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Rolling to Philly

Things you ponder at 3:30 a.m. while riding on an Amtrak train to Philadelphia:
-How do you figure out a team that plays so poorly on the road all season then beats the best team in the league at home (Dallas) and then rolls into New York and shoots the rock like Villanova in the 85 Championship game against the Hoyas? I have no idea. In fact, I'm downright perplexed. Gilbert Arenas looked like a lost puppy the last time the Wiz played at Madison Square Garden but tonight? He was like MJ. You could see right from his first shot - a pull up J from 18 feet just seconds into the game. It hit all net. Antawn Jamison got rolling as well and the whipping was on.

-From my seat underneath the basket near the Wizards bench, I watched Gilbert and Antawn take many of the same shots they took during horrendous road losses at New York, Memphis and Chicago but tonight, they dropped. So, does that mean that they figured something out or, does it mean that they simply got hot? That is the one factor that will determine the direction of this season.

-You had to love the overall energy tonight. Every Wizard brought it from the Gilbert and Antawn to Caron Butler getting them rolling early to Etan and Brendan working hard on D to Antonio Daniels and DeShawn Stevenson playing their roles. By the way, the more I see Stevenson settle into his role, the more I become convinced that the Wizards came up with a steal this summer. DeShawn has scored 10 or more in six of the last seven games, he takes good shots, he doesn't turn it over and he brings it on defense. Stevenson and Butler bring a level of toughness that has been missing from this team in the past.

-I love New York's Renaldo Balkman. The kid is a total terror on the glass, he runs the floor like a young Dennis Rodman and he finishes at the rim with attitude. The Knicks were ripped for taking him in the first round but imagine that kid on a playoff contender. The funny thing about him is that he's really 6-5 and I have no idea what position he plays. He's just a baller, pure and simple. The Wizards would love to have a kid like that coming off the bench with energy. He's one of those guys who speeds up the tempo and makes veterans work extra hard to keep him off the boards.

An interesting observation from tonight's game: It was the third quarter and the Wizards were rolling. Balkman was matched up on Antawan. The Wiz brought the ball up the floor and Antawn looked at Eddie Jordan, pointed at the rookie Balkman and called for a play. Seconds later, Jarvis Hayes launched a missed jumper. The Knicks scored and the Wiz called timeout. Jamison walked towards the bench with a frustrated look on his face.

Butler is dealing with a bout of back pain right now and Wiz fans had better hope that it isn't serious. I noticed him favoring his back a little bit after the hot start and asked him about it in the lockeroom after the game. "It's been hurting me for a couple of games now," tough juice said. "But you know me. I'm gonna be good. I'll be out there."
Translation: Come hell or highwater, Butler will be in the lineup at Philly Friday night. He reminds of some of the football players I used to cover in my NFL days as a reporter.

The mood in the postgame lockeroom was giddy. You could tell that the fellas were sick and tired of hearing, reading and talking about the 0-8 road start and were happy to do something about it. Eddie looked particularly relieved. The man played at Rutgers and enjoys winning at the Garden so this win felt a little extra special.

By the way, the Garden is a different place. I've been to every NBA arena, darn near every NFL stadium and a bunch of college sights in both sports and there really is something special about that old, nasty, dirty, filthy place. Can't quite put a finger on it but you know it when you get in there. Trust me. It's like Lambeau Field in Green Bay or Arrowhead Stadium in KC. Special.

Gilbert after the game: "See, we did this to keep you guys from writing all of that stuff about us losing on the road."
Me: "I'm not the one who went 0-7 from three point range the last time ya'll played here, don't shoot the messenger. You should go back and thank all of those fans who watched you guys play like that on the road in the first eight games."

Wiz fan of the night: Really attractive female in one of those "Agent Zero" shirts they gave away at Verizon Center a few games back. It was altered to highlight her, uh, best attributes. She was sitting in the upper reaches with a friend and took her share of abuse from the jerkey-boy wannabe Knicks fans around her. Saw her at a pub across the street from MSG (hey, I had a couple of hours to kill before my train left for Phily) after the game and she was thrilled about her team's showing.

"Last time I came, they didn't show up. Good see to see them play some real ball tonight. That's what I'm talking about"
I think Wiz fans everywhere would agree, no?

By Ivan Carter  |  December 7, 2006; 3:31 AM ET
 
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Next: A road winning streak

Comments

The "Fan of the Game" description is worthless without pictures. What kind of reporter are you?

;)

Posted by: Worth a Thousand Words | December 7, 2006 9:27 AM | Report abuse

IC, super tight jerkey boys reference. I grew up listening to them. Rizzo...R-I-Z-Z-O Jacka$$!

I think I make the same face Antawn makes when Jarvis Hayes launches jumpers...

Posted by: Bernard King | December 7, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I disagree regarding the shots that Gil and AJ were taking the last time. The shots they took last night generally came with more spacing between them and their defenders and teammates. Also, they took those shots after a bit more passing. I also think they were simply hot. This team needs to pass the ball more so that they can take better shots and limit the other teams shot opportunities.

With regards to AJ looking fustrated, do you know how many shots he typically takes per night, is he kidding!?!

While I remain a Wiz fan and will continue to watch, I just cannot wait for Pecherov next year!

Posted by: DJofstx | December 7, 2006 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I share your assessment of Balkman. He certainly seems to play bigger than he is, and he runs the floor like a gazzelle. The Wiz badly need someone like him or David Lee.

Posted by: Ben | December 7, 2006 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the word IC! Well good to win on the road! Jamison was hitting his 3s, and Gil was just on fire. When those two things happen we usually win. True about Balkman, that dude is just in attack mode and very aggressive on boards! I thought our centers did good though, but as a team we were outrebounded, luckily our shooting made up for it. Bad news about Caron's back, hope it's not serious. Even if he plays, too bad he's gotta play through pain. Good luck in Philly!

Posted by: Darnell | December 7, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Balkman constantly plays with an intensity that reminds me of a 13th man on a 12-man squad with final roster cut a couple days off. If we had two or three more guys like that the Wizards would be all right.

IC, guess your thoughts from that early morning train to Philly encapsulate the season we face: The Wiz are a really good team when they are in sync and a really bad team when they're not, and their bench is not yet good enough consistently to bail out the starters when they have a rough night.

There was some discussion about Lang on the previous thread. I don't think his performance in extended garbage time at Chicago means he's good to go... yet. But he did show encouraging signs of promise (granted, against the Bulls' subs) that should grow as he gets additional game time. Problem is, he's not yet a player who can come off the bench in a tight game and make a difference, and he won't come off the bench unless they're winning big (NY) or losing big (Chicago).

With the level of play this season, he's more likely to be in during Chicago type blowouts than New York type blowouts.

Posted by: iceberg | December 7, 2006 10:28 AM | Report abuse

...and tell your editors on 15th Street to get you a camera or something, for those attractive fans you meet. Don't be coming in here describing "attributes" when you can't provide the visual evidence! :)

Peace.

Posted by: iceberg | December 7, 2006 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Agree completely with the others, IC get a camera, don't leave us hanging like that. Use the camera phone at the very least.

Also, I, like you IC, love what Stevenson has brought to this team and couldn't agree more that he and Butler are the kinda tough guys a team needs if its going to be successful. I was never a fan of Jefferies and considering the salary differences between the two I'm lovin' the switch.

Posted by: Jake | December 7, 2006 10:54 AM | Report abuse

DON'T display Caron's quotes about his back!!!!!!! Ya'know Philly is reading this blog, one of the best out there!

So, great job on the blog, but please, leave the injury news out of it.

Also - give us tips on places to eat in the grids you visit. I love Arthur Bryants in KC. Who knew Wonder Bread went so well with fries!!!!

Posted by: BulletsFan | December 7, 2006 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I was at the last Knicks game and it was a nightmare pure and simple. This one was better by far. Frankly, to me, it looked like they wanted to win this one, but couldn't care less about the first game at MSG. That is a pretty basic analysis, but you had to be there. They were uninterested in the game, unless it involved complaining to refs -- while the action continued -- or talking to Jared Jeffries.

I haven't seem the Wiz in the last few games, but Jarvis is starting to scare me...perhaps time to dump him for a team looking for a "shooter" and get a high-enery guy in return?

Posted by: Jo Jo White | December 7, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Ivan,

Have you been to a Big 5 game at the Palestra? It's the sounds, the smells, the energy that make a sports venue special. And please check with Big Stein's boy With Leather on how best to describe the Superfan. As far as Hayes' trade value, I think it would improve if he became more of a "maker" than a "shooter."

Posted by: Bill Fitzgerald | December 7, 2006 12:36 PM | Report abuse

To answer the rhetorical question,"did they figure out something or did they just get hot?"

No, they didn't figure anything out. This is their identity: they jack up jumpers and hope they go in. They play no D, so they have to go in. They have no offensive inside presence, and even if they did, I'm not sure Gil or Jamison would share. When you're a jump shooting team, there are few easy buckets. The only way this team gets easy shots is if they get turnovers.

I'm afraid this is going to be a long season...

Posted by: Marc | December 7, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Sorry fellas. It's a family newspaper. Good win for the Wiz though. That's four out of five and for what it's worth, this team is 8-10 after 18 games, exactly where it was last season at this time. The difference? The team was well into a rut rather than climbing out of one at this time last season.

Posted by: Ivan | December 7, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

And while I'm at it, any of you guys know where I can catch a hoop game around noon tomorrow? I have an afternoon to kill and am dying for a run. Is there a YMCA or health club downtown with runs? Help a reporter out.

Posted by: Ivan | December 7, 2006 12:44 PM | Report abuse

It was great to get a road win but facts are facts - the Knicks stink. The next four games will be a real test of where the Wiz stand. All are winnable and three are at home. After that, the Wiz could be looking at four straight losses given their road prowess and the competition.

Posted by: Learned Hand | December 7, 2006 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I am just glad the centers are getting the job done! I hope the Ruffin at center experiment is over with once and for all, even when he does return from his injury. Where we need him is coming in for Jamison and giving us some D at PF anyway!

The wins are a morale boost, but style of play is still same. Look great when the shots are falling though! They have been moving the ball more the past couple games though which is crucial. The centers are giving some physical presence inside. Agree Stevenson is playing well too.

Still settle too often for the long shots, and Jamison isn't going to be rolling like that everynight. He is streaky, he'll go a week where he's hot like buffalo wings, then a month where he's colder than a snowman. But he'll just keep jackin em up trying to shoot his way out of his slump!

This is the same recipe for another up and down season, a .500 record, and playoff team with an early exit. We need to add some new variety to this menu!

Posted by: Darnell | December 7, 2006 1:25 PM | Report abuse

3:30am train to Philly? Who coordinates your travel? Or are you just too cheap to get a hotel room for the night?

Posted by: mart | December 7, 2006 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I meant to post this a couple days ago. this was from the blob off wizards website from tuesday 12/5:

"The Wizards held a spirited practice today following Monday's big home win over the Mavericks. The session concluded with Coach Jordan asking each team (black & white) to pick a player, with the reason yet to be explained. The black team selected James Lang, the white team Donell Taylor.

The game: first player to hit a three from five spots around the arc wins, loser runs a quick suicide drill with his team. The winner? James Lang - who showed off a sweet stroke from long range."

Posted by: poptart | December 7, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

IC, big fan of your work. I think the difference with how the Zards play is purely confidence and motion. On the road they seem tentative, than wind up standing around waiting for someone to make a play. At home, they play free and move themselves and the ball around.

Posted by: Murphdogg | December 7, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

"...looked at Eddie Jordan, pointed at the rookie Balkman and called for a play."

Ivan,

Was that because of Jordan or Hayes? Did Hayes just brick one or did Jordan run a play to Hayes?

My guess is the latter. :P

Either way I think the Wiz or going to live or die on the shooting of Jamison which doesn't make me feel very comfortable.

Good win either way, we'll see what happens in Philly. Iverson always kills the Wiz.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 7, 2006 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Ivan,

as a proud recent grad of Temple University, I think you should try the pavilion on campus. Its located about 3 miles from city hall north on broad st and berks st. Good competition and maybe you might catch an owlette with various um...attributes. Keep up the great work!

Posted by: Gee-'Zards | December 7, 2006 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Seems like you could reduce the difference between the games to just the 3-pt percentage. They shot 70% this game; if they were 70% in the previous one, they'd have made 10, thirty points, which is the exact split between the two games (-20 vs +10). If they had shot 35% from 3 last night, they'd have made 7 (rather than 14) -- 21 points less, in a game won by 11. This is of course all very theoretical, but it's not encouraging.

Posted by: august s. | December 7, 2006 9:26 PM | Report abuse

August S:

You've got a point, but before the Wizards Jr Varsity squad took the floor and traded bricks for Knicks points at the other end, the lead was 17 or 18, which very well could have / should have been the margin of victory, if not more.

Still, I would really love to see Gil penetrate more, it seems like he basically stops altogether once the refs hose him once or twice, but nobody's going to stop him off the dribble to the rim...

Posted by: Gack | December 8, 2006 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Well, Gack, I think Gil has realized that the refs won't let him drive to the rim on the road, that's the basic truth. He can drive to the rim and foul out on five consecutive charging calls, or he can settle for outside shots. It's not him deciding on outside shots, its the refs forcing him to.

Posted by: Zonker | December 8, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Maybe I'm just off base - admittedly I have never played basketball competitively - but I would think that Arenas could still drive to the basket without necessarily risking a charge every time. I mean, if a guy gets position on him and he'd have to make contact to get to the rim, he could either pull up and take the shot there, or go around the guy, or pass back to an open teammate, right?

Though presumably that wouldn't exactly be Gil's style either. Obviously he WANTS to get to the hoop... just as much as I want to see him do it...

Posted by: Josh | December 8, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Best all around game the Wiz played all season tonight I think. That 3rd quarter was huge, they usually stink that period up.

I know Iverson didn't play, but still.

You all hear about that TV reporter dude thinking he was talking to Iverson when he was actually talking to an imposter about Iverson being possibly traded to Minnesota?

Crazy.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 8, 2006 10:45 PM | Report abuse

was that an actual alley-oop to haywood!?!? i think that's the first alley-oop i've seen all season from this team

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

"was that an actual alley-oop to haywood!?!?"

Yeah, Stevenson threw it up to him. It was nice.

Haywood was kinda bummed when Hughes left because he liked to throw it in to him like that. Last year Haywood said no one else would look for him down low, so maybe Stevenson will start doing that.

Personally speaking, I think they are playing better with Haywood at the 5 then with Etan but I felt since preseason they would anyway. Etan is playing good ball FINALLY however but I still think Haywood should be playing more minutes.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | December 9, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

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