?" he said. "I can't help it if I hustle more than anyone else. I'm a winner baby."
"You cheat," Daniels said. "That's not winning."
The argument continued for several minutes as Daniels disputed Grant's method for tracking steals and deflections and Arenas argued that his numbers should actually be higher.
"I don't have any steals," Daniels said. "I don't go for steals. I've never been about steals."
Arenas: "I should have more charges on there."
Daniels: "And why are there so many deflections for me from the last game? If I had that many deflections, wouldn't I have at least one steal?"
Arenas: "I had more steals than that last game Harvey. You're cheating me. It doesn't matter anway. I won last year and I didn't get anything. Thanks Gilbert, here's nothing. Good job."
After several minutes of this, Grant just shook his head and pulled a Don Rumsfeld.
"I'm outta here," he said. "This isn't getting any better."

By Ivan Carter  |  November 13, 2006; 12:28 PM ET
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Next: Savin' Isiah


I feel like the Post needs to assign someone to follow Gilbert around full time. Is there anyone thinking of doing a book on him, a la Feinstein and his full season type deals? That could be a most read.

As for the loss, any real explaination from the players as to why they were so flat at home against a conference foe? If your going to lose to the magic and cavs on the road then you need to win this game. I know you can't win them all but still.

Posted by: Jake | November 13, 2006 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Last night's game shows us that when two of our big three have a bad night, we're doomed.

I was so mad because of the time the Nets had to inbound the ball on that last play in regulation. If you could have heard Buckhantz on the broadcast, you would have thought he was having a coronary!

Hey Ivan, what does EJ do to try and improve free throw shooting for certain players? Here's a thought, get Etan, Ruffin, and Haywood at the end of practice and MAKE them shoot 100 free throws in a row. They don't make at least 10 in a row, they don't get to go home to write poetry and stuff. They're so bad, I just assume they're going to miss their free throws. Certainly other teams know this too?

When are the Wiz going to break out their new uni's?

On a positive note, I think Stevenson is starting to come around and blend in well. While he's still not attacking like he should be, he's starting to look more comfortable on offense.

Posted by: CJ Baltimore | November 13, 2006 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, pretty quiet on the blog today. No one's in the mood, I guess.

An SAT-type question:
Is Eddie Jordan to Michael Ruffin as Joe Gibbs is to Mark Brunell?

Posted by: Daniel | November 13, 2006 2:39 PM | Report abuse

While I'm sure there are a number of factors that led to Sunday night's loss, and while I know the season is just six games old, I'm becoming concerned because it appears again this season that the Wizards, particularly the star players, don't have a killer instinct. I wonder how many of the Wizards are truly mentally tough ball players. I can think of only Caron and Antonio. Can Arenas and Jamison drive the hoop and take over a game when need be? Can the team learn how to overwhelm a team completely and maintain that kind of pressue for 48 minutes? Can the team demoralize an opponent? If the Wizards are attempting 27 3-pointers, it says that they aren't attacking. That they're content to shoot 25-footers rather than get to the rim. Dwayne Wade can put a team on his back because he goes hard. He doesn't settle for jumpers, which I notice Gilbert and Antawn doing all the time. Again, this gets back to the mental toughness of the star players and the mental toughness of the coach. Aside from a couple of games in the postseason Cleveland series last year, I've never seen Eddie jump on this team and demand that they attack. Forget the defensive stuff for a second, and focus on going into games with the right mentality and the required mental wherewithal to compete and win ball games. I think if they get that down first, than the defensive problems will slowly work themselves out.

Posted by: Colin | November 13, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The new ball is a joke. I'm tired and I'm going to take a nap.

See you guys at the 7 seed party.

Posted by: Bernard King | November 13, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

That game was depressing. I have nothing to say about it.

Posted by: poptart | November 13, 2006 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Adding to Colin's point: the wizards don't seem to execute well in high pressure set play circumstances, whether it be defense, offense, or the ultimate set play, the free throw. From Jamison's standard towards the end of game 1 for 2 free throw choke to turnovers on in bound passing on the last shot of the game (iverson's steal last year comes to mind) to the ridiculous last second offense that involves gilbert dribbling down the shot clock for 12 seconds and then taking a 20 foot jumper to our inability to know who to stop and why (donyell marshall in the corner over and over again; the three pointer by mil last year, and last night's game, and so forth and so on).

this is the nba - and we are going to play against stars who make the sick shot to beat us, but we don't execute well in terms of knowing what the KEY action item is. case in point last night: the ONLY NJ player who had a reasonable chance of hitting a three was carter - nj only had 2.6 seconds - someone has to be in his face, just has to. you need to know that with that much time he HAS to shoot it and can't pass it. even if he can pass it, better to let someone else take that shot.

it's really about coaching. eddie has done a nice job getting here but he needs to take it up a notch for the team to get to the next level. notwithstanding last night, we are getting good play from almost everyone on the team: gilbert, antawn (who has been playing really well), caron (how about some of that fourth quarter focus earlier in games?), etwood, and the role players - daniels, deshawn, and jarvis. yet we are playing .500 ball. i hope that doesn't mean that we can only be a .500 team

Posted by: charles jones | November 13, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

In regards to the comment about Michael Ruffin, as an inexpensive, limited role player, you really can't ask for better. He provides a real presence under the basket, and plays better defense than both Haywood and Etan. The offensive charging call that he got late in the game was the reason they had a chance to win. Despite the loss, the odds to win were with us after that foul, and any sane person would agree that it is better to be up by 1 with 3 seconds left, than to be tied or down by 1.

Posted by: Kai Richardson | November 13, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

C J -- the new unis are supposed to come out on Saturday against Cleveland.

I can't say much about last night because I didn't see the game, but from the descriptions of it, seemed like the Wiz mailed it in and the Nets got hot (and a couple of breaks) at the right time.

This lack of attacking the basket can only mean more trouble when Washington starts playing back-to-backs. Can we have someone go off like Redd did (28 on Friday and 57 on Saturday) but have enough contributions to win both games instead of going 0-2 as the Bucks did?

I don't know what they're capable of in that situation. And this 3-3 start is giving me lots of trouble.

IC, how difficult is it for the Wiz to maintain a "killer instinct" over the course of 82 games? Some nights are just going to be like last night no matter what. But they're usually affected by other factors. What can you say about the difficulty of getting and keeping that kind of focus over a season?

Posted by: iceberg | November 13, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

sorry folks,
wiz will be first round fodder for a long time. no team can advance in the playoffs when the two best players on the team are the two worst defenders. jamison sits the entire second half because the team needed defense and i love arenas, but he's heading down the dominique wilkins path right now. scores himself into all star selections and shoe deals without ever coming close to winning anything for his team. this is the real reason he was booted off the world championship team by the way.
and was coach jordan's eyes red post-game because he couldn't believe he let daniels go one on one instead of arenas or butler when the wiz were up two with about a minute left? not valuing possessions, no set plays when the team is in a shooting funk, no semblance of a set rotation, no defense for more than three quarters...the coach and players have not learned anything from last season.

Posted by: wiz fan in champaign | November 13, 2006 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Hey Ivan, thanks for the updates. I was at the game last night and thought the crowd was pretty into it, though more often in the sense of groaning at yet another ugly Wizards shot attempt (YAUWSA) than in the sense of getting to cheer a nice play. The Wizards definitely looked flat for two-thirds of the game, it was amazing to me that they managed to be in it and ahead at the end of regulation, and then crushing that they came out in OT and played the same crappy ball they had started the first quarter with.

Anyway - what I'm wondering is, watching Gilbert so far this season, he really looks off his game to me. Maybe it's just the haze of memory, but it seems like he attacked the basket a lot more often last year, and he's settling for outside jumpers - not all of them even good looks - over and over again. Do you think so too? And if so, why's he playing like that? Your fans respectfully request an investigation. :-)

Posted by: Josh | November 13, 2006 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I have a stat for the hustle board.

3 - 3.

Posted by: dc | November 13, 2006 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Don't understand why they came out flat to start the game. Everyone looked like they had a long night? We were here vs Bucks friday. No back to back. Did they have a hard practice Saturday? Did the 6pm start throw them off that much? Nets were the team travelling... we got to come out hard and put them down when we are rested and at home! No fire and no desire. They looked like they were already tired of the season!

Posted by: Darnell | November 13, 2006 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Champaign's Dominique Wilkins comparison is a good one, at least in terms of Gilbert being primarily an offensive player. What's puzzling to me is that Gilbert is such a terrific athlete and has a crazy work ethic -- why isn't he improving defensively? Sure he gets steals, because he gambles, but he doesn't get down into a defensive stance and players just blow by him.

Posted by: Red | November 13, 2006 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I think Gilbert has changed his game because he doesn't get nearly the amount of calls that other "stars" in the league get when they go to the rim. I'm sure the same logic applies to his on-ball aggressiveness on defense; that is, he's thinking the ref will call some cheap foul on him and he'll have to sit. I don't envy Jordan for having to deal with Gilbert's head. I'm fairly sure I would just let it run it's course and instead plead with Jamison to remove the cape and stop playing the matador out there.

Posted by: matt | November 13, 2006 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I've had serious problems with Eddie Jordan's decisions since he first became coach. What does that mean? Obviously very little because he tons of NBA experience, and I have none. But still, I'm wondering if giving him an extension was the right thing to do. I know Gilbert loves him, but is he the right guy to lead this team past the first or second round the playoffs? His focus is only on offense, not on defense, not on the intangibles, not on invoking a killer instinct. Jordan seems to be a laid back, fairly easy-going guy, and the team seems to take on his personality. He may have to change his demeanor and his attitude first so that the team follows suit. This team is running in place again, and I would expect Ernie Grunfeld to make some personnel moves if this team demonstrates that has not improved from last year.

Posted by: Colin | November 13, 2006 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Sorry for the redundancy and dropped words in my previous entry. Must be this Diet Dr Pepper.

Posted by: Colin | November 13, 2006 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Red & Champaign:

Regarding Nilbert's defense. Red you touched on part of the cause by referencing Gil's work ethic.

Fact is Defense is one aspect of the game you can't practice at three AM. And frankly most places you can't learn good NBA defense playing pick-up ball-- because a huge part of NBA D is about learning to play the refs as your allies. Things you can get away with in the NBA will get you smacked down in SouthEast.

Steals, blocks, boards. That's all defense you can play on a chainlink court. But if you plan on fouling, or even stepping inside your man's dribble and footwork-- if you're effective you'll uh-- irritate-- him enough that he'll foul you. But nobody is calling that foul in a gym or on the blacktop. Ain't no glamour in whining that you been fouled.

But players with 4 years of college and especially tournament & championship run-- these players know how to play the game. Nothing cheeses off the other team more than feeling like the refs are out to get them. Outnumbered and outgunned. If you can frustrate your man enough that he knocks you down, you get rewarded with a whistle and the ball back. Good job. No crying for a foul, suddenly you're on offense and nobody is stopping the game to listen to them throw they tantrum.

Players with overseas experience (especially Argentina and Turkey, by my observation) learn to play team Defense and positional defense from an early age. They turn pro at age 16 if they're good enough, but because there's less superstar culture, they know they ain't getting run if they don't play the team game.

The other half the reason is attitude. Gilbert's mind isn't on what the other guy is doing. It's about Gil and what he can do with the ball. Which, if I had his talent, I might do the same. There's some amazing things Our Boy can do with that ball.

Gil's primary defensive flaw is that he watches the ball too much. He doesn't pay much attention to what the other players on the court are doing. His team or the other squad.

When the ball goes up, Gil loses sight of his man-- he's looking out to check if his squad is on offense now. Meanwhile his man gets loose to collect long bounces and re-set chances.

Your average low-talent hustling scrub knows, when the ball is in the air: check your man first, get between him and the basket--THEN look for the ball. Gil's mentally already on the fast break.

Way I see it.

Posted by: doc linkin ( | November 13, 2006 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most everything you said, especially the point about Gilbert always watching the ball -- he does that all the time. It will take consistent harping from the coaching staff to break that habit, and that's an open question -- is an NBA coach (other than Jerry Sloan) willing/able to get on his star player's case day after day?

Posted by: Red | November 13, 2006 6:10 PM | Report abuse

HI Ivan,

I'm thinking of getting Verizon FIOS TV instead of Comcast Cable. Do you know if Wizards games are available on FIOS TV? is ComcastSportsNet part of the FIOS lineup? They don't list Comcaast probably b/c they are the competition.

Posted by: WizFan | November 13, 2006 7:11 PM | Report abuse

""He doesn't settle for jumpers, which I notice Gilbert and Antawn doing all the time.""

This is what has really bugged me for the last two years with this team.

One thing I LOVED about the team we had here two seasons ago is how Arenas and Hughes used to drive to the hole at the end of the game and take over. It seems like Gilbert would rather settle for the jumper anymore.

Ivan, is that because he feels he doesn't get the calls anymore so he stops driving?

Jamison is Jamison. I'll never forget how he had an open layup on a break while playing the Pacers a few nights back, and set to take a jumper only to realize he had the open lane. That was screwiest thing I ever saw.

I know they lost to a long 5 second call, but they should have dug down deep. Maryland football could have folded to Clemson a couple weeks ago but drove and won the game.

The Wiz made me sad because it was like they just gave up. They better work on the "heart" thing a little more.

I don't think you can blame the ball for that.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 13, 2006 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Hi Ivan,

Do you mind checking for me, on how many wins did the Wizard got last season on a Sunday game? I noticed last season that if they play on a Sunday they lost that game. I could not remember them winning on Sunday. I do not like when Wizard play on Sundays they loose. If you really is a good basketball player the basketball do not matter.

Posted by: Vince | November 13, 2006 9:02 PM | Report abuse


So your buddy Norm wants to know how you let Vince Carter take a three like that? Tell him to check the replay, Ivan.

Krstic is manhandling Jarvis -- he's got both hands out and up, and he's grabbing onto his jersey to keep him from getting away from the screen.

It's blatant. It's left tackle tactics. The refs didn't see it, because it was the end of the game, and they were too focused on the ball.

You were remiss in your game story for not mentioning this bit of thuggery, and for not confronting Lawrence Frank and Krstic afterward in the lockerroom about their disreputable tactics.

Some posters have mentioned that the Wizards were outcoached yesterday.


Ivan, you need to tell them to go and watch the videotape -- and watch it yourself, if need be. The Nets were in an illegal defense for much of the game. The refs called them for it a couple of times, but in the main, the zebras did a piss-poor job of policing the paint. Time and again, there was a Net camped out -- literally, camped out -- in the lane, preventing the Wizards from knifing inside.

Coaching? I call it cheating.

Finally: Any fan who would gripe more about the Wizards than about the Nets after a game like that isn't really a Wizards fan.

But, evidently, there are a lot of these kind of faux-fans out there. The crowd was late in arriving, especially in the 100 sections, and it wasn't until things got tight with about six minutes to go that the fans began to show any life at all.

The city of D.C. doesn't have the right to be jaded about the Wizards. About the Skins, sure, absolutely. But this is a still-young, still-building team.

Posted by: TK | November 13, 2006 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Thanks TK finally someone who understands the game of BBall. As for the Ruffin haters, you only dislike him because he doesn't score. His job is defense, something you folks harp about and do not recognize when you see it!!!!!!!!

Posted by: PamelaBrandy | November 14, 2006 9:15 AM | Report abuse

How could anyone hate or even dislike Michael Ruffin? No one's a hater, they just see him for what he is -- a terrific 10th or 11th man that you can count on for energy, hustle, some rebounds and smart defensive plays now and then, and who will be a good lockerroom influence. The objection is that your third string center is more of a power forward who shouldn't be taking minutes away from your first and second string centers, and definitely shouldn't be playing more than either of those guys.

Posted by: Daniel | November 14, 2006 9:38 AM | Report abuse

""Any fan who would gripe more about the Wizards than about the Nets after a game like that isn't really a Wizards fan.""

Yeah, right.

I'm old enough to remember standing next to the "life like" Wes Unseld poster in 1978. I love the Wizards/Bullets and have all my life. Try going to the smelly Capitol Center when the place is nearly empty and the best player they have is Buck Johnson, Manute, or Brent Price?

Hotplate Williams?

I think I have the right to criticize them after all of those painful memories knowing they had no chance to make the playoffs year after year.

I still think they could/should have beaten the Pistons in '87, they gave them a run anyway.

They need "Tough Juice" right now really badly, and to take that next step. Nothing I've seen this year so far tells me they are ready to do that. Saying this I've said on an earlier blog of Ivan's I still thought they were a year or two away.

The Nets got lucky for sure, but the Wiz gave up in overtime. I was pretty bummed about that. :(

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | November 14, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Long-time Wizards fan, first time commenter.

There is a lot of (justified) complaining about the NJ in particular and the season in general. But let me say something positive.

The Wizards are 3-3 and everyone is unhappy. I remember, not so long ago, when people were happy if the Wizards didn't get blown out. 3-3 isn't a bad place to start, especially since last season we went 42-40.

I think we are a much better team than last year. Etan is playing well and we've got Jarvis back. DeShawn is soild. I think he's giving us more than Jefferies did. If we can figure out a way to win these close games and get on a little roll, we'll be in great shape.

Posted by: Buco | November 14, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Hi fellow Wiz Fans,

Just to comment on G. Arenas' perfomance.
I agree its only 6 games. Arenas has been very clear. He fired his agent and decided to promote(PR)himself. Thus the articles, shoe deals, donations, etc. He will not build in Vienna unless the Wiz are headed towards a championship. He definitely has his own plans in mind. Lets hope he can focus more on team basketball and the game instead of his fame and PR. As the earlier commenter wrote - If its all about him...the team loses.

Posted by: Pete | November 14, 2006 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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