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?
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