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Thunder 127, Wizards 108

Whose fault is it now? Who is going to have to take the brunt of the criticism for this 3-8 start? The Wizards had an easy target last season, placing the blame on their miserable start with a group of not-ready-for-prime-time players because Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, among others, were out with injuries.

But on Friday night, the Wizards sent a veteran lineup, featuring their dream starting five of Arenas, Haywood, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Mike Miller, on the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder and got completely outplayed and outworked. The young guys --- JaVale McGee, Nick Young and Dominic McGuire -- sat for all but the final minute of an embarrassing 127-108 loss.

The Wizards never led at any point in the game and allowed three players on the Thunder to score 25 or more points, including Kevin Durant, the local kid who scored a game-high 35 points and continues to blossom before our eyes (and I swear he has grown another two inches or so over the summer).

Coach Flip Saunders rarely likes to criticize his players after losses, offering explanations for their poor performances. But he let 'er rip after this game, blasting his team for surrendering a season-high 127 points and allowing the Thunder to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor and beyond the three-point line.

"You score [108] points, you should win," Saunders said. "We didn't defend."

Saunders said that every time his coaching staff focuses on one weakness, the team forgets everything else that it has learned. After training camp, the team focused on rebounding and became a better rebounding team. They focused on defense and became a better defensive team through the first 10 games. But the past few practices, the Wizards tried to address their offensive woes, then decided not to play defense against the young and exciting Thunder. So much for that carryover from the big win against the Cavaliers.

"We focused on offense and we forgot all of our defensive concepts," Saunders said. "We have not evolved to be a total team, where we can grasp everything."

When asked if he should expect more from a veteran team, Saunders said, "You hope so, but they haven't shown any ability to carry over. That's what most disappointing. They scored, we came to our bench worried about our offense."

The Wizards certainly didn't have much trouble scoring, especially with Butler scoring 24 points, Arenas getting 23 points and Jamison adding 22 points and 12 rebounds. But the Wizards again found themselves in a 10-point hole at the start. They played uphill for the rest of the night. "We need to come out aggressive. I don't know what it is, but we need to get stuff going," Arenas said.

I don't know what they need to do to get off to better starts, either; if Butler needs to start going back on the Mountain Dew or something. But the slow starts are getting quite ridiculous. They were able to recover from a 17-point hole against Cleveland on Wednesday, but they cannot expect to do that every night. It is so much harder to play from behind in the NBA because the opposition is so good. No matter what an opponent's record is, this isn't like college, where you can coast against Division II school then magically flip the switch.

"You keep on doing that over time and you have to exert so much energy," Saunders said. "It's like a boxer, he gets hit with body shots and eventually, it's going to wear you down."

Eleven games into this season, the Wizards already appear a bit worn down -- and somewhat desperate. It is still mindboggling for me to see Miller out there on the floor, playing with only one good arm. He aggravated his left shoulder injury in the first quarter and had to head to the locker room for treatment. He came back and winced his way through the rest of the game, with his left arm glued to his side.

Miller tried to cover for the lack of mobility in his arm by holding onto his shorts, but it was obvious to me that the man was in some serious pain. I kept asking, "Does anybody else notice this?"

I asked Miller afterward about playing through the pain and he said he could handle it. "It's one of those things that's going to keep lingering and hopefully, it's going to go away sooner than later," he said. "Right now, it's something that I got to deal with. The doctors said there isn't a chance for it to get worse structurally, so it's going be really painful. Right now, I can bear it, so I'm going to play. So, it's not an excuse."

But for a team that spent the entire offseason boasting about its increased depth, you have to wonder why a guy with one arm gets more minutes combined than two-armed players Randy Foye, DeShawn Stevenson, McGuire and Young. Miller is incredibly tough, that's not a question, but the team has to show some restraint. Things are bad right now, but they could get worse if Miller has to take a pounding every night and his body -- that left arm in particular -- doesn't get the necessary rest.

As for the Thunder, that is one exciting young team. They have a nice threesome with Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, but when you added the bearded James Harden to the mix, this team is really going to give teams problems -- right now and certainly in the future. It is still startling that a group of barely 20-somethings was able to execute so much better than a team of veterans. The most telling thing from that game was how the Thunder responded to each Wizards run with a timeout and subsequent run of its own.

Youth certainly wasn't an excuse for Oklahoma City on Friday. The Wizards continue to search for what's wrong with a team that hasn't won back-to-back games since February. Ouch.

By Michael Lee  |  November 21, 2009; 12:22 AM ET
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First to be first.

Posted by: bpybay | November 21, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Sad. I like FS telling it like it is, but sad that a group of veterans can't grasp offensive and defensive concepts and apply them at the same time. I agree, Michael, the barely twenty-something players on the OK team played with more poise and execution. Embarrassing.

A lot of bad signs are starting to mount. What is Butler's excuse? At least we know Arena's may just be fighting off rust and diminished physical abilities for the moment. Butler is nowhere near the same player for whatever reason. No toughness, no hustle, poor shooting, lackadaisical with the ball, and on and on....

Posted by: rphilli721 | November 21, 2009 1:44 AM | Report abuse

Man that game was tough to watch. Haywood is the only one who plays any D. The big 3 got their points.

Man I just don't know what the deal is. Miller has shown to be such a glue guy and facilitator it's tough when he's not on the floor, but he's gotta get back to 100%. Foye has been nonexistant since the arrival of Boykins.

We are missing Oberto which leaves us a bigger hole that you would think, he really brings alot to the table. McGuire and maybe McGee might be good to add to the mix right now. Nobody really seems to be playing with any passion right now except possibly Jamison, Haywood and Blatche.

Gil and Caron are both playing "ok", but neither is really having any effect on the game, turning it over, and just generally looking out of sync.

Posted by: Darnell1 | November 21, 2009 1:48 AM | Report abuse

I take back everything I said earlier in the season about the IQ of this team accelerating. Charles Barkley may have hit the nail on the head a couple of years ago. This team has no heart and no smarts. Why is MM still playing? Why are we still trying to force-feed Gil into being what he clearly is not? Why is this team not giving the requisite EFFORT night in and night out? As AJ pointed out, there are no excuses. The light just doesn't seem to come on with these guys.

After the Detroit game, I said there were some nice things to come out of that loss, and I was really high on the team. Today is a very clear indication that their collective IQ may indeed be very low, and even Flip himself is beginning to understand that. They just don't bring it every night. It's one thing to be slow to adjust to a new coach, new system, and new teammates. It's quite another to be lacking effort. Effort is not about adjustments. It's about wanting it. How in the world can this team even utter the WORD "championship" out of their mouths? They must be delirious.

The Wiz are a team of talkers. Gil is very clearly hallucinating if he thinks this team is better than a Cleveland team that won 66 games last year and added a couple of nice pieces to that mix. Despite our talent, collectively we may not be that much better than New Jersey (okay, maybe that's a stretch, but let me have my anger right now)!!! Talent alone just doesn't cut it. Talent=potential. Talent=possibilities. Talent does NOT necessarily equal victories. I am VERY disappointed in these guys, and am almost thoroughly convinced that we are going absolutely nowhere -- FAST!!!!!!

This game made me sick! The (final?) telling sign for me will come tomorrow night against SAS. If they are truly embarrassed, they will come out very intense tomorrow night. At this point, I really don't care about the W. I want to see focus. I want to see energy. I want to see effort. I want to see an "I care" attitude. I can deal with a loss if they "play the game the right way," which they clearly are not right now!!! If they lose by 20 or more, I'm personally done for the season. I definitely have more important things to do with my time if this is the way they have chosen to play the game.

Posted by: bpybay | November 21, 2009 2:05 AM | Report abuse

Well history tells me that Eddie Jordan's response to a string of miserable performances like last night's would be to trot the same 5 back out on the court, and not curtail anyone's minutes.

Let's see how Flip handles it tomorrow. Gil and CB have flat out stunk it up. I'm still trying to figure out the whole Stevenson deal and I have no clue what Foye, McGee or McGuire have done not to warrant an opportunity to shake things up.

I'm not talking about permanently benching any of your high priced players, but if your "veterans" are having problems handling offensive and defensive philosophies at the same time, how can the rest of your bench be any worst?

I also thought Blatche was doing great playing at the PF position off the bench. He is not a Center.
With Oberto unable to play, why isn't McGee the next Center off the bench? Really, it's not like Oberto, after the first three games, tore up the league.

I'm very respectful of the Wizards organization and Abe Pollin, but sometimes it seems like player minutes are doled out based on the size of player salaries and to hell with actual production.

Posted by: bozomoeman | November 21, 2009 2:14 AM | Report abuse

I would love to see Flip try a combination of Blatche, Jamison, Haywood, Miller and Foye on the floor at some point during the game. I don't believe we've seen that combo yet, and I'm not necessarily saying they should start, but it would be interesting to see how they would work together.

You could sub Blatche and Foye for Gil and Caron at about the 7 minute mark of the first. Then about the 8 minute mark of the second, you could sub Caron for Antawn, Gil for Mike, Fab for Brendan and Earl for Randy, and leave that team out there for about 6 minutes. Get the starters back in for the last two minutes of the half. Just an idea, but it would be nice to see if we could get some effectiveness out of those combinations.

BTW, Caron has ALWAYS been a high turnover guy for us, even in the best of times. No surprise there.

Posted by: bpybay | November 21, 2009 2:41 AM | Report abuse

I don't know about benching and starting other players. However, some yanking of "star" players when they make some less than stellar plays might be warranted - I think Butler should have been yanked as all three of his turnovers came at times when we were a possession or two away from tying or taking the lead and he flat out blows it. You simply can't hold the young players to a higher standard than you hold the money players. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately deal and these guys have done squat. Missing shots after proper execution and hustle is one thing, but the way we played tonight is unacceptable.

Tomorrow night is huge. If they lay another egg against a team that does not have better "athletes", then I'm afraid this may go down hill fast. I can handle losing, but not like tonight. Not again.

One thing I have noticed about FS offense and this may be due to lack of execution, but the plays seem incredibly telegraphed. Where is the back door pass when the passing lanes are overplayed or players are fronted? Just no cutting whatsoever. A lot of standing around watching one person dribble dribble dribble and it's not just Arenas. Plus, we got to be the worst pick and roll team in the NBA and that is basketball 101. Can someone please set a decent pick??? The only players that can are the ones who have no offensive skills that far away from the basket.

Posted by: rphilli721 | November 21, 2009 2:51 AM | Report abuse

"You simply can't hold the young players to a higher standard than you hold the money players."

Of course you can. Coaches have been doing it for as long as there have been sports. That's the way it's always worked and probably always will. And it's not just sports, it happens in all kinds of workplaces. The guys who bring in the big money and the rich clients get more perks and more leeway than the drones in the windowless, closet-sized offices. The boss/coach is more likely to accept the risks of their messing up because the reward from them getting it right is so much higher.

Just the way the system works.

Posted by: kalo_rama | November 21, 2009 3:01 AM | Report abuse

"Plus, we got to be the worst pick and roll team in the NBA and that is basketball 101. Can someone please set a decent pick??? The only players that can are the ones who have no offensive skills that far away from the basket."

Which only underscores what I've been saying for years: Haywood's lack of any offensive game (which makes it very easy for teams to ignore him in pick-n-roll) and Blatche's lack of toughness and aggression (which makes him more interested in setting up so he can set up to take a jump shot if he gets the ball, rather than holding the pick long enough to make solid contact) stops either of them from being complete players.

Posted by: kalo_rama | November 21, 2009 3:06 AM | Report abuse

An ugly horrific train wreck of a game, but I'm not really surprised. I predicted that the Thunder's energy and quickness would be too much for the Wiz. Hopefully they'll be sufficiently embarrassed that they'll come out with fire in their bellies against a banged up, undermanned Spurs team that's looked pretty shaky most of the season.

Posted by: kalo_rama | November 21, 2009 3:08 AM | Report abuse

Once again, this team has no defense. Durant scored at will. I would have liked to have seen more of Boykins and less of Dbrick. Dbrick should be reserved for Cleveland games only. I probably would have put Lemonhead in earlier to try and block some of Durants shots. Just a terrible performance.

Posted by: wiz_fan | November 21, 2009 3:15 AM | Report abuse

"Once again, this team has no defense. Durant scored at will. I would have liked to have seen more of Boykins and less of Dbrick. Dbrick should be reserved for Cleveland games only. I probably would have put Lemonhead in earlier to try and block some of Durants shots. Just a terrible performance."

Which completely ignores the fact that Dbrick as you call him had the best +- rating on the team and Boykins aside from game one has shown why he was out of the league. Turnovers, blocked shots, poor defense....


Comparing sports team to the business world? Nah. Not the same. I've played on teams and when that stuff happens the team starts to get split apart. Doesn't seem exactly harmonious at the moment either.

Posted by: rphilli721 | November 21, 2009 4:22 AM | Report abuse

To give OKC some credit --- they have certainly done a good job of building through the draft. Those guys looked great last night, very formidable.

Posted by: MeviousMan | November 21, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

"Mentally, we just broke down today. And they just took advantage of it," said Arenas, who finished with 23 points and eight assists.

"It's one of those things that's going to keep lingering and hopefully, it's going to go away sooner than later," Miller said. "Right now, its something that I got to deal with. The doctors said there isn't a chance for it to get worse structurally so it's going be really painful. Right now, I can bear it, so I'm going to play. It's not an excuse."

Part 1, Arenas continues his excuses and whining. Part 2, Miller at least mans up.

When is Arenas going to quit blaming the new offense or whatever else. He needs to say - "I got to play better. I've been playing poorly and in order for this team to excel I got to play better."

Because it's a team sport. Gilbert didn't give up 127 points...the team did. Gilbert didn't allow them too shoot whatever ridculous percentage or turn the ball over 20 times.You don't want him saying "I" when it's good and he plays and it's not individual in the loss either.

I don't even see and excuse or whining. He basically said we didn't play well and they did. I could've sworn last week he said he needed to play better and stop thinking about assists and turnovers.

It's almost as entertaining coming on the board after a loss after a win. They are 11 games into a 82 games season and people are on suicide watch already. Yesterday they were the best, today they're terrible.

And you definitely hold the young players to a higher standard. Until they show they can handle being in situations, you can't blame someone for not putting them there. People that have shown they can perform you tend to give more opportunity to do so. You also give them more opportunity to show poise and get through it. 11 games of a totally new everything isnt enough.

You people are funny.

Posted by: SDMDTSU | November 21, 2009 7:57 AM | Report abuse

The two point guards(Evans and Jennings) barely out of high school are outplaying Gil, the $111 million dollar man. His shooting % is horrid and he commits senseless turnovers.

This team does not pass enough( except MM and AB)

I do not think that Caron is the player he was two ago. He too, commits silly turnovers.

Posted by: Bailey51 | November 21, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Durant is going to be a monster; a pleasure to watch unless your team happens to be on the receiving end.
The Wiz are one and one since they've had the starting lineup they envisioned; though perhaps Miller shouldn't be playing, dragging that gimpy arm around until he puts up a jumper and then it seems to work fine, hard to read an injury like that.
The Wizards crawled back into the game a few times only to let OKC quickly re-open the gap. The 'zards revert to bad habits when they encounter adversity, usually slowing the fast break flow, followed by a long three; trying to get everything back at once.
More TO's than assists last night.
There is still the chance that some of the sloppy play, bad passing, etc. will shake out as the first unit gets familiar. The other glimmer of hope is that Flip will somehow have some success instilling a team discipline that becomes the default OS when things start to fall apart, instead of jacking up long threes or one on five playground balling.

Posted by: midlevex | November 21, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Flip is part of the problem. He and Ernie put this this thing together last year. His unwillingness to play the young guys is part of is history. Flip had better teams in Minnesota and Detriot. Do you see any rings on his fingers. He doesn't even have a conference ring. Did Ernie build any teams with a ring. You trade your 5th pick for Miller who's a good player but hasn't played a full season in 10yrs. You trade a early 2nd pick for a stiff that teams were paying to get rid of. You hire your buddy who has never developed young talent. A team of Gil, Young or Foye, Blatche, McGee, McGuire will beat the current starters everytime. Hopefully Flip hasn't killed their spirit with his stupid way of coaching.

Posted by: rnbrown4 | November 21, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I forgot to mention Ernie didn't pull the trigger to get Amare for Butler and Jamison trade. How dumb was that.

Posted by: rnbrown4 | November 21, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Slow starts equal starting slow as in not pushing the ball for easy shots as in fast breaking.

We think we are too good. We have the big head. We think it is OK to attack the other team with our superior offensive system. Wrong.

We must fast break the ball to look for scoring advantages and stop relying on cerebral offensive play.

Why do you think that it is that young athletic players like to play fast?

Because they are young and athletic is not the obvious answer. The answer is because it is easier to score.

Why do you think Boykins has success on the floor?

Because he is so good for small guy is not the obvious answer. The fact that he plays fast is the obvious answer.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, it can't be that simple, you're oversimplyfying the situation, yada' yada' yada'.

Yada Yada, basketball is a simple game and if you ain't outscoring you opponent anything else is immaterial.

Well, you say play defense, stop the other team. We did make stops and we did play defense, but we couldn't score the ball.

Any good defense will always be overshadowed if your offense sucks.

Our defense is much improved but our offense sucks.

Push the Ball, Fastbreak the Ball, Put it in your head you are going to beat you man down the floor for an easy shot, to score first and not this cerebral point guard crap that Gilbert Arenas is trying to run.

Changing a guy that can score 30 points a game so he can supposedly get his other players involved, score 20 ppg and add a few more assists ain't working out to well for me.

Fastbreak the Ball already Flip, and you might find it's easier to play Blatche and McGee more because your Team play flows better and it makes it easier to use your players rather than sitting them on the bench because you are playing cerebral basketball.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | November 21, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Mike Miller is a warrior but for heavens sakes let McGuire and Young play at SF until he is healthy.
Flip wants Defense? Don't over work the starters and let JaVale and McGuire play 12 minutes a game then.

Posted by: jeremybozz | November 21, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

"You score [108] points, you should win," Saunders said. "We didn't defend."

That is bullcrap. I am tired of this excuse. Flip defending is not your problem. Playing the wrong offense is and not using your players is.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, (what a great name) came out scoring the ball, fastbreaking, shooting threes, balling.

The Thunders primary objective was to score.

The Wizards primary objectve is too run the system.

Thats not say the Thunder don't have a system, they do, it is to push the ball down your throat, here we come baby, I'm coming fast and direct to dunk, layup, jumpshot, or a three.

We do not have an offensive attitude to score easily because fastbreaking is not a priority.

If we are constantly running our offense 5 on 5, then we are going to get outscored by opponents who look to score by pushing the ball for free fastbreaking opportunities.

Offensively, we did not play with The Thunder and that was our problem and not the defense.

It is like the game of horse. Why do you think that it became a universal game? If you had poor offensive skills you would never beat anyone. It developed your skills.

The Thunder Horsed us out the Gym because we did not match there offensive output and it was not because we did not play defense.

I Beg To Differ to keep blaming it on the Defense.

What was so great about the Thunder's Defense? Yeah, nothing, they just scored the ball and we did not.

If you are busy putting the ball in the basket, the other team might not get as many chances to score as you.

Flip and all of you that keep using defense as an excuse need to think about that.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | November 21, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Turnovers are not going to go away until we start to playing a more UpTemPo natural game and stop relying on a slower cerebral attack.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | November 21, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Those of you that are supposedly basketball knowledgeable need to tell the truth about Defense.

At the end of day Good Offense beats Good Defense everytime.

When you go to play prolific scoring Teams, you better bring your Offensive suitcase, or else you gonna get embarassed like the Wizards were last night.

Teams that preach defense as a primary key to winning games are much easier to play against. Why, because scoring is oft times determined by how well they play defense.

However, this sounds good for you defensive pundits but it is flawed. You always want to play good defense, but you do not want your scoring to be dependent upon it.

You want your offense to be as proficient in and of itself for this will give you a much greater chance of winning games and championships.

The biggest flaw besides injury that I see with this Wizard Team is there ineptitude on Offense and the inability to use there players. Defense is being used as an excuse.


Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | November 21, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Seriously Am I the only one here with 2 good eyes??!! I can see from my couch at home that Mike Miller is seriously injured. Let me repeat that:


W T F is wrong with the Wizards that they keep putting him out there. They may win a couple battles but they are going to lose the war when he goes down for good.

MIKE MILLeR IS INJURED> Wizards are you freakin blind.

Let the guy get healthy before he does some serious damage to his shoulder.
Man Oh Man.

Posted by: dovelevine | November 21, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Miller tried to cover for the lack of mobility in his arm by holding onto his shorts, but it was obvious to me that the man was in some serious pain. I kept asking, "Does anybody else notice this?"

Sad to say Mike, the incapable training staff doesn't even know what to do to fix him anyway!

Posted by: CBell29 | November 21, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

It's not a good sign when Gil says, "I don't know what it is." When your man just blow right by you to the hole, it's pretty obvious "what it is." Or when you use your eyes to signal to a mate that you want your man picked as your walking your dribble up the court and then you're surprised when the Thunder easily figure that out and rotate, you have to know "what it is". And when you have Caron looking totally uninterested and nobody is barking at him to step it up-- that's also "what it is."

Posted by: JoeTink | November 21, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

We are watching good Flipper ball. Wiz are in trouble for a long time with this guy and Ernie running the show. How can fans continue to pay to watch this crap. Management is the problem here from player substition to the players selected t start. Sounds more and more like the Skins.

Posted by: rnbrown4 | November 21, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

"Comparing sports team to the business world? Nah. Not the same. I've played on teams and when that stuff happens the team starts to get split apart."

Really? Which NBA teams have you played on? Was anyone on your team getting paid 4 or 5 times what everyone else was getting paid? Was anyone on your team the face of the franchise? Comparing your YMCA rec league to big time big money pro sports is ridiculous even for you.

Posted by: kalo_rama | November 21, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

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