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?"
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.
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