Going to Philly
As I write this, I'm on a train from DC to Philly for tonight's preseason game against the 76ers. (Okay, I left a little early so I can find a TV to watch my Vikings lose to the Bears at 1 p.m. Lovie baby, can you make Rex Grossman the starter again? Just for today?).
It wasn't easy to get a read on the value of last night's 90-86 win over Dallas because Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Erick Dampier and Devean George had the night off. The Mavs played at Chicago Friday night and one of their beat writers said Avery Johnson is making a concerted effort to get his big dogs some rest when he can during the preseason. His feeling is that everyone went full tilt right from the start last year following the loss to Miami in the 2006 Finals. Perhaps easing in - and avoiding Golden State in the playoffs - will make a difference this season. For what it's worth, I still see the Mavs as my favorite to win it all.
Anyway, Andray Blatche was the best player on the floor for long stretches last night and wound up with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He could've had at least six more points had he finished a couple of shots and/or a couple of potential and-ones at the rim.
That said, I was really hoping see him defend Nowitzki, who has just killed the Wizards in recent years (as well as a lot of other teams obviously). Andray, now that he's growing into his frame and is in shape, is the one Wizard (may D-McGuire as well but we'll see) who gives the team a good matchup against guys like Dirk, LeBron, Garnett and assorted other freaks of nature who can't be checked by traditional types. He has off-the-charts skill level to go along with length, agility and instinct.
There was one play from the game that illustrated this. A shot was missed by a Dallas player (don't recall who) and Andray swooped in for the rebound. He took a couple of dribbles and quickly encountered a defender. Andray put on a Magic-style spin move, kept his dribble and swooped all the way to the basket where he drew the foul.
That play and others Andray has performed like it during camp and the first two games got me thinking: How many coast-to-coast players are there in the NBA right now? And by that I mean, a player who can block a shot or snag a rebound at one end, advance the ball up the floor and either dish it off to an open teammate or take it to the rack and finish?
A list right off the top of my head: LeBron, D-Wade, Kobe, Shawn Marion, Gerald Wallace (though more as a finisher than a passer), Andre Iguodala, Ak-47 (when he's not crying), Josh Smith, Stephen Jackson and??? I'm sure there are a few I didn't think of but my point is that Andray's skill set doesn't come along very often. Now, it's up to him to put it to use and give this team an x-factor this season.
With his team facing a back-to-back tonight and a third game in four nights in Chicago on Tuesday, Eddie Jordan said he may actually play his starters longer tonight. He wants to see how they respond to a back-to-back, particularly on the defensive end where the energy has been good through two games.
One stat that stands out is forced turnovers (keep in mind, it is the preseason when things tend to get sloppy). Still, Cleveland coughed it over 27 times and Dallas turned it over 21 times. The Wizards have been active with their hands, have been digging back into the post on entry passes and dribble penetration and the weakside defense has been solid (particularly when Andray has been in there with Brendan. That's a lot of length).
Not sure about Gilbert's status for tonight. He may sit it out and go Tuesday at Chicago to give that knee a break. In two games, Gil has not found a groove with his outside shot - he's 3 of 19 overall and 2 of 9 from long range - but I don't see him forcing bad shots and last night, the burst was there against a pretty quick Devin Harris. On two occassions, Gilbert squared Harris up at the top of the key and blew by him, though I noticed that he pushed off his right and not his left leg on both plays. In general, I don't see him favoring the leg and defensively, he's been pretty aggressive in going after loose balls and trying to pry away steals. Some may disagree, but I'm not worried about him.
I'll check in later from Philly.
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