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Wizards Can Make A Deep Playoff Run

The East is there for the taking. I've been trying to hold back on this assessment for fear of looking absolutely foolish, but can you name the Eastern Conference teams that the Washington Wizards really need to dread? Maybe Detroit. Possibly Chicago. Those teams play defense, which the Wizards don't and won't, and perhaps have the inside track to the NBA Finals.

But after seeing Gilbert Arenas cocksurely spin and walk off the court before his 32-foot bomb splashed through the nets last night -- and, really, what was the harm in that? Either you make it and look like Larry Legend, or you grab a towel and a seat on the bench and get ready for overtime -- I'm really starting to take Eddie Jordan's preseason chatter to heart: This team could really be in the Eastern Conference Finals.

I sort of chuckled inside at the time, believing that the Miami Heat was a mortal lock to claim the Leastern Conference and, that either Detroit or Cleveland would be there with them in the conference finals. But during the first two months of the season, I've come to realize that with the emergence of Arenas as a legitimate franchise player, Caron Butler as an all-star caliber performer and Antawn Jamison as the best third wheel this side of Shawn Marion, the Wizards can seriously get out of the second round this season - barring a serious injury to any one of those three.

After a bumpy November, the Wizards are back on track and in first place in the Southeast Division, a position they should be able to hold onto for the rest of the regular season. Orlando is sliding, Miami is struggling to be a playoff team and . . .well, do we even need to mention Atlanta and Charlotte (who have a combined 18 wins, the same as Washington)?

Admittedly, the Wizards lack of defense and limited depth make me a little cautious about thrusting them beyond the conference finals, but Steve Nash-led teams in Dallas and Phoenix have proven that teams with high-powered offenses and non-existent defenses can make deep postseason runs, in the West, no less. (And, let's get this straight: The NBA champion is coming out of the West. Unless there is another blockbuster trade - with either Ron Artest or Kevin Garnett switching sides of the Mississippi - the best the East has to offer would barely qualify out West and has no chance in the Finals). But, with Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin set to come back soon, and Darius Songaila possibly returning in late February, the Wizards should be deep enough to be taken seriously on this coast.

If the season ended today, the Wizards would get the Orlando Magic in the first round, and then possibly face Cleveland or Indiana in the second round. Now, this isn't the way the season will end, of course - I know, we have 51 games left! - but does that make you shiver? Didn't think so.

In case you were wondering, the defending champion Heat is on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, 2 ½ games behind the Milwaukee Bucks. They begin a problematic West Coast trip on the horizon on Friday in Phoenix without Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, James Posey, Antoine Walker and Pat Riley. Miami is in serious trouble, as evidenced by Riley's decision to take an immediate leave to have hip surgery at a time when the championship hangover for his team has carried over from June to beyond New Year's Day.

Wade has been stellar, but dragging, with the weight of carrying the squad by himself becoming too much to bare. Everyone is under the assumption that when Wade and Shaq come back, all will be well on South Beach. I'd agree if I thought Shaq was coming back. He's not. Shaquille O'Neal is coming back, not the player so dominant that he was referred to only by nicknames, such as Shaq, Diesel or The Big Aristole. Unfortunately, O'Neal is just another good basketball player right now. I really hate to see him in decline. I'm a huge fan and I'd love to see O'Neal return to terrorize the NBA with nasty dunks, but how much lift will he really have on those balky legs? It's difficult for me to imagine O'Neal coming back to provide much more than 17 points and 7 rebounds - at best - the rest of the season. That's not bad for anybody other than O'Neal - half the centers in the NBA would make a Faustian wager to get those numbers - but not what we've grown accustomed to expecting fromsomeone who was the most fearsome force the first four, five years of this decade. Maybe Riley can focus on shaking up this squad in his time away from the bench. . .and if Miami can get Artest from Sacramento, then, well, I take it all back. Otherwise, all that I'm asking is: Who in the East is really standing in the Wizards' way?

By Michael Lee  |  January 4, 2007; 11:56 AM ET
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I give you complete respect for this blog entry. Who knows what will end up happening, but you're the first I've heard to go on record about this team and its potential to make the ECF's. If they do make it, I'll remember I heard it here first.

While I'd be happy with 50 wins and a competitive 2nd round, if things fall right, who knows...

Posted by: Wei | January 4, 2007 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Do you get a neat bandwagon cartoon next to your columns now Ivan?

Posted by: Jumpy | January 4, 2007 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Good one, Jumpy. While I think Ivan's points are on the mark, the more rational time to discuss this is when the Wizards have leveled off, going 6 and 4 over a 10 game stretch for example rather than being on fire like they are now. The Wizards are one injury away from missing the playoffs, and one shot away from losing last night. I think the key focus for this team for now is winning the SE division and opening up a big lead while Miami is down.

Posted by: Henry | January 4, 2007 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Ivan, lotsa guts for putting it on paper. I'll still put a caution on MY enthusiasm...but it's starting to feel good.

Btw, when is this town going to realize the best fall-winter sports team playing are the 2 @ Verizon not FedEx.

Get your tixs ppl...Ovie & Gil are SUPERNSTARS.

Posted by: Victor | January 4, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

"I've been trying to hold back on this assessment for fear of looking absolutely foolish"

Lol, way to stick your neck out there Ivan. ;)

I'll give you three teams the Wiz do not match up well with: Miami, New Jersey, and Cleveland. These teams have a Jedi mind control on the Wiz for whatever reason.

From Gil himself: "And we see ourselves trying to seed ourselves, and we're like, 'Man we really don't want to be the No. 1 team in the East,' because that No. 1 team, for being number one you might get a handshake and say, 'Hey, there's Miami at 8.'"

The ONLY thing that will make the Wiz advance deep into the playoffs....Gilbert Arenas. He will have to play at an MVP level the entire time.

The playoffs are WAY different then the regular season. They should try and finish as high as possible because I think they can play with anyone at home.

It's still too soon to tell, like you said there's 51 games left. Gil goes down, it's all over.

Please go vote for all the Wizards for the 2007 NBA All Star game NOW at:

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Man, I feel awful... All this attention on Gil, when Caron has been playing simply out of his mind night in and night out. Huge apologies to Caron, who deserves ENORMOUS RESPECT for his all-star level play this season.

Posted by: Zonker | January 4, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ope | January 4, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

FYI - At the end of every blog is a byline. The end of this one says:

By Michael Lee | January 4, 2007; 11:56 AM ET

Just a heads up to people who thought Ivan wrote this.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 4, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

OMG! Mike Lee sighting!

And Henry, most of the teams in the league are one injury away from missing the playoffs. You seem to forget that we're already winning games with zero of our starting centers playing at full strength, so obviously we CAN play through injuries and win.

Of course, if one of the big three goes down, we're in trouble. The same way Houston is in trouble without Yao. The same way the Lakers are dead meat without Kobe. The same way the Heat are capsized without D-Wade and/or Shaq. Let's kneecap LeBron and see what happens to the Cavs.

Very few teams have a ton of depth sitting on their bench ready to make up 20+ ppg. This is true of nearly every sport -- you don't often get to the Super Bowl if your league-leading QB goes down.

My advice is sit back and enjoy the ride, guys. It's a long season and we have no idea what's in store, but right now we're playing the best ball this franchise has seen in decades. Why waste the moment by furiously chugging the haterade?

Posted by: Gack | January 4, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Michael - boldly analyzed. had been thinking the same thing myself.

the heat are done. reilly obviously thinks so. think he'd be bailing if they were 23-9? pretty yellow pattern of behaviour by old pat. he stops coaching when they are bad, comes back when the horses are there, and pulls this now that they are bad again. weak.

central conference teams are going to be beating themselves up all season. the worst team in the central would lead the atlantic, and probably would be second in the southeast if they got to play atl and the bobcats instead of the rust belt teams. this means. . .

that the wizards have a legitimate shot to have the best record in the East. Why? Well no one in the Atlantic is going to have the best record obviously. In the central, all those good teams have to play one another frequently, and, on any given night, the worst team in the central can beat the best. Meanwhile, the Wizards 1) get to play three bad teams in the southeast (and I am including Miami in that group); 2) have completed two of their three west coast swings, going .500 or so in the process, with the remaining swing being the most favorable, including the blazers, warriors, and sonics as it does, and 3) getting back some of our big horses shortly.

Home team advantage throughout the playoffs. . .suddenly the only thing between the wiz and the championship series is the refs love affair with lebron.

Obviously this team is streaky, so there is always risk in that, but the confidence factor is high right now, which is key for a streaky team, but it is much easier to keep momentum than it is to build it.

risks for the rest of the year:

1) bench/big three wearing down: we need someone to be the like the pistons "microwave" back in the bad boys days. no one on the bench is doing it, and no one coming back from injury is suited for it. be nice if eg can get a young athlete/slasher before the trading deadline.

2) impact of etan and songalia on chemistry as they come back. clearly we need them to have the depth that will be required, but team is playing very well without them. getting them into the mix without losing the style of play may be a challenge.

3) riding this 14-4 run as long as possible. at some point the wiz, being the wiz, will get into a funk. wins now give us room for a funk later. we have the clips, chicago, and San An in the next five games. except for the game at san an, we should win all of these games, and have to.

the secret weapon

Posted by: charles jones | January 4, 2007 1:55 PM | Report abuse

"Just a heads up to people who thought Ivan wrote this."

Doh! Sorry dude!

Ok then...way to stick your head out there MIKE! ;)

Where have you been hiding at?

"All this attention on Gil, when Caron has been playing simply out of his mind night in and night out."

Caron is definately a beast. He's one of those guys you expect to bring it every night. I don't recall anyone not saying as much. MIKE and Ivan should be writing more about him then maybe he'll get more votes for the All-Star game.

God knows I've been voting for him every day.

Sorry again Mike. :)

Please go vote for all the Wizards for the 2007 NBA All Star game NOW at:

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Caron is a beast!

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

"Home team advantage throughout the playoffs. . .suddenly the only thing between the wiz and the championship series is the refs love affair with lebron."

Exactly CJ.

They definately need to win as much as possible though. I've said it before on here also, the refs have always been biased in the NBA to the superstars. It's something that will never change.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

It's a good thing that game last night ran over four seconds, otherwise Gil would have had less time to throw up that "bomb" to win the game. Those of us watching noticed the clock actually stopped for three of four seconds after Buckhantz mentioned it. I think the basketball gods are finally looking out for us.

On a positive note, never nervous Jarvis, or "Arvis" actually shot 23% from the field last night. Way to go Arvis! EJ needs to sit his butt on the pine for two or three games.

Posted by: CJ Baltimore | January 4, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

It's not "possibly Chicago". It's definitely Chicago. They can defend AND score the ball from everywhere on the court. Ben Gordon is a miniature Gilbert. The Bulls are much better than their record. I fear them more than any other team in the East.

Posted by: Learned Hand | January 4, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

The Wiz may not have a "microwave" but I think Blatche lately has had that energizing effect coming off the bench. He's not necessarily scoring like crazy but he's doing the other things (blocking shots, rebounding, chipping in a few points, running the floor) that keep the Wiz in the game while one or two of the starters is catching a breather. If he continues like that he'll only get better. You can actually see him getting more comfortable out there. Nice to see.

I agree that incorporating the injured ones when they get back will be quite a task for EJ. The chemistry is nice at the moment.

Anybody thinking AD is hitting a rough patch? He had a few uncharacteristic turnovers yesterday that kind of surprised me. Maybe he's knocking off some of that holiday rust or something. Hayes still can't shoot consistantly. And I don't want to hear he's just getting his legs back. His FG % is the same as it's been his whole career.

Posted by: SteelmaticSP02 | January 4, 2007 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I can't say anything today except how great that shot was!


I'm not worried about the bulls.
Lets go wizards!

Posted by: greg | January 4, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"It's definitely Chicago."

I think the Wiz can actually beat the Bulls. It's that "mental" thing some teams have over others and the Wiz always seem to play them well.

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

couldn't think of the name of the microwave for the bad boys before - vinny johnson - was in school at michigan when they had their run, and that guy used to come of the bench and shoot lights out. kind of like juan a few years back for the wiz, except bigger and more consistent,

Posted by: charles jones | January 4, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit will eat our lunch in a 7 game series.

-Songalia will not play more than 10 games this year

-Our lack of bench production will show up in the dog days of the season when Gilbert/Caron playing 44 minutes a night takes its toll. Hayes stinks.

-Playoff games are half court games. In all our losses, teams have forced us to settle for jumpers in a half-court setting. When we hit them, everyone thinks we're good. When we don't, we lose (anyone remember game 1 in Memphis?).

-We don't rebound well enough, we cannot defend the rim, penetrators, or post players. We cannot do what we'd like to with Jamison at PF. We have a ceiling with him here doing what we are asking him to do.

You ask if any of those other teams scare me? yes. They all do. The reason is that anyone can beat us on any given night because we play 0 defense. You give up the most points in the league and you're telling me we're not vulnerable? Orlando has guys who can penetrate, knock down open shots, and rebound. They can play to our weaknesses. So can Cleveland and Milwaukee and almost anyone else we might encounter.

We might be in a good position because the east stinks but we are not a finals team period. All that said, I am having a blast right now and if Michael Lee were here, I'd refer to him as the 'Washington Post Star' a la Steve Buckhantz (then I'd tell you exactly how many 3-pointers he's made on the season and then ask Phil about his development).

44 wins 2nd round exit.

Posted by: Bernard King | January 4, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Those offensive oriented teams Ivan mentioned going deep into the playoffs were never as bad defensively as the Wiz. Currently, the Wiz have the league's 2nd best offense and the league's 2nd worst defense. Dallas -- even with Nash AND Jamison -- was never that bad.

Posted by: TSW | January 4, 2007 4:11 PM | Report abuse


We'll have to see, but I agree with Gil that the league is more offensive-oriented than it's been in more than a decade. Phoenix has done pretty well with a great offense and no D, and we can match the Suns point for point. The question is if the Wiz can get the critical stops when it matters.

Don't forget that we'll also have another shot blocker when Etan comes back, and won't have to have Antawn manning the middle, giving up layup after layup.

I also think Andray will be getting more and more time, and his defense continues to improve- everyone fed off his defensive energy last night, and picked it up. So, what we need is just a little D to do a lot of damage, IMO. We don't need to be Chicago; just good enough. I think your analysis is overly pessimistic.

Posted by: Keithinator | January 4, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Ray, the Bulls have already punished the Wiz this year. Did you miss that one?

Posted by: LH | January 4, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Jamison seems to be handling being third fiddle- a true professional. Caron's game is sweet. Needs no screens-it's all one on one in your face.

Posted by: PTP23 | January 4, 2007 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Don't count Miami out. Heck, the Wizards made up 7 games in one month and took over first. Wade scares me more than Lebron (Because of Shaq).

Posted by: PTP23 | January 4, 2007 5:38 PM | Report abuse

"The reason is that anyone can beat us on any given night because we play 0 defense."

As usual I agree with BK and his assessment. But we're not supposed to talk negative, remember? :)

"Ray, the Bulls have already punished the Wiz this year. Did you miss that one?"

Yeah, but the Wiz were playing so horrid my grandmother could have beaten them. The beginning of the season was just plain weird.

The thing BK said....the Wiz can beat anyone and be beaten by anyone. Especially in the East.

IF Gilbert plays at an MVP level they *can* make some noise in the East because it's so bad. I said in Ivan's(not Mike's) blog the other night, until they play defense they aren't going to win a championship.

BK is 100% correct in his assessment.

Please go vote for all the Wizards for the 2007 NBA All Star game NOW at:

- Ray

Posted by: Anonymous | January 4, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse

You all have gotta remember, basketball is a game of "matchups" and some teams the Wiz matchup well against. Some they don't.

For YEARS any team with a decent big man could/can beat the Wiz and that still holds true.

I think the Bucks can beat the Wiz in a series. I think the teams I mentioned above can all beat the Wiz. It all depends on a lot of things if the Wiz are going to do anything.

Defense and Gil playing at an MVP are the biggest. Otherwise they go out in one round.

We'll see, but BK is on the money. Taking something from Denny Green, I'm not ready to "crown" the Wiz just yet. ;)

- Ray

Posted by: Ray | January 4, 2007 6:11 PM | Report abuse

"Ray, the Bulls have already punished the Wiz this year. Did you miss that one?"

Maybe when we were early season dogs, but I also remember beating them in the playoffs two years ago with virtually the same team. A declining Wallace does not scare me too much!

Bottomline: The Wiz can beat any team in the league right now, period. Problem: Is: Is Arenas going to play at an MJ level the rest of the year?

If he does there is no team we can't beat.

PS I completely agree with Ivan that Miami is toast. Old, slow, and Wade is wearing down too from going nonstop. I predict Shaq is done winning championships unless he somehow latches onto say a Dallas and goes along for the ride. Not that I think that will happen either.

Posted by: Rob P | January 4, 2007 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Michael, do *you* get a neat little bandwagon cartoon then? :)

Posted by: Jumpy | January 6, 2007 7:55 PM | Report abuse

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