Wizards Games To Watch In '09-10
I decided to split these blog posts in two. Here are some games of interest next season.
At Cleveland (Nov. 3)
Are there any other regular season games that will matter? Okay, there might be a few. But given the rivalry between the Wizards and Cavaliers, this should be an exciting matchup based on their three playoff series (which Cleveland won) and how competitive both teams were last season --- even with the Cavaliers boasting the league's best record and Wizards scraping the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. This year it should be more entertaining with the Cavaliers adding Shaquille O'Neal and the Wizards expecting to be among the best teams in the East this season. O'Neal already had a little fun with the rivalry when he was here at Verizon Center last week. "My new teammate LeBron James told me to tell you hello," O'Neal said with a smile as the fans booed. Wizards fans really have no love for James. The Cavaliers will only visit Washington once, on Nov. 18.
At Oklahoma City (Nov. 20)
Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas fought at least three times during their eight seasons as teammates in Washington. Long-time enemies, this will be the first time they ever face each other as opponents. Haywood made it a point to mention that he would miss Darius Songaila after Thomas was traded to Minnesota. Thomas was traded to the Thunder last week and the Tulsa native has a good chance of playing heavy minutes at center in his home state. Thomas will come to Washington, with Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, on Dec. 29.
At San Antonio (Nov. 21)
Yes, Fabricio Oberto will return to the only NBA team he knew before joining the Wizards. He'll be reunited with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and fellow Argentine Manu Ginobili. But many Wizards fans will also be keeping an eye on the development of DeJaun Blair, whom the Wizards passed on in the second round of the NBA draft. The Wizards will also get to see Roger Mason Jr. and the newly refurbished Spurs, who have added Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess and should compete with the Los Angeles Lakers for the top spot in the West.
Philadelphia (Nov. 24)
The 76ers hired a coach this offseason who should be quite familiar to Wizards fans. Eddie Jordan, who was canned after 11 games last season, will make his return to Verizon Center two days before Thanksgiving. The District native should receive a rousing welcome from the fans in his homecoming, although I'm sure there will be a few jeers. Jordan led the Wizards through their best four-year run since the team made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals in 1978-79. Jordan will have a talented team in Philadelphia, with Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams. But it will be interesting to see the interaction between Jordan and Gilbert Arenas, since both men had great success together but had a rocky relationship at times. Andray Blatche may also have one of his best games of the season stored up, too.
At Detroit (Dec. 6)
The Wizards and Pistons will meet for the first time on Nov. 14. But Coach Flip Saunders makes his return to the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., for the first time since he was fired in the summer of 2008. The Pistons fell on some hard times in its first season without Saunders, with rookie coach Michael Curry and the Allen Iverson trade leading to the team falling from the Eastern Conference elite. Curry and Iverson are gone (as well as Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess), but Saunders will still have former players Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell to contend with. The Pistons also spent big in free agency, adding Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
Boston (Dec. 10, TNT)
The last time the Wizards were a competitive team team (2007-08), they gave the eventual champion Boston Celtics some serious trouble, winning three games against a team that won 66. The Celtics added Rasheed Wallace to the mix and are expecting Kevin Garnett's return to push them back on track toward banner No. 18. The Saunders-Garnett reunion should never get old, especially since Garnett's Celtics helped push Saunders out of Detroit when Boston defeated the Pistons in the conference finals.
At Minnesota (Dec. 26)
Randy Foye, Mike Miller and assistant Randy Wittman return to the Target Center the day after Christmas. This game will mean more for Foye than Miller since Foye spent the first three seasons of his career in Minnesota and had to deal with comparisons to Brandon Roy essentially his entire time with the Timberwolves. Foye thought he was going to be dealt shortly after former Minnesota coach Kevin McHale was fired. This should be an interesting game since Flip Saunders played collegiately at the University of Minnesota and coached the Timberwolves for almost 10 seasons, Wittman was a former coach of the Timberwolves and Sam Cassell made his only all-star team with Minnesota. On the flip side (no pun intended), Darius Songaila and Oleksiy Pecherov will welcome their former teammates to town. The duo will return to Washington on Feb. 17. This game gets a bit more exciting if Ricky Rubio is a member of the Timberwolves at this point.
Orlando (Jan. 8)
The Wizards won't face the defending the Eastern Conference champions until next year, and if the Wizards make their expected leap up the standings, it should be an intriguing Southeast Division matchup. Orlando has stockpiled a lot of talent this offseason, making up for the loss of Hedo Turkoglu by adding Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes. Not to mention, Jameer Nelson should come back at full strength after suffering a shoulder injury last season.
Los Angeles Lakers (Jan. 26)
You might not be aware of this, but on the night that the Lakers beat Orlando to win the franchise's 15th championship, veteran point guard Derek Fisher took time to mention the team most responsible for getting the team focused for its title run. Yep, the Wizards. If you recall, the Wizards came within a Caron Butler three-pointer of upsetting the eventual champions at Verizon Center in early December. After the Lakers' 106-104 win -- in which they nearly blew a late 19-point lead -- Fisher wrote the word, "Boston Finals," on the erase board to remind the team of its embarrassing loss in the NBA Finals, when the Lakers blew a 24-point lead in Game 4. The defending champions come to Washington and will cap off the Wizards' longest home stand of the season.
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