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A road winning streak


With everyone talking about Allen Iverson last night, it's hard to believe that a game was actually played between the Wizards and 76ers. The good news for the Wizards is that they avoided a potentially embarrassing loss to the Iverson-less Sixers by erasing a 20-point first half deficit. Gilbert Arenas and his hibachi grill got going again (the other night in New York he said he was grilling up chicken and shrimp so I imagine that last night it was cheesesteaks) and DeShawn Stevenson had his best game in a Wizards uniform (even though it was a black and gold version).

Before the game, I was standing the hallway with rest of the ink-stained wretches waiting for Philly president Billy King and Coach Mo Cheeks to come out and address the latest Iverson drama when Roger Mason Jr. walked by me. "Hey, when am I going to get to play?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "You want me to put a headline in the paper saying: Mason demands PT or trade?" Mason laughed.

Well, Eddie Jordan gave the former Wahoo a look last night and Mason came up big, hitting 3 of 4 shots and scoring a season-high 8 points in 14 minutes. There really has been no rhyme or reason to Jordan's use of Mason, Donell Taylor and Andray Blatche (or the centers for that matter but that's another subject) so these guys pretty much have to stay ready and take advatange of whatever minutes they get. I felt that Mason's biggest contribution came with five minutes left in the first half after Stevenson drilled a three-pointer from the corner, cutting Philly's lead to 17. Mason came up with a steal and then made his second three of the quarter. Just like that, the Wiz were off and rolling and you could feel the young Sixers tensing up.

Another key to the win was Brendan Haywood coming off the bench to score a season-high 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting. Brendan added 7 rebounds and 4 blocks and dominated like he should against a team that lacks anything resembling a true center.

A few other observations:
-Chris Webber played well early and finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists but he's getting by entirely on guts and guile and that is point. He has no lift in those legs and his first step is about 1/4 as explosive as it once was. Sometimes it's hard to believe that he's even the same guy who used to dominate. The most telling sequence came in the second quarter when Haywood blocked two of Webber's shot on the same possession.

-That Caron Butler dunk over rookie Rodney Carney at the end of the third quarter was nasty. It happened right in front of me and I saw it coming the whole way. Butler was on the right wing and cut backdoor. Arenas bounced a perfect pass that hit Butler in stride Princeton-offense style and the kid Carney, who has sick hops, made the fatal mistake of trying to jump. Butler cocked the ball behind his head and gave a little bit extra as he threw it down over Carney.
"Rookie mistake, he'll learn," Butler said afterward. "I knew he was going to jump with me because he's a young guy with all of that energy but in time, he's going to learn how to pick his spots. I caught him."
By the way, Butler said his sore back gave him problems early but he felt better as the game went on. He should be good to go tonight against Houston but stay tuned. You know how those backs can be.


-Where's AI going? That was the question on everyone's mind in the lockeroom after the game. The early rumors were about Minnesota getting him and teaming him up with Kevin Garnett. "That would be nasty," Butler said. "They'd be talking championship right there." Arenas on that prospect: "I just hope we play them before that happens."

-Michael Ruffin said his sprained right foot is feeling better and better and is getting anxious to get back on the court.

-It's looking more and more like Ernie Grunfeld pulled off a caper by getting Stevenson for $900,000 instead of paying Jared Jeffries $35 million. Stevenson is shooting 60.5 percent in the last five games and has consistently been making that wide open 17-19 foot jump shot that he gets because defenses are always going to shade over to Arenas, Butler and Jamison. I asked Stevenson about his hot streak after the game and he talked about simply being more aggressive and looking for shots now that he's comfortable playing with his new mates.
"I know where my shots are coming," said Stevenson, who is shooting 56.7 percent and averaging 11.3 points in Washington's nine wins. "At first, I was just feeling my way through it, making sure I fit in but now, I'm more comfortable and I'm taking those shots when they are there. Every day I feel better."

On team's leaving him open: "When I first signed, Ernie told me that a lot of teams are cheating off the 2-guard, begging you to make that shot because they have to key on Gil. When you have a guy like that, they are going to key on him and leave some open shots."

The interesting thing about Stevenson is that he's never been known as a great shooter. He came into the season having made 26.2 percent of his three-point attempts as a pro but he's made 6 of his last 14 and really has found a comfort zone in that 17-19 feet area. If you remember, that was the shot teams basically begged Jeffries to make the last two seasons.

-During the course of last night's game, which was on ESPN, I received text messages from my boys in Minnesota, Denver, Kansas City and a few other spots commenting on the Wiz uniforms. A sampling: first up, Curt and the fellas at Tanners in Lee's Summit, MO (My old watering hole): "The boys in the corner want to know what's up with those unis. They look like pajamas."
From my boy Johhny Mac in Denver: "Why are your boys wearing rec league uniforms?"
From my boy Sven on an army base in Texas: "Dude, tell Gilbert to get out of that dress."
That about sums it up, no?

-I asked Gilbert if he's gunning for an endorsement with the hibachi grill people. His repsonse was classic Gilbert.
"Why would I endorse the hibachi grill when I am the hibachi grill." It's logic like that which makes Gilbert Gilbert.
To this, a grizzled looking veteran Philly scribe looked at me with a quizzical grin. "Did just call himself a hibachi grill?"
Me: "Yep."
Old-school scribe: "Is he like this all the time?"
"Yep," I replied. "You haven't even seen the half."
"Man, I love that guy," old-school scribe said.

-I have to relate an interesting Philly store so indulge me here. There is a bar on the south side called Big Charlie's. Believe it or not, it's a Kansas City Chiefs bar of all things. Anyway I heard about the place back in my days as a beat writer covering the Chiefs for the KC Star and always wanted to check it out. I had a night to kill on Thursday so I got in a cab, headed to Pats for a cheesesteak (Wow. That's all I can really say. They have to put something special in those things) and walked a few blocks on over to Charlie's. I walked in the joint and headed right to the bar. A few of the regulars (and they're all regulars) turned and gave me a quizzical look like, who's this guy? I explained that I recently lived in KC and covered the Chiefs.

That's all I had to say. Paul, the owner, heard this, walked over and said: "You Ivan Carter? I read your stuff all the time." Within moments I had a cold bud in my hand and was getting a tour of the place. The joint is filled with Chiefs memorabilia from a Trent Green bobblehead doll, to numerous pictures of Arrowhead stadium, to an autographed letter from Herman Edwards thanking the patrons of Charlie's for the support. I pulled out the cellie and called Curt and the fellas back in KC and Curt got on the horn with Paul and they started chatting like they've been homeboys for decades.
"That Curt, he gets worked up during those Chiefs games," Paul said. "And how's his brother Chris?"
Anyway, place like Big Charlie's - a corner bar that is dedicated to the Chiefs in the middle of south Philly - is one reason why I love sports so much. You simply can't make some of this stuff up.

By Ivan Carter  |  December 9, 2006; 9:22 AM ET
 
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Comments

Ah, the life of IC, walks into bars and they already know your name. A couple of thoughts:
-Hmmm, a GM making smart choices about getting better talent for cheaper in getting Stevenson over Jefferies? Maybe the Redskins could send over someone to take notes?
-Thank you for pointing out that Coach's rotations often make no sense. Has he said what his thinking is on who gets run and who doesn't? I imagine its got to be a little frustrating for some of the guys.
-Gilbert is crazy and I love him for it.
-Is Iverson to Minny such a good story and so in need of happening that it won't go down because the T-wolves have little beside Randy Foye to give up?

Keep up the good work IC, like the people at Charlie's bar in Philly, I like your style.

Posted by: Jake | December 9, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I, for one am glad the Wizards were the first to feed off of the Sixers without AI, but the whole AI situation was basically all ESPN could talk about during the game.

Anyway, I'm so glad that Stevenson has found his way over on offense after a bad start to the season, which gives us just another weapon on offense that the defense will need to look out for. Now just imagine the Wizards going with the small lineup having Songalia playing at the 5 when he comes back from his injury.

You could also tell Caron was struggling with his back problems as he had a suprising 0 points in the first half. But, he did rebound in the second half finishing the game with 20 points and 11 rebounds, so there shouldn't be problems with him anymore.

And how about the bench lately? It's been lately that Coach Eddie Jordan looks to be trusting his bench players coming out and making the most out of their time. Espicially last night, where they helped start the comeback coming from 20 down. Just one of the reasons why I think the Wizards will go deeper in the playoffs this year.

Posted by: Will | December 9, 2006 11:20 AM | Report abuse

All right! Good gut check last night - admittedly Philly isn't good, but coming back from 20 down anywhere on the road is good stuff.

It was also good to see that we could win when one of the "big 3" was off. Jamison's box wasn't terrible, but all of his points happened after we were comfortably ahead, and it was a subpar game for him. The crucial parts of the game were won while Jamison wasn't contributing. All players have that happen from time to time. That we could succeed anyway is encouraging.

The defense has gone from horrendous to workmanlike recently which gives reason for optimism. Biggest issue at this point is the bench. We have a solid big man on the second team, and a gritty guard in Daniels, but we need someone who can light it up, and solid as they are that isn't Daniels or Haywood. Jarvis just doesn't seem to be coming around. I'm thinking Mason's play last night wasn't a fluke; hopefully Eddie and his bizarre rotations will permit the team to find out if Mason can be that bench spark. I think the rotation issue is part of why we have a soft bench. With the exception of Antonio and Brendan, no one on the bench gets the time they need over several consecutive games to get their play on.

Except for Dallas, we have been beating up chumps on this win streak. Beating the teams that you should is key to success in the NBA, but real success is winning against the good teams. Dallas was encouraging; beating Houston tonight when we have the home court advantage would solidify the fact that the team is stepping up. We have two more home games after tonight, a brutal 4 game west coast swing (going 1-3 given the teams we are playing would be a success, i think), and then a slate of easy games back at home.

Let's get over .500 before we go out West, and hope for the best. As I recall last season, things turned around with crazy wins on another brutal West coast trip (went 3 for 4 or something, beating Phoenix, among others). Got to have the momentum going for that to happen tho.

Once again, thanks much for the blogs Ivan - they are great, and look forward to them whenever I jump online.

Posted by: charles jones | December 9, 2006 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Very chatty today, Ivan. Thanks. Next time you think of it, could you ask Jordan if he has considered playing Thomas at PF with Haywood at center? He hasn't all season, and last night was the perfect time to do so. Webber was absolutely killing Jamison early in the game, and Dalembert was in the game too. Putting Thomas on Webber and Haywood on Dalembert seemed obvious and worth a try. Maybe he doesn't do it for offensive reasons, which suggests offense rules in his mind.

Posted by: Henry | December 9, 2006 12:34 PM | Report abuse

When is AJamison's contract up? EJordan has got to begin to use his bench more..he will wear his starters out otherwise.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 9, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

-Last night's win was encouraging. It's nice to know that the Wiz can win when one of the big 3 is not scoring.

-Stevenson seems to be getting much more comfortable. His D is good. He's consistent with the 17 footer. He seems to know the offense - and he's a BIG upgrade from JJ - especially on offense.

-Worried about the Rockets game tonight. Houston has the kind of inside-outside game that really causes problems on defense for the Wizards.

-Here's hoping that Rodger Mason's game last night is just a sneak peek at the future; otherwise, I agree with Charles Jones that we need some offense off the bench. Can someone give Juan Dixon's phone number to Ernie?

Posted by: mriggs6980 | December 9, 2006 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Nice gut check last night! Now can the Wiz kids keep the grill burning at 110% for four quarters against Houston?

Posted by: CJ Baltimore | December 9, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the great story, Ivan. I love the way you write....it takes us inside the locker room and on the court.

By the way, since you formerly covered the Chiefs, can you tell me if you think Saunders will get it going with the Skins next season? I've heard that it takes a year or so to learn his system and I'm really hoping things will start clicking soon

Posted by: Lisa | December 9, 2006 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Jake is right, Ernie should be GM of the Skins. ;)

"They look like pajamas."

That made me laugh....a lot. :)

I'm glad the Wiz are coming around, but I am STILL mad at Jordan because it took injuries for him to use his bench more.

I'm sorry to say it, but I don't know if I want Ruffin to come back anytime soon or "smallball" might come back.

Haywood should be starting, period.

The most encouraging thing to me is that the Wiz won last night without relying on Jamison. That was huge.

You sign anyone who can give you quality minutes at less then a million, you're doing something right.

I still like C Webb and wish we never traded him. :(

Good story Ivan and I have a story for you. Not much, but still a story....

Back during Webber's first season here he injured his shoulder. Well we used to go watch the Bullets lost at the Capitol Center because tickets were cheap and you could pretty much sit anywhere.

Anyway, after the game C Webb was down at one end of the arena standing there and people were screaming at him trying to get him to come over. One of my friends wanted to try and get a picture of him but couldn't because he was facing the court.

Other people were doing the same, but for whatever reason he wasn't turning around for people so they could get one.

So I yelled "pllleeeeeaaaasssseee" and C Webb turned around smiled at me and flipped
me a "peace" sign and my friend got the pic. I framed that pic and to this day a girl I used to work with has the picture on her wall.

Chris Webber is a class guy, I wish he was still a Wizard.

Thanks Wes. :P

Where's Darnell at?

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 9, 2006 6:01 PM | Report abuse

To Lisa's question about Al Saunders. My take is this: You would have to work extra hard to convince me that Al Saunders suddenly turned into an idiot on the flight between KC and Washington. I mean, the man ran the highest scoring offense for five years and then all of sudden, forgot how to do it? C'mon. Granted, in KC the man had ridiculous talent starting with the OL that included Willie Roaf (hall of fame), Brian Waters (pro bowler) and Will Shields (hall of fame). To me, that is the start and end of Washington's problems. The big boys up front. Then, Brunell struggled to fit in Saunders' system mainly because he was scared to stand in the pocket and take a mouth shot to deliver the rock. Trent Green isn't the most talented QB but he'll trade a black eye for a completion every single time. Given time, a better OL and the development of the kid, Campbell, Saunders' system will be what it's always been: nasty. However, seeing what I see from that operation out there, they'll probably run Saunders and "start over" thus temporarily placating the masses..until next season that is, when someone else gets blamed. They are a mess.

Posted by: Ivan | December 9, 2006 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Ivan. That's exactly what I thought. I've heard Marshall Faulk and several other players state that it takes awhile for Saunders offense to catch fire. And Brunell was definitely not the man for the job (although I think he is a class act).

You are probably right in your prediction that the Skins will not give him a chance. Most of the Skins fans on Jason La Canfora's blog are calling for him to go. I do not agree. I think we need consistency. To throw yet another offense at Campbell would be a big mistake and he will suffer the fate of Patrick Ramsey (who I adored).

Posted by: Lisa | December 10, 2006 9:11 AM | Report abuse

"To me, that is the start and end of Washington's problems. The big boys up front."

I agree with you 100% Ivan, and have posted that in Jason's blog(as well as many others). But to disagree with Lisa, Saunders is not a good fit here in Washington.

The Redskins are not tooled the same way as the Chiefs are as Ivan noted, and from what I read the players are not buying what Saunders is selling them. Saunders is a fine coach, no doubt. Just not for the Redskins. This is why Saunders will not be back next year, and I think for his career that will be best.

It's just like a marriage, just because you have two good people(Gibbs and Saunders in this case) doesn't mean it will always work out. Until the Skins get a GM it really doesn't matter who's coaching anyway.

Can we talk about The Wiz now before all of those crazy people from Jason's blog come over here? Those people are absolutely rabid! ;)

Giving the Wiz a "mulligan" on the Houston game. If our centers finish the game, particularly Haywood, I think we win that one.

I hope they don't get down, I think they played a good game. Yao walked at the end by the way, the refs are getting bad with missing those calls. They seem to get caught up in the moment more often then not. It's lame.

How's Etan and Haywood doing Ivan?

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 10, 2006 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Did I stumble into the Redskins blog?

Posted by: Rook | December 10, 2006 1:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious as to know who in the organization okayed these atrocious new uniforms? Is it a tribute to the New Orleans Saints? These unis make us look absolutely ridiculous. Whoever is in charge of this disaster needs to have his or her pay docked.

Posted by: Bullets Fan in L.A. | December 10, 2006 2:59 PM | Report abuse

"Did I stumble into the Redskins blog?"

See what you did Ivan!

You're banned from your own blog now. ;)

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 10, 2006 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Hope Haywood will be ok by Wednesday as it looks like Thomas will be out for awhile...just when the Wiz were getting hot....

Posted by: Lisa | December 10, 2006 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Stevenson has been a solid mid-range jump shooter the past couple seasons. His shooting percentage was low because he doesn't finish well in traffic. I think he needs to extend the shooting range to the 3pt line, though. If he can turn those open mid-range shots to 3s, he'd become much more valuable to the Wizards -- and earn himself a bigger contract.

Posted by: TSW | December 11, 2006 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Whatup Ray! Man I thought we were gonna pull out that Houston game! It was in our grasp! We were flat overpowered by Yao Ming in the 4th!

That alley-oop to Haywood was sick, and it's funny cause I just posted last week about how we've had no alley-oops all season because we lack athleticism. Love it when they prove me wrong!!

Mason is looking good off the bench! His shooting stroke is nice, and I hope he keeps getting some run. We need it!

Haywood has been doing really good I think. It will be interesting if Etan is out longer and Brendan gets some starts. I want to see what he does, cause he's been stepping up lately.

That was so funny when that dude was reporting during the philly game that AI said he hopes he goes to Minnesota and it was really an imposter! I was on the floor!!

Funny comments about the uniforms... I keep going back and forth. Sometimes I think they are just terrible, but I do like the black, and I like the stars on the shoulders and down the sides. Not much for the gold color, or the mixmatched jersey and shorts though. Would like to see something red white and blue, with the stars, and have Washington or DC on the front instead of Wizards.

Good job in Philly guys! Notice Jamison seems to be going inside more often which is good to see. Stevenson is playing good too. D and rebounding has been looking better, and pushing more on O. Disapointed in the loss to Rockets at home, but it's a good team, and we seem to be playing better overall and moving in the right direction.

Posted by: Darnell | December 11, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

To piggy back on a couple of posts, I think a Haywood/Thomas tandem up front would be an intimidating frontline on the defensive end. The problem on offense would be Thomas' total lack of PF skills (10-15 ft jump shot/ability to face basket). Plus, neither has an ability to play from the high post.
Songaila would be a perfect complement to the starting unit with his ability to defend and shoot the mid-range j. When Songaila returns (is return the right word) he should start at the four and Jamison should be the sixth man at the 3 (as much as he would hate it) which would alleviate some of the bench's scoring deficiencies.

Posted by: Learned Hand | December 11, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I pushed for Etan to win the starting job, but I am beginning to change my mind. I just think in general Haywood matches up better vs other starting centers. Etan is nice off the bench where he'll usually go against 2nd centers who are usually shorter. Plus he is alittle better offensively than Brendan, which is more needed off the bench than with the starters. His intensity and energy is good to bring in too when we start off slow, or to further demoralize teams when we do start hot.

Bench should round out nicely when Songaila is ready. Him along with Hayes, Mason, and Daniels should be good. Agree Jamison is ideal as 6th man, but don't see that happening unfortunately. Especially if Songaila has to be worked into the rotation slowly, it will likely be off the bench.

Posted by: Darnell | December 11, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

YO IC,

Great column as always. You should talk to Gil about coming up with a song to the tune of Prince's Musicology called Gilbertolgy.

Man I got much luv for that guy!

Posted by: VROB | December 11, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

ic you got the lucky life man! get to eat all the best food and see all the best sports events! you got no bad luck, how you do it?

Posted by: poptart | December 11, 2006 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Ivan, I enjoy the Redskins discussions and your columns but don't understand everyone getting excited about barely winning against a Sixers team missing AI, their main scorer.

To me, AI missing equals a sure win- no doubt for the Wiz but it doesn't. Thats a problem. Maybe I'm missing it or something;

They seem in worse trouble than the Redskins to me. NO?

Posted by: roy | December 12, 2006 1:01 PM | Report abuse

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